Vocabulary: What words should we teach?

Vocabulary is crucial for successful reading, but how should teachers support students who are behind their peers, and what words should they teach? Andrew Biemiller explains

SUCCESSFUL READING REQUIRES BOTH success at reading words and knowledge of the words read – a prerequisite to comprehending text. We now know that vocabulary is the best predictor of reading and language comprehension by the time children are halfway through elementary school. For example, kindergarten general vocabulary is the best predictor of grade 3 or 4 reading comprehension. Moreover, it has also been shown that grade 1 general vocabulary is a strong predictor of reading comprehension in grade 11. Researchers have shown that when specific vocabulary needed in particular texts is taught, comprehension of those texts is improved.

What we know
● Word meanings are acquired in a predictable sequence.
● Children with the lowest vocabularies know 2,000 fewer root words than their average peers by the end of grade 2.
● Vocabulary teaching programs can stimulate general vocabulary – not just those words that are taught.

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February 2011