DISCUSSION: How much should we invest in children’s vocabulary?


Vocabulary is …

the knowledge of words and word meaning, in both oral and printed forms.

Research has shown that students’ vocabulary relates directly to their comprehension ability (Lehr et al, 2004; Bromley, 2007). Therefore, a child’s success in school and beyond greatly depends on their ability to read with comprehension.

It was concluded by The National Reading Panel (2000) that comprehension development could not be understood “without a critical examination of the role played by vocabulary knowledge” (Lehr, 2004).



When it comes to English Language Learning:

Remember that:

1. English is a huge and unique collection of words

2. The rules of English are simple and consistent compared to other languages

3. Language proficiency grows from oral competence to written competence

4. Words are learned because of associations that connect the new with the known

5. 70% of the most frequently used words have multiple meanings

6. Meanings of 60% of multisyllabic words can be inferred by analysing word parts

7. Direct instruction in vocabulary influences comprehension more than any other factor

8. Teaching fewer words well is more effective than teaching several words in a cursory way

9. Effective teachers display an attitude of excitement and interest in words and language


Researchers have found it to be most beneficial to focus our teaching on  ‘Tier 2’ words.

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So, what should we as educators be doing about it?

We need to create rich environments for language acquisition, both oral and in printed forms


Spend time explicitly teaching (Tier 2) vocabulary and lifelong strategies. 


Some easy teaching suggestions: 

              – word walls

              – word of the day

              – morphology practise

              – word sorts

             – vocabulary journals 

More teaching suggestions (related to points 1-9 above):
* Teach words recently added to dictionaries and the english language : www.m-w.com/info/new_words. htm
* Chn create their own lists of words and the definitions they think will soon be added to the dictionary (spoken language, readings, news, media)
* give chn a passage with e.g. good, nice, said, happy –  and in pairs using dictionaries grin substitutes for overworked words. Re-write to make powerful.
* Students edit each other’s work using dictionaries and thesaurus to find and suggest more descriptive words.

* Have a ESOL/EAL teacher co-teach a lesson to demonstrate the similarities and differences between the languages.
* Students to talk about the differences and similarities they notice between english and other languages.
* Teach the prefixes, roots, suffixes most often used in English – constant meaning and pronunciation. Will unlock meanings of other words.

* Read literature aloud, stopping and explaining and talking about unknown words.
* Play oral games with content vocabulary so students can explore pronunciations, visual display, and meanings simultaneously.
* Encourage students to ask about unknown words.
* Include small group discussion and oral presentations so students can listen to one another and use content area vocabulary in speaking before they use it in writing.
* Have students work together to write “paired sentences” as a way to develop their concept and word knowledge. E.g. give them 2 terms and ask them to talk 1st and then write about how they are similar and how they are different. 

* Engage student’s prior knowledge and related experiences before teaching new words.
* Use KWL strategy, when introduce new word.
* Individually / pairs, create 3D words. On paper, students include a definition, sentence, drawing and real object to represent the word. Teach each other, and post somewhere to share.
* Use fiction/non-fiction selection to teach students how context and references can give clues to meanings., unlock their appropriate meanings.
* Show how to use context to figure out new words by reading to the end of a sentence/paragraph, reading a caption, analysing an picture or graphic, or looking at a footnote. Teach chn to use a picture, a phrase that defines a word, a synonym or antonym, or the position of the unknown word in a series of other words. 
* Challenge students to make as many words as they can from a key content term e.g. evaporation, ecosystem, geography, planets. Then teach them the multiple meanings of some of the smaller words that they have created.

* Print a short dictionary of greek and latin roots for each of student e.ghttp://english.glendale.cc.ca.us/ roots.dict.html, and encourage children to use it to unlock words. It is also good for tracing origins of words too e.g. florida.
* Use of this dictionary to learn derivations of words already know.
* Make word stress of often-used roots, dictionaries and multisyllabic words.

* Teach new vocabulary focusing on both meaning and word structure. Make connections with other words were possible. 
* Students keep vocabulary notebooks in which they illustrate a new word, write a paraphrased definition, and use it in a sentence. It is a record for review and a source for correct spelling.
* Teach students to “chunk” multisyllabic words to help them develop strategy to unlock new words.
* Analyse classroom test with students. Highlight/list key vocabulary from the directions and from the reading selections that chn should know. Show chn how to locate word in the selection to determine its meaning in context.
* Have students creatively peer teach new words and encourage them to present their words in several ways – visually and verbally.

* Teach struggling students and ESOL no more than 3-5 new words at a time because of their retention ability. Only words related to the main idea of new material and those that they will need for the future.
* Call attention to important terms that appear in bold / italicised print. Demonstrating that the meaning often follows the term or appears in the glossary at the back of the text.
* Teach most new words before reading to enhance students’ comprehension. Teach new words after only to allow students to use own skills to word-attack or as a way of letter to know which words that they had trouble with so that they can be taught. 

* Reflect on own vocabulary teaching. Are you showing your excitement? How do you teach demonstrating your motivation and enthusiasm? Are there more effective ways?
* Educate yourself about best practises – talk to colleagues about how they do it and what works for them. Read articles for new methods.
* Share excitement with students e.g. word of the day www.wordsmith.org/awad/index.html
* Word walls – science, maths, social studies. As used in class, visually reinforce by pointing it out on the word wall.
Final thoughts
Vocabulary teaching and learning is a complex process.
We need to give a variety of opportunities for students to connect new words to related words, analyse word structure, understand multiple meanings, and use words actively in authentic ways. 
The goal of vocal instruction is to build students’ independent word learning strategies that can empower them for lifelong learning.  



Bromley, J. (2007). Nine things every teacher should know about words and vocabulary instruction. International Reading Association: Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 50(7), 528-537.

Kieffer, M. J., & Lesaux, N. K.  (2007).  Breaking down words to build meaning. International Reading Association: The Reading Teacher, 61(2), 134–144.

Lehr, F., Lehr, M., & Associates (2004). A Focus on Vocabulary, PREL.

National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidencebased assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Washington DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.




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