Friday, July 18, 2014

The Importance of Explicit Vocabulary Instruction: Introduction

How much time each day do you spend on explicit vocabulary instruction? Most teachers teach new content words that are specific to a subject, but what about those rich and robust words that students are unlikely to know, are most likely to be encountered across a  wide variety and domains, and are necessary for comprehension of the text that is being read?

Having worked in a Title I school for many years as an ESL Resource teacher I did a lot of research into vocabulary development. One of the best research studies came from Hart and Risley, 1995. "Children come to school with meaningful differences in vocabulary knowledge. According to their research what matters is a student's relative economic advantage. Children living in poverty hear one-third the number of words per minute than those of the working class. Not only was there a difference in numbers of words but also in quality. Students living in poverty aren't exposed to rich, robust words and by the time they enter school the vocabulary knowledge gap is even wider." Explicit Vocabulary Instruction is necessary to help bridge that gap for these students . "Vocabulary occupies an important position both in learning to read and in comprehending text: readers cannot understand text without knowing what most of the words mean (National Reading Panel 2000)." It goes on to say that to develop vocabulary students should be explicitly taught both specific words and word-learning strategies. Such instruction often doesn't begin with a definition  for giving a definition usually means that the student already knows what the word means. What rich and robust vocabulary instruction does is to go beyond knowing the definition of a word but to actively engage students in using and thinking  about word meanings and to create and make connections among words. For those who struggle to read or come to school deficient in rich and robust vocabulary acquisitions needs to be accelerated if there is any hope of these learners catching up with their peers.

What is vocabulary?  
  • It is the knowledge of words and their meanings.
Vocabulary instruction involves much more than looking the words up in the dictionary and using the words in a sentence. 

Four components of an Effective Vocabulary Program 
  1. Extensive independent reading to help expand world knowledge
  2. Specific word instruction to help improve understanding of texts containing those words
  3. Instruction in independent word-learning strategies
  4. Word-consciousness and word-play activities to motivate and enrich learning
Today I would like to introduce Components 2-4 and what I will be writing about in my upcoming posts called "Vocabulary Matters: Strategies that Work" 

I will be referring to a book entitled  "Vocabulary Handbook" written by Linda Diamond and Linda Gutlohn. I was very fortunate to have taken several workshops from Linda Diamond and it truly changed the way I approached teaching vocabulary. I hope you will take this journey with me and find some great ideas and strategies to try with your students. Today is an introduction to what I will sharing with you in the coming weeks.  I hope to give you research-based knowledge, practical applications and sample activities to improve vocabulary instruction. It will include:
Word learning Strategies
  • Dictionary use
  • Morphemic analysis- figuring out a word's meaning by analyzing it's meaningful parts: morphemes (root words, prefixes, suffixes)
  • Contextual analysis- figuring out the meaning of an unknown word by looking closely at the text surrounding the word.
Along with word learning strategies there will be information to help:
  • Cultivate word consciousness- getting our students to become aware of and interested in words.
  • Give students multiple exposures to words in multiple contexts
  • Restructure strategies- making sure that students fully understand the instructional task.
  • Foster incidental vocabulary learning- through engagement in rich oral language experiences, listening to books during read alouds and reading widely on their own.

I've added lots of new Pinterest Boards for you to follow. You can access them by clicking HERE
You will find Grade level boards from Preschool through 5th grade, Seasonal Boards and many more.
Here's my most popular one.

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Thanks for all you do to make a difference for your students.

How much time do you spend each day on vocabulary instruction?


  1. Thank you for taking the time to do this. I recently graduated with a degree in Elementary Ed. I applied for positions in our county, but didn't get a "teaching" job in my field. Instead, I'll be teaching in the computer lab. I'm excited! I feel as if I have the opportunity now to learn as much as I can in preparation for my future classroom. I honestly enjoy doing research to understand the learning process. I'm currently working on my Masters and a reading endorsement and I'm enjoying every bit of newfound information I'm receiving whether it be through homework or discussions in class with other teachers. I want to be great at what do. Again, thank you!

    1. Thanks so much for your comments. Good luck with your new job and grad school. I'll be continuing this series and hope you will follow.

  2. Hello! I am very interested in learning more about vocabulary. When I clicked on the "Here" to see more Pinterest Boards to follow, nothing happens. Also, when I click on "Great Stuff For Teachers" nothing happens either. I would love to hear everything you have to say about because I totally agree with what you are saying. I work at a school that has over 80% free and reduced lunch and the low vocabuary knowledge certainly makes a difference. I want to make sure I am teaching it correctly! Thanks so much. I look forward to reading your blogs and hopefully find the Pinterest boards you recommend.

    1. Hi Diane. Thanks so much for your feedback. The links seem to be working for me but here is the link if you are interested: