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Jeanice Lewis

Sara Mcginnis

Christy Nobles






Vocabulary Acqusition

The Old and the New of Vocabulary Instruction

Vocabulary Instructional Strategies

Vocabulary Activities







Vocabulary development is the glue that holds fluency together. Fluency has been defined as the freedom from word identification problems that might hinder comprehension (Pikulski, & Chard, 2005). This definition explains that fluency includes comprehension as well. A fluent reader is one who is efficient and uses effective word recognition skills to help make meaning of the text that they are reading (Pikulski, 2005). This is just one of the many different definitions of fluency but the one thing that they all have in common is that they each include the importance of vocabulary knowledge and comprehension going hand in hand. The National Reading Panel describes fluency as the ability to read a text quickly, accurately, with proper expression, and meaning (Ellery, 2005). Many believe that becoming a fluent reader has as much to do with meaning and recognition as it does with rate.


This brings us back to the importance of vocabulary development and knowledge. The National Reading Panel also identifies vocabulary as one of “The Big Five” of reading. Vocabulary knowledge is cumulative: the more words you know, the easier it is to learn yet more words (Nagy, 2005). Identifying and pronouncing a word does not indicate vocabulary knowledge, but signifies listening and decoding skills. The denser the number of unknown words, the more difficult to assign a meaning to them, and it is harder to get meaning from text (Zutell, 2006). Research reveals that the socioeconomic status plays a significant role in acquiring word knowledge, therefore; the Matthew effect exists. the rich get richer; the poor get poorer (Stahl, 1999). Words are the key to accessing background knowledge, expressing ideas, and to learning about new concepts. Students’ word knowledge is directly linked to their success in academics. Children who know the meaning of most of the words that they hear or read are able to better comprehend than those who do not. Students who have more word knowledge read more as well as understand more; students who lack word knowledge read less and understand less. This is the huge problem that teachers are faced with; you have a student that is not a fluent reader, can’t comprehend, and lacks word knowledge. As a teacher, you need to start with the student’s word knowledge because everything is based around the student’s ability to read and understand the meaning of the words that he/she is trying read.


Vocabulary Acqusition


Vocabulary is a common problem that many teachers face in every subject from reading to biology. Students lack the vocabulary knowledge to understand or even read what they are asked to read. These are the slower readers, the reluctant readers, and the non-comprehensive readers. It has been proven that students must be able to understand approximately 95% of the running words in the text in order to understand and infer meaning (Ellery, 2005). That is a huge percentage for students to have to understand before they can comprehend the text they are reading.


So we understand the importance of teaching vocabulary in order to improve fluency but now it comes down to “How”. There are several obstacles that the teacher must overcome such as the need to know and understand so many words. Students on average add 2000 – 3000 words per year to their reading vocabulary (Beck, Mckeown & Kucan, 2002). This is much less for our lower level readers. As a teacher, you have to do what is necessary in hopes of students retaining as much as possible. Then, when you do start teaching vocabulary, problems arise with multiple meaning words. The good part about this is, every time a word is repeated in the text, it is used slightly different in the context. This helps students develop a deeper and more accurate understanding of word meaning (Mccormick, 2003). One of the best ways to introduce vocabulary is to do it in context; students need to link the new word to a concept to help them understand that meaning of the word.


The Old and New of Vocabulary Instruction


In 1977, W. C. Becker was one of the first researchers to highlight the importance of vocabulary instruction. His study: Teaching Reading and Language to the Disadvantaged: What we have learned from field research; looked at the importance of vocabulary development and linking vocabulary size to the academic achievement of disadvantaged students. He concluded that vocabulary deficiencies were the primary cause of academic failure of disadvantaged students in grades 3-12 (1977). This study opened the flood gates for more indepth reaseach of the effects of vocabulary instruction and reading achievement. Much research has been conducted over the past 30 years to support the ideas that reading achievement and vocabulary development are closely related to one another. For a listing of research pertaining to vocabulary instruction, please visit Vocabulary Reasearch.


The Old and the New of Vocabulary Instruction

Vocabulary instruction has been around for a very long time. It has always been an important part of reading instruction although now it has evolved into a key component of a well balanced reading program. Vocabulary was once thought of as words that are important to the reader in order to understand a story. Now, it seems that vocabulary not only affects reading ability but also listening, speaking and writing ability. There are 4 different types of vocabulary that every reader should possess to be a fluent reader. A reader must be able to understand words that are spoken which is their listening vocabulary. They must also be able to speak using an extensive vocabulary which is their speaking vocabulary, and write using an expansive vocabulary which is their writing vocabulary. Finally, they must be able to understand what they read which involves a reading vocabulary. Where vocabulary instruction once was simple and pertained solely to reading, it now carries over into all aspects of language instruction. This is why vocabulary is now considered a key component in a well rounded reading program.


To Introduce Words

Vocabulary is among one of the best predictors of reading achievement (Daneman, 1991). Although differences in children’s vocabulary develop before they begin school, what is taught in school proves to be just as meaningful to vocabulary development. There are many ways to teach vocabulary, all focusing on one main principle, direct instruction. Direct instruction in word meanings is effective and can make significant differences in student’s overall vocabulary, and is critical for those students who do not read extensively . Many studies show that words should be processed deeply and repeatedly by students in order for them to become part of their vocabulary. Words are learned gradually and the more actively and deeply students process words, the better they will learn them (Richek, 2005). Introduction of vocabulary is essential to making vocabulary exciting yet meaningful. There are many ways to introduce vocabulary instruction, all centering on involving the students actively with the words they are learning. By simply reading, a child can have exposure to so many words. These words all build to create a large vocabulary base. One of the best ways to introduce words to students is to use those words in Context. Reading aloud to students, pausing and discussing new or unfamiliar words is one of the most effective methods for introducing words. This offers students an opportunity to see the word in “action” and the opportunity to talk about the word. Similar to this method is allowing students to use sticky notes when they are reading. If they come across a word that they are unfamiliar with or want to learn more about, they simply mark the word on the sticky note and research it either now or later. Both methods are effective and meaningful ways to introduce new vocabulary to students using context.


Vocabulary Instructional Strategies

Vocabulary instruction is an important part of a well balanced reading curriculum. It is important to “initiate vocabulary development at the beginning of the instructional unit or lesson and continue to develop and reinforce word meaning throughout instruction”(Misulis, 1999, p.4). This can be accomplished by providing language rich activities that teach new words in meaningful Context, including helping them to understand the interrelationships among words including the words that they already know (Rupley, Logan, & Nichols, 1999; Misulis, 1999). There are many activities that can activate prior knowledge such as brainstorming, questions, categorizing activities, and graphic organizers. Additionally, semantic maps will help student to make associations among vocabulary words.


According to Stahl (1986) there are three levels of processing vocabulary. Keeping these three levels of processing in mind are very important when teaching vocabulary. Along with these guidelines, research has helped to uncover some general guidelines and principles that offer support to educators as they teach vocabulary. It is important to keep in mind that these are just guidelines. The first guideline is selecting vocabulary words from text. Although this may pose a problem for the teacher the important things to remember are content, students and time. Keeping these three elements in mind when choosing words from text will eliminate much of the concern. The second guideline for teaching vocabulary is to base vocabulary instruction on language activities as a primary means of word learning. Basically, use these new vocabulary words in speaking, listening, reading and writing activities. The third guideline is to build a conceptual base for learning the new words and finally, provide a variety of instructional strategies to help students store the word knowledge.


Additionally, one might want to take a look at a list of seven principles of vocabulary instruction that John G. Laflamme (1997) included in his article related to vocabulary instruction. These seven principles would be especially helpful in planning and executing vocabulary instruction.


To Review Words

Once vocabulary has been introduced and discussed, students need more exposure to those words to make them part of their working vocabulary. To do this, teachers must incorporate these words into purposeful activities where the student will see the words in or out of context. For example, students can choose words from a list to weave into a story. They will choose words based on what they already know or just learned about the words. They can also use index cards to make vocabulary cards for a book they are reading. These cards may be words they know and want to remember to use again or words that are unfamiliar to them that they want to look up. Either way, the child is actively involved in researching or owning the word. Also, the teacher can use word jars to hold vocabulary words and during a story pull out the words and manipulate them alphabetically, by clusters, by prefixes or suffixes, etc. This activity allows the students to look at the words and learn more about what makes the words. Once children feel comfortable with words, they feel free to use them in their speaking and writing vocabulary. Allowing students an opportunity to experience words without consequences allows them time to explore the words and expand their vocabulary. Invented spelling may resurface as vocabulary increases based on the complexity of the words.


Vocabulary Activites

Here is a listing of vocabulary activites that are suitable for vocabulary instruction.

Title of ActivityDescription of Activity
Definition Blackboard BingoWrite 10-15 words from your most current vocabulary list on the board. Tell the students to choose and 5 of the words and write them down. now read the word definitions in random order and have the children cross off the words on thier list that match the given definition. The first one to cross off all their words call bingo and wins. Variations of this activity include calling synonyms or antonyms.
MatchingDivided the board in half. In one half write vocabulary words. NOw have the students suggest a word that defines or reminds them of the vocabulary word. Record this on the other half of the board opposite the proper word. When all the vocabulary words have been defined, erase the vocabulary words and have the students recall the words and refill them back in the correct spots. This is a great small group or partner activity.
Possible SentencesDisplay a list of key words or terms critical to the meaning of the text. Now have the students use at least two words to construct sentences. Record these on the board. Next, read the text paying particular attention to the key words. On the basis of the reading, evaluate the accuracy of the generated sentences. Retain, modify or discard the sentences as warranted and generate additional sentences.


Additional Activites



Vocabulary development is vital to reading comprehension as well as fluency. Vocabulary is the center stage of the true reading experience. Without vocabulary knowledge, the text is incomprehensible and therefore reading for pleasure is dissatisfying, and reading to learn results in learning difficulties. An increase in vocabulary knowledge will assist students with comprehension and fluency. Through vocabulary instruction, educators should expose students to a variety of listening, speaking, and writing activities to improve and increase students’ vocabulary knowledge. Again, direct instruction in word meanings is effective and can make significant differences in student’s overall vocabulary, and is critical for those students who do not read extensively (Beck, Mckeown, & Kucan, 2002). Keeping students actively engaged in various vocabulary instruction can provide students with a sense of comfort and begin to manipulate, research, and use words more in their speaking and writing vocabulary. Above are only a few strategies that can be used to motivate students to explore and increase vocabulary knowledge. Instruction should give various strategies to engage students and make vocabulary fun. A couple ways to make vocabulary fun is using Character Trait Vocabulary: A Schoolwide Approach and A Vocabulary Flood: Making Words “Sticky” With Computer-Response Activities. Just as initial vocabulary instruction is essential, reviewing vocabulary is as well. Vocabulary is the key that opens doors to true reading. When vocabulary is increased, fluency and comprehension are also increased.

External Links:


Professional Development Tutorial: Increasing Vocabulary



The Six Steps to Teaching Vocabulary



Slide Show on Vocabulary Development



Information about ELL Students



Vocabulary Lessons



Barger, J. (2006). Building word consciousness. The Reading Teacher, 60, 279-281.



Beck, I.L., Mckeown, G., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction. New York, The Guilford Press.



Blachowicz, C. L., & Obrochta, C. (2005). Vocabulary Visits: Virtual field trips for content vocabulary development. The Reading Teacher, 59, 262-268.



Cunningham, P. (2006). What if they can say the words but don’t know what they mean?. The Reading Teacher, 59, 708-711.



Ellery, V. (2005). Creating Strategic Readers. New York, The Guilford Press. 77-105.



Hudson, R., Lane, H., & Pullen, P. (2005). Reading Fluency assessment and instruction: What, why, and how?. The Reading Teacher, 58, 702-714.


Laflamme, J.G.(1997). The effect of the multiple exposure vocabulary method and the target reading/writing strategy on test scores. ''Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy''40(5),p372,10p,6c,1d.



Mccormick, S. (2003). Instructing Students Who Have Literacy Problems. Ohio, Merrill Prentice Hall. 318-336.


Misulis, Katherine.(1999). Making vocabulary development manageable in content instruction. Contempory Education, 70(2),p25,5p.


Nagy, W. (2005). Promoting students'vocabulary development: An overview. Retrieved March 30, 2007, from Seattle Pacific University Web site: http://myhome.spu.edu/wnagy/promoting_students.htm



Pikulski, J. & Chard, D. (2005). Fluency: Bridge between decoding and reading comprehension. The Reading Teacher, 58, 510-519.



Pressley, M. (2002). Reading Instruction that Works. New York, The Guilford Press. 266-270.



Richek, M. A. (2005). Words are wonderful: Interactive, time-efficient strategies to teach meaning vocabulary. The Reading Teacher, 58, 414-423.


Rupley, W.H., Logan, J.W., &Nichols, W.D.(1999). Vocabulary instruction in a balanced reading program. ''Reading Teacher'',52(4),p.336,11p,5d.



Spencer, B. & Guillaume, A. (2006). Integrating curriculum through the learning cycle: Content-based reading and vocabulary instruction. The Reading Teacher, 60, 2006-219.



Tompkins, G. E. (2003). Literacy for the 21st Century: Teaching Reading and Writing in Pre-Kindergarten Through Grade 4. Ohio, Merrill Prentice Hall. 9-11.



Yopp, R. H., & Yopp, H. K. (2004). Preview-Predict-Confirm: Thinking about the language and content of informational text. The Reading Teacher, 58, 79-83.



Zutell, J. (2006). Word wisdom. Retrieved March 30, 2007, from Florida Education Channel Web site: http://www.paec.org/fec/wordwisdom/index.asp


Commentary by Stacee Jennings


Hi girls. I think you did an excellent job of breaking down what I'm sure was a huge amount of information. I just have a few suggestions, some are little editing issues so forgive me for being nitpicky!


1. Include an internal link to both fluency and comprehension in the first paragraph. These are already created, so you just need to put the brackets.


2. Bold the outline. I think Dr. Barnes mentioned this in class. It will just help to separate it.


3. The heading "Introduction" is spelled wrong.


4. In the "To Introduce Words" section, your sentence reads, "There are many ways to teach vocabulary, all focusing one main principle..." I think you need to add "on" (focusing on one main principle).


5. In the summary paragraph, a sentence reads, "As couple ways to make vocabulary fun is using..." change "As" to "A."


OK, that's it. Overall, you did a great job. I enjoyed looking over your external links. I also found this site for some additional vocabulary activities Vocabulary Activities.


End of commentary by Stacee Jennings

Commentary by Carolyn Morin


WOW! What a great job of breaking down a complex issue. You did a great job. I enjoyed the external links as well. My school is in the process of trying to emphasize more vocabulary instruction in our classroom. I am going to share this with my faculty. I was glad to see that you referenced Beck in your paper. What an awesome book. I think Stacee covered all the editing issues.

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