Effective Vocabulary Instruction

If we want to know more about effective vocabulary instruction, there are two important concepts to understand.

The first is how to help students add new words to their personal lexicon to increase the size of their overall vocabulary. Readers will not understand what they read unless they can recognize and understand the words they are reading.

According to Biemiller (2005), “Teaching Vocabulary will not guarantee success in reading, just as learning to read words will not guarantee success in reading. However, lacking either adequate word identification skills or adequate vocabulary will ensure failure.”

Word cloud of vocabulary words
Words All Around Us Increase Vocabulary

Helping Students Grow their Vocabularies

We learn words most often during our every day life experiences.

For example, a young child learns the word and the concept of “hot” by touching a hot surface and hearing his mother say, “No! Hot!.” After the tears subside, the child has a clear and memorable link to both the word as well as the concept of “hot. They have added a new word to their vocabulary.

People also learn words through movies, television, and listening to conversations in their daily environment.

Snow, Burns and Griffin (1998) state that from elementary through high school, students learn approximately 7 words per day or somewhere around 2,700 to 3,000 per year.

People also learn new words by listening to and reading books. Researchers found that repeated reading of a story resulted in higher averaged gains in vocabulary in young children.

When a story was read more than once, the students made an average gain of 12% more vocabulary words than children who only heard the story read once. (Biemiller & Boote, 2006; Coyne, Simmons, Kame’enui, & Stoolmiller, 2004).

While rereading texts take additional time, the researchers say that the additional learning that takes place with repeated reading is worth the time – especially for students who struggle with learning to read.

The more our students read, the better they become at reading and the larger their vocabularies become.

What are Other Effective Vocabulary Instructional Methods?

Reading aloud to students is also a good way to expand student vocabulary. When listening to someone read, students are able to process vocabulary several levels above what they might be able to read and understand on their own.

Reading aloud to students in all content areas should be a daily experience. Not only is this good for our higher performing students but this oral language exposure is absolutely vital for our struggling readers or English-Language Learners.

Another good way to encourage vocabulary development is to pique student curiosity and interest in new words. Word walls in all grades and content areas can help call attention to special vocabulary that students need to be successful in the classroom.

Collecting and featuring interesting words on a bulletin board can be fun for students and will also build vocabulary. Playing with words can also be great ways to help students have multiple exposures to words in the classroom.

The more students can connect to, visualize and enjoy adding new words to their vocabularies, the stronger and more competent readers they will become.

Vocabulary Instruction to Expand Student Understanding of Words

The second important concept is how to help students learn new meanings for the words with which they are already familiar.

Effective vocabulary instruction includes not only exposure to totally new words but also instruction that deepens a student’s understanding of the meaning of words they already know which may be used in many other conceptional ways.

Homonyms which are words that sound and are spelled the same but have different meanings be very troublesome both for beginning readers and also for English-language learners.

One effective vocabulary instructional approach for words with multiple meaning is to teach students to look at the surrounding sentence for context clues. Teach them to ask themselves, “Did what I just read make sense?”

For example a student might read, “The airplane banked left to fly north.” By asking “Is this sentence making sense?” students can the meaning of “banked” in this sentence is not the same as “bank” meaning a financial institution or “bank” meaning the side of a river.

Effective Vocabulary Instruction Also Includes Word Parts

As adults, we often use our knowledge of word parts such as prefixes, suffixes and root words to analyze a new word that we encounter.

For this reason, it is helpful for students to study and learn the meaning of affixes and root words.

Content area teachers should identify the important affixes that belong to their subject area and help students learn the various word parts so that they develop a greater understanding of how to analyze new words they encounter while reading.

For example, knowing that “hydro” means water would help students unlock the meaning of many scientific words dealing with water that they might encounter.

Learn more by reading What Works in Primary Vocabulary Instruction or

Inspiring Vocabulary