Vocabulary is essential for students in reading, writing, and speaking. But what is vocabulary, exactly? Vocabulary can be defined as the set of words a person knows and uses, or a compiled set of words.
Vocabulary knowledge is at the heart of school learning. From the early grades, vocabulary predicts later academic achievement; a child’s vocabulary is one of the best predictors in how well that child will understand text and be able to communicate in writing (Stahl & Nagy, 2006). Vocabulary is the largest contributing factor to reading comprehension; students rely on vocabulary for making meaning from what they read, view, or listen to. Research shows that vocabulary plays a critical role in learning to read and comprehend text (Biemiller 2003; Stahl & Stahl 2004). As students progress through the grades, they will encounter increasingly more specialized words utilized in academic disciplines and subjects; understanding this academic vocabulary is critical to students’ achievement.
From the early grades, vocabulary predicts later academic achievement; a child’s vocabulary is one of the best predictors in how well that child will understand text and be able to communicate in writing (Stahl & Nagy, 2006)
We can look to the Science of Reading research to understand the relationship between vocabulary and reading comprehension. The Simple View of Reading (Gough and Tunmer, 1986) states that reading comprehension is a product of decoding (including phonics) and language comprehension, which includes vocabulary and content knowledge.
Another established model of reading, Scarborough’s Reading Rope (2001), provides more detail about the interwoven aspects of reading instruction. In this model, “Figure 1.9” from the image of the Reading Rope,”you can see vocabulary as one of the many Language Comprehension strands essential for skilled reading.
Best practices for vocabulary instruction have been shaped by the research of Isabel Beck, Andrew Biemiller, Michael Graves, Margaret McKeown, Steven Stahl, and many others.
Effective vocabulary instruction must be explicit and systematic. Direct instruction of academic vocabulary plays a significant role in academic achievement. Students’ reading comprehension is supported through explicit instruction of the application of vocabulary skills, strategies, and processes. To be effective, direct instruction of academic vocabulary must consider:
Through explicit instruction and opportunities to practice, students will master words and build stronger and more robust vocabularies. In addition to ongoing assessments, a quick differentiated weekly assessment can support teachers as students learn new words.
Download the Differentiated Weekly Vocabulary Assessment Handout to supplement vocabulary assessments for students in grades 1–12. This alternative assessment allows teachers to quickly see students’ depth of knowledge for learned words.