The Challenge of Rich Vocabulary Instruction for Children With Developmental Language Disorder

Karla K. McGregor, Amanda Owen Van Horne, Maura Curran, and Susan Wagner Cook. The Challenge of Rich Vocabulary Instruction for Children With Developmental Language Disorder. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools (February 2021). https://doi.org/10.1044/2020_LSHSS-20-00110

This case study explored responses of children with developmental language disorder (DLD) to rich vocabulary instruction. Children with DLD participated in a language intervention embedded within a science camp. Some children with DLD respond to rich vocabulary instruction but the gains are modest. The researchers identify potential factors that contributed to the outcomes, and urge that more studies be done with vocabulary interventions that are more precisely tailored to individual needs.

Beyond Decoding: A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Language Comprehension Interventions on K–5 Students’ Language and Literacy Outcomes

Silverman, R.D., Johnson, E.M., Keane, K., & Khanna, S. (2020). Beyond Decoding: A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Language Comprehension Interventions on K–5 Students’ Language and Literacy Outcomes. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S207– S233. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.346

The debate over the science of reading has focused primarily on decoding (i.e., connecting letters and sounds to read words) and whether to use phonics to teach it. However, research on reading has included much more than decoding. Language comprehension, which allows readers to derive meaning from text, is an equally critical component of reading. Research has suggested that explicit instruction on the components of language comprehension—vocabulary and semantics, morphology, and syntax—can support language and reading comprehension. To inform the field on the science of reading as it pertains to language comprehension, in this meta-analysis of recent language comprehension interventions (n = 43) in U.S. elementary schools, the authors examined whether effects vary depending on participant and intervention characteristics. Findings suggest positive effects on custom measures of vocabulary, listening comprehension, and reading comprehension but not on standardized measures of these outcomes. Results also indicate positive effects for English learners and promise for multicomponent interventions and those that include technology. Much more research is needed on how best to support language comprehension for underserved populations (e.g., students from low-income backgrounds) and how interventions can be optimized to support generalizable language and literacy outcomes. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.

When Children Are Not Read to at Home: The Million Word Gap

Logan JAR, Justice LM, Yumuş M, Chaparro-Moreno LJ. When Children Are Not Read to at Home: The Million Word Gap. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: March 20, 2019. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000657

In the U.S., there are numerous ongoing efforts to remedy the word gap: massive differences in heard vocabulary for poor versus advantaged children during the first 5 years of life. One potentially important resource for vocabulary exposure is children's book reading sessions, which are more lexically diverse than standard caregiver-child conversations and have demonstrated significant correlational and causal influences on children's vocabulary development. Yet, nationally representative data suggest that around 25% of caregivers never read with their children. This study uses data from 60 commonly read children's books to estimate the number of words that children are exposed to during book reading sessions. Results showed that parents who read 1 picture book with their children every day provide their children with exposure to an estimated 78,000 words each a year. Cumulatively, over the 5 years before kindergarten entry, researchers estimate that children from literacy-rich homes hear a cumulative 1.4 million more words during storybook reading than children who are never read to. These results suggest that home-based shared book reading represents an important resource for closing the word gap.

How Much Knowledge Is Too Little? When a Lack of Knowledge Becomes a Barrier to Comprehension

Tenaha O’Reilly, Zuowei Wang, John Sabatini. How Much Knowledge Is Too Little? When a Lack of Knowledge Becomes a Barrier to Comprehension. Psychological Science, 2019; 095679761986227 DOI: 10.1177/0956797619862276

Previous research has shown that students who lack sufficient reading skills, including decoding and vocabulary, fare poorly relative to their peers. However, this study suggests that a knowledge threshold may also be an essential component of reading comprehension. A sample of students took a background-knowledge test before working on a reading-comprehension test on the topic of ecology. Results revealed a knowledge threshold: Below the threshold, the relationship between comprehension and knowledge was weak, but above the threshold, a strong and positive relation emerged. Further analyses indicated that certain topically relevant words (e.g., ecosystem, habitat) were more important to know than others when predicting the threshold, and these keywords could be identified using natural-language-processing techniques. The findings underscore the importance of having reached a basic knowledge level to be able to read and comprehend texts across different subjects:

The 'blowfish effect': Children learn new words like adults do

Lauren L. Emberson, Nicole Loncar, Carolyn Mazzei, Isaac TREVES, Adele E. Goldberg. The blowfish effect: children and adults use atypical exemplars to infer more narrow categories during word learning. Journal of Child Language, 2019; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S0305000919000266

Even 3- to 5-year-olds know what typical dogs and fish look like — and they apply that knowledge when they hear new words. Researchers found that when children encounter new nouns, they use what they know about these objects to help them figure out what these words mean, a type of sophisticated reasoning thought to develop much later. The researchers coined this tactic the "blowfish effect." If children see a blowfish (or a greyhound or an unusual tropical flower) and learn a new word to go with it, they will assume it refers to that specific type of object and not the broader category of fish (or dogs or flowers). These findings run counter to the idea that children will always assume that new words should be interpreted as general terms.

Vocabulary Knowledge Mediates the Link Between Socioeconomic Status and Word Learning in Grade School

Mandy J. Maguire, Julie M. Schneider, Anna E. Middleton, Yvonne Ralph, Michael Lopez, Robert A. Ackerman, Alyson D. Abel. Vocabulary knowledge mediates the link between socioeconomic status and word learning in grade school. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, Volume 166, February 2018, pages 679-695.

This study of 68 children aged 8–15 years looked at whether socioeconomic status is related to word learning in grade school and to what degree vocabulary, reading and working memory might mediate that relationship. Results revealed that differences in vocabulary growth among grade school children of different socioeconomic statuses are likely related to differences in the process of word learning. Specifically, the study found that children of lower socioeconomic status are not as effective at using known vocabulary to build a robust picture or concept of the incoming language and use that to identify the meaning of an unknown word. Reading and working memory were not found to be related. The study also provides potential strategies that may be effective for intervention. For children ages 8 to 15, schools may focus too much on reading and not enough on increasing vocabulary through oral method.

Learning vocabulary from educational media: The role of pedagogical supports for low-income preschoolers

Neuman, S. B., Wong, K. M., Flynn, R., and Kaefer, T. (2018). Learning vocabulary from educational media: The role of pedagogical supports for low-income preschoolers. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication.


This article reports on two studies designed to examine the landscape of online streamed videos, and the features that may support vocabulary learning for low-income preschoolers. The researchers found that the majority of the videos taught specific vocabulary – more educational content than critics might assume. They also found that 4-year-olds were actually paying attention and learning new words. However, a full third of the ostensibly educational videos didn't teach any vocabulary at all. The pacing was universally too fast for most kids to absorb. The research showed that children who already have strong verbal skills, who tend to be from higher income families, were learning much more from these videos than kids with weak verbal skills. One of the study's specific recommendations is for writers and producers to select their vocabulary words more carefully by referencing existing lists of important words for preschoolers to know.

Self-regulation and the development of literacy and language achievement from preschool through second grade

Lori E. Skibbe, Janelle J. Montroy, Ryan P. Bowels, and Frederick J. Morrison. Self-regulation and the development of literacy and language achievement from preschool through second grade. Early Childhood Research Quarterly (April 2018). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2018.02.005

This study found that children who demonstrated self-regulation earlier had higher language and literacy skills throughout preschool to second grade. More specifically, earlier self-regulation trajectories were associated with both higher levels and earlier development of both decoding and reading comprehension, but not faster development. Children with early self-regulation trajectories developed phonological awareness earlier than those with late self-regulation trajectories. Finally, children with early self-regulation trajectories had higher levels of vocabulary than children with intermediate trajectories, but did not differ on the rate or timing of vocabulary development. Findings point to the enduring and interconnected nature of self-regulation and children’s language and literacy development.

Structured Literacy and Typical Literacy Practices: Understanding Differences to Create Instructional Opportunities

Swerling, Louise Spear. Structured Literacy and Typical Literacy Practices: Understanding Differences to Create Instructional Opportunities (January 23, 2018). Teaching Exceptional Children: Volume: 51 issue: 3, page(s): 201-211. https://doi.org/10.1177/0040059917750160

A key feature of structured literacy (SL) includes, “explicit, systematic, and sequential teaching of literacy at multiple levels — phonemes, letter–sound relationships, syllable patterns, morphemes, vocabulary, sentence structure, paragraph structure, and text structure. SL is especially well suited to students with dyslexia because it directly addresses their core weaknesses in phonological skills, decoding, and spelling. If implemented in Tier 1 instruction and tiered interventions, SL practices may also prevent or ameliorate a wide range of other reading difficulties.

The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom

Melody Arabo, Jonathan Budd, Shannon Garrison, and Tabitha Pacheco (March 2017). The Right Tool for the Job Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom. Washington, DC: The Thomas Fordham Institute.

This report presents in-depth reviews of nine promising online reading and writing tools for ELA classrooms. Overall, reviewers found these new resources mostly reflect the instructional shifts called for by Common Core (such as including a balance of text types and text-dependent questions for reading and writing). They also lauded the innovative nature and usefulness of text sets as instructional tools, as well as online resources’ student assessment and data reporting capabilities. However, our reviewers cite a lack of information regarding accessibility and accommodations for students with learning disabilities.

Job One: Build Knowledge. ESSA Creates an Opportunity— and an Obligation — to Help Every Child Become a Strong Reader

Hansel, L., Pondiscio, R. (May 2016) Job One: Build Knowledge. ESSA Creates an Opportunity— and an Obligation — to Help Every Child Become a Strong Reader. Knowledge Matters, Issue Brief #4.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), policymakers have the flexibility to incentivize districts and schools to make long-term investments in building students’ knowledge and vocabulary. This brief offers seven flexible, adaptable recommendations that will lead to better reading comprehension. With ESSA, states have the flexibility to rethink how reading test results are used, and to support schools in developing children with both strong word-reading skills (e.g., decoding) and a substantial foundation of academic knowledge and vocabulary. Given the large knowledge and vocabulary gaps that already exist when children enter school, systematically building skills, knowledge, and vocabulary throughout the elementary grades is our best hope for closing the reading achievement gap.

How Listening Drives Improvement in Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension

Kylie Flynn, Bryan Matlen, Sara Atienza, and Steven Schneider. How Listening Drives Improvement in Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension: A Study of Promise Using Tales2Go (March 2016). San Francisco: WestEd.

WestEd, an educational research nonprofit, conducted this study on the use of audio books in a San Francisco Bay area school district. Students using Tales2go audio books attained 58% of the annual expected gain in reading achievement in just ten weeks, putting them three months ahead of control students. The increase in annual gain corresponds to a 33% improvement in the rate of learning for the period. The study evaluated the effect of just listening (i.e., no paired text). The treatment group outperformed the control group across all measures, by 3.0x in reading comprehension, nearly 7.0x in 2nd grade vocabulary, and nearly 4.0x in reading motivation. Greater impact on reading achievement is possible if Tales2go is used on a regular basis, both in a classroom literacy rotation and at home.

The Words Children Hear: Picture Books and the Statistics for Language Learning

Jessica L. Montag, Michael N. Jones, and Linda B. Smith. The Words Children Hear: Picture Books and the Statistics for Language Learning, Psychological Science 0956797615594361, August 4, 2015.

Young children learn language from the speech they hear. Previous work suggests that greater statistical diversity of words and of linguistic contexts is associated with better language outcomes. One potential source of lexical diversity is the text of picture books that caregivers read aloud to children. In this study, researchers looked at the language content of 100 popular picture books. In comparing the language in books to the language used by parents talking to their children, the researchers found that the picture books contained more “unique word types.” The text of picture books may be an important source of vocabulary for young children, and these findings suggest a mechanism that underlies the language benefits associated with reading to children.

24-Month-Old Children With Larger Oral Vocabularies Display Greater Academic and Behavioral Functioning at Kindergarten Entry

Morgan, P. L., Farkas, G., Hillemeier, M. M., Hammer, C. S. and Maczuga, S. (2015), 24-Month-Old Children With Larger Oral Vocabularies Display Greater Academic and Behavioral Functioning at Kindergarten Entry. Child Development, 86: 1351–1370. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12398

Data were analyzed from a population-based, longitudinal sample of 8,650 U.S. children to (a) identify factors associated with or predictive of oral vocabulary size at 24 months of age and (b) evaluate whether oral vocabulary size is uniquely predictive of academic and behavioral functioning at kindergarten entry. Children from higher socioeconomic status households, females, and those experiencing higher quality parenting had larger oral vocabularies. Children born with very low birth weight or from households where the mother had health problems had smaller oral vocabularies. Even after extensive covariate adjustment, 24-month-old children with larger oral vocabularies displayed greater reading and mathematics achievement, increased behavioral self-regulation, and fewer externalizing and internalizing problem behaviors at kindergarten entry.

The Magic of Words

Susan B. Neuman and Tanya S. Wright (Summer 2014) American Educator, Vol. 38, No. 2, American Federation of Teachers.

From the beginning of schooling, children from various socioeconomic groups differ greatly in their vocabulary knowledge; those from high-income families tend to know many more words than those from low-income ones. Research shows that certain practices for teaching vocabulary — an important building block for learning — such as making connections among words and repeatedly exposing students to content-related words, can accelerate young children's oral vocabulary development, regardless of family income.

Orthographic Mapping in the Acquisition of Sight Word Reading, Spelling Memory, and Vocabulary Learning

Linnea C. Ehri (2014) Orthographic Mapping in the Acquisition of Sight Word Reading, Spelling Memory, and Vocabulary Learning, Scientific Studies of Reading, 18:1, 5-21, DOI: 10.1080/10888438.2013.819356

Orthographic mapping (OM) involves the formation of letter-sound connections to bond the spellings, pronunciations, and meanings of specific words in memory. It explains how children learn to read words by sight, to spell words from memory, and to acquire vocabulary words from print. This development is portrayed as a sequence of overlapping phases, each characterized by the predominant type of connection linking spellings of words to their pronunciations in memory. During development, the connections improve in quality and word-learning value, from visual nonalphabetic, to partial alphabetic, to full grapho-phonemic, to consolidated grapho-syllabic and grapho-morphemic. OM is enabled by phonemic awareness and grapheme-phoneme knowledge. Recent findings indicate that OM to support sight word reading is facilitated when beginners are taught about articulatory features of phonemes and when grapheme-phoneme relations are taught with letter-embedded picture mnemonics. Vocabulary learning is facilitated when spellings accompany pronunciations and meanings of new words to activate OM. Teaching students the strategy of pronouncing novel words aloud as they read text silently activates OM and helps them build their vocabularies. Because spelling-sound connections are retained in memory, they impact the processing of phonological constituents and phonological memory for words.

Reading Comprehension Requires Knowledge — of Words and the World

E.D. Hirsch, Jr. Reading Comprehension Requires Knowledge — of Words and the World. American Educator (2013) 27, 10-29.

Research indicates that the chief cause of the achievement gap between socioeconomic groups is a language gap. Much work on the subject of language and vocabulary neglects a fundamental element of word acquisition that is so basic as to be almost invisible: The relationship between language and the world knowledge to which language refers is extremely strong — there is evidence that by teaching solid content in reading classes we increase students’ reading comprehension more effectively than by any other method. A good, effective language-arts program that is focused on general knowledge and makes effective use of school time will not only raise reading achievement for all students, it will also narrow the reading gap — and the achievement gap — between groups.

Relationships Between Inferential Book Reading Strategies and Young Children's Language and Literacy Competence

Dunst, Carl, Williams, A, Trivette, C, Simkus, A, Hamby, D. (2012). Relationships Between Inferential Book Reading Strategies and Young Children's Language and Literacy Competence. CELLreviews 5(10), 1-10.

This meta-analysis looks at how different types of inferential book reading strategies used by adults are associated with young children's language and literacy behavior and development. Results showed that parents' and teachers' use of different types of inferencing strategies were related to variations in the child outcomes, and that the effects of inferencing were conditioned on the children's ages.

Effects of Reading to Infants and Toddlers on Their Early Language Development

Dunst, Carl J.; Simkus, Andrew; Hamby, Deborah W. (2012). Effects of Reading to Infants and Toddlers on Their Early Language Development. CELLreviews 5(4), Asheville, NC: Orelena Hawks Puckett Institute.

The effects of reading to infants and toddlers were examined in a meta-analysis of six intervention studies including 408 participants. Results indicated that interventions were effective in promoting the children's expressive and receptive language. The benefits of the interventions increased the earlier the interventions were started and the longer they were implemented. Implications of the findings for research and practice are described.

Children's Story Retelling as a Literacy and Language Enhancement Strategy

Dunst, C, Simkus, A, Hamby, D. (2012). Children's Story Retelling as a Literacy and Language Enhancement Strategy. CELLreviews 5(4). Asheville, NC: Orelena Hawks Puckett Institute, Center for Early Literacy Learning.

The effects of children's story retelling on early literacy and language development was examined in a meta-analysis of 11 studies including 687 toddlers and preschoolers. Results indicated that children's story retelling influenced both story-related comprehension and expressive vocabulary as well as nonstory-related receptive language and early literacy development. Findings also showed that the use of the characteristics that experts consider the important features of retelling practices was associated with positive child outcomes. Implications for practice are described.

Advancing Our Students' Language and Literacy: The Challenge of Complex Texts

Adams, M.J. (2011). Advancing Our Students' Language and Literacy: The Challenge of Complex Texts. American Educator, Winter 2010-2011, American Federation of Teachers.

The language of today's twelfth-grade English texts is simpler than that of seventh-grade texts published prior to 1963. No wonder students' reading comprehension has declined sharply.

Beyond Comprehension: We Have Yet to Adopt a Common Core Curriculum That Builds Knowledge Grade by Grade, But We Need To

Hirsch, E.D., Jr. (2011). Beyond Comprehension: We Have Yet to Adopt a Common Core Curriculum That Builds Knowledge Grade by Grade — But We Need To. American Educator, Winter 2010-2011, American Federation of Teachers.

Most of today's reading programs rest on faulty ideas about reading comprehension. Comprehension is not a general skill; it relies on having relevant vocabulary and knowledge.

Early Executive Function Predicts Reasoning Development

Richland, L. E., & Burchinal, M. R. (2013). Early Executive Function Predicts Reasoning Development. Psychological Science, 24, 87-92.

New research findings from the University of Chicago and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill demonstrate that children begin to show signs of higher-level thinking skills as early as 4.5 years of age. Using large-scale longitudinal data from the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development study, the authors examined tests children took at age 4.5, when they were in first grade, third grade, and at age 15. Findings showed a strong relationship between high scores among children who, as preschoolers, had strong vocabularies and were good at monitoring and controlling their responses (executive function) to later ability on tests of understanding analogies. Research suggests that executive function may be trainable through pathways such as preschool curriculum, exercise, and impulse control training.

Talking to Children Matters: Early Language Experience Strengthens Processing and Builds Vocabulary

Weisleder, A. & Fernald, A. (2013). Talking to children matters: Early language experience strengthens processing and builds vocabulary. Psychological Science, November 2013 24: 2143-2152.

In this study, researchers explored how the amount of speech directed to infants in Spanish-speaking families low in socioeconomic status influenced the development of children’s skill in real-time language processing and vocabulary learning. Results showed that children who had experienced more child-directed speech were more efficient at processing language. The analyses revealed a cascade of effects — those toddlers who heard more child-directed talk became faster and more reliable in interpreting speech, and it was their superior skill in processing language that then increased their success in vocabulary learning. An important finding was that even within a low-SES group there were substantial differences among parents in verbal engagement with their children and in children's language outcomes.

Teachers' Instruction and Students' Vocabulary and Comprehension: An Exploratory Study With English Monolingual and Spanish–English Bilingual Students in Grades 3–5

Silverman, Rebecca D. , Patrick Proctor, C. , Harring, Jeffrey R. , Doyle, Brie , Mitchell, Marisa A. , & Meyer, Anna G. (2013). Teachers' Instruction and Students' Vocabulary and Comprehension: An Exploratory Study With English Monolingual and Spanish–English Bilingual Students in Grades 3–5. Reading Research Quarterly, 49(1), 31–60.

This study explored the relationship between teachers' instruction and students' vocabulary and comprehension in grades 3–5. The secondary aim of this study was to investigate whether this relationship differed for English monolingual and Spanish–English bilingual students. The researchers investigated how the frequency of different types of instruction was associated with change in students' vocabulary and comprehension across the school year. Teachers' instruction related to definitions, word relations, and morphosyntax was positively associated with change in vocabulary; teachers' instruction related to application across contexts and literal comprehension was negatively associated with change in vocabulary; and teachers' instruction related to inferential comprehension was positively associated with change in comprehension. The findings also revealed an interaction between language status and teachers' instruction, such that instruction that attended to comprehension strategies was associated with greater positive change in comprehension for bilingual (but not for monolingual) students.

Repeated Book Reading and Preschoolers' Early Literacy Development

Trivette, C. M., Simkus, A., Dunst, C.J., Hamby, D.W. (2012). Repeated book reading and preschoolers’ early literacy development. CELL reviews, 5 (5).

The effects of repeated book reading on children's early literacy and language development were examined in this meta-analysis of 16 studies including 466 child participants. Results indicated that repeated book reading influenced both story-related vocabulary and story-related comprehension. Findings also showed that the adults' use of manipulatives or illustrations related to the story, positive reinforcement of children's comments, explanation concerning the story when asked, and open-ended questions to prompt child verbal responses were associated with positive child outcomes. Implications for practice are described.

The Nation's Report Card: Vocabulary Results from the 2009 and 2011 NAEP Reading Assessments

National Center for Education Statistics (2012). The Nation's Report Card: Vocabulary Results From the 2009 and 2011 NAEP Reading Assessments (NCES 2013–452). Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.

A National Assessment of Educational Progress report reveals gaps in vocabulary achievement among students from families of different income levels and students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. While the assessment only recently began measuring vocabulary, officials say results already show connections between vocabulary skills and reading comprehension.

SES differences in language processing skill and vocabulary are evident at 18 months

Fernald, A., Marchman, V. A. and Weisleder, A. (2013), SES differences in language processing skill and vocabulary are evident at 18 months. Developmental Science, 16: 234–248.

This research revealed both similarities and striking differences in early language proficiency among infants from a broad range of advantaged and disadvantaged families. English-learning infants were followed longitudinally from 18 to 24 months, using real-time measures of spoken language processing. The first goal was to track developmental changes in processing efficiency in relation to vocabulary learning in this diverse sample. The second goal was to examine differences in these crucial aspects of early language development in relation to family socioeconomic status (SES). The most important findings were that significant disparities in vocabulary and language processing efficiency were already evident at 18 months between infants from higher- and lower-SES families, and by 24 months there was a 6-month gap between SES groups in processing skills critical to language development.

Trajectories of the Home Learning Environment Across the First 5 Years: Associations With Children's Vocabulary and Literacy Skills at Prekindergarten

Rodriguez, Eileen; Tamis-LeMonda, Catherine S. (2011) Trajectories of the Home Learning Environment Across the First 5 Years: Associations With Children's Vocabulary and Literacy Skills at Prekindergarten. Child Development 82(4).

A study that looked at the home environments of more than 1,850 children from households at or below the federal poverty line showed that factors such as levels of shared reading, exposure to frequent and varied adult speech, and access to children's books had an impact on school readiness skills. "As a parent, it is never too early to engage your child in learning," said Amber Story, a social psychologist and deputy director of the National Science Foundation's Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences, which funded the study. "This research suggests that the degree to which parents read and talk to their infant; point and label objects in the environment; and provide engaging books and toys when their child is only 15 months old can have long-lasting effects on the infant's language skills years later."

How Words Can and Cannot Be Learned by Observation

Medinaa, TN, Snedekerc, J, Trueswella, J, & Gleitmana, G. (2011). How words can and cannot be learned by observation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(22), 9014-9019.

"If language experiences are not rich, then where is your interest to retain them?" says Janice H. Im of Zero to Three: the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families. A new study from University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University suggests that understanding basic words may come from a flash of initial insight more than repetition. The study's findings suggest that children build concrete vocabulary by interacting with a complex, rich learning environment, not just repeated exposure to words in isolation.

The Effectiveness of a Program to Accelerate Vocabulary Development in Kindergarten

Goodson, B., Wolf, A., Bell, S., Turner, H., and Finney, P.B. (2010). The Effectiveness of a Program to Accelerate Vocabulary Development in Kindergarten (VOCAB). (NCEE 2010-4014). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

REL Southeast conducted a randomized control trial in the Mississippi Delta to test the impact of a kindergarten vocabulary instruction program on students' expressive vocabulary — the words students understand well enough to use in speaking. The study found that the 24-week K-PAVE program had a significant positive impact on students' vocabulary development and academic knowledge and on the vocabulary and comprehension support that teachers provided during book read-alouds and other instructional time.

Putting the Pieces of the Puzzle Together: How Systematic Vocabulary Instruction and Expanded Learning Time Can Address the Literacy Gap

White, C.E. and Kim, J.S., Harvard Graduate School of Education (2009). Putting the Pieces of the Puzzle Together: How Systematic Vocabulary Instruction and Expanded Learning Time Can Address the Literacy Gap. Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress.

This report makes several recommendations to address disparities in vocabulary and spoken language based on children's family income and English-language proficiency. Schools should use systematic vocabulary instruction throughout the school day and during expanded learning time, sustain a school-wide program, regularly assess student knowledge, and help teachers target the right words during instruction. The report suggests that expanded learning time policies may enhance the effectiveness of systematic vocabulary instruction for low-income children and English language learners.

How to get recreational reading to increase reading achievement

Kamil, M. (2008). How to get recreational reading to increase reading achievement. In Y. Kim, V. J. Risko, D. L. Compton, D. K. Dickinson, M. K. Hundley, R. T. Jiménez, & D. Well Rowe (Eds.), 57th Yearbook of the National Reading Conference (pp. 31–40). Oak Creek, WI: National Reading Conference.

The conclusion from these studies is that recreational reading by itself has no effect on reading achievement — teachers and instruction are the critical variables in the relationship of recreational reading to reading ability. The current research provides a strong test of the notion that having students read a lot will produce reading achievement gains. This holds true for the entire range of measures used from alphabetics to comprehension. However, instruction can leverage recreational reading to produce some gains in reading achievement, most notably in fluency and comprehension. When recreational reading is encouraged in the context of improved instruction, there are improvements in fluency and comprehension, although not in vocabulary.

Integrated Vocabulary Instruction: Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners in Grades K-5

Blachowicz, C.L.Z, Watts-Taffe, S. & Fisher, P. (2005).
Learning Point Associates.

The goal of this document is to provide the information that teachers and other educators need to implement an integrated and comprehensive approach to vocabulary instruction. Integrated means that vocabulary is a core consideration in all grades across the school and in all content areas across the school day. Comprehensive means that vocabulary instruction encompasses much more than a list of words to teach at the beginning of the week. Rather, it involves a common philosophy and shared practices, based on a solid understanding the knowledge base and supported by curricular considerations as well as classroom and school organizational procedures.

Closing the Gap: Addressing the Vocabulary Needs of English-Language Learners in Bilingual and Mainstream Classrooms

Carlo, M.S., August, D., McLaughlin, B., Snow, C.E., Dressler, C., Lippman, D.N., Lively, T.J., & White, C.E. (2004). Closing the gap: Addressing the vocabulary needs of English-language learners in bilingual and mainstream classrooms. Reading Research Quarterly, 39, 188-215.

Gaps in reading performance between Anglo and Latino children are associated with gaps in vocabulary knowledge. An intervention was designed to enhance fifth graders' academic vocabulary. The meanings of academically useful words were taught together with strategies for using information from context, from morphology, from knowledge about multiple meanings, and from cognates to infer word meaning. Among the principles underlying the intervention were that new words should be encountered in meaningful text, that native Spanish speakers should have access to the text's meaning through Spanish, that words should be encountered in varying contexts, and that word knowledge involves spelling, pronunciation, morphology, and syntax as well as depth of meaning.

Fifth graders in the intervention group showed greater growth than the comparison group on knowledge of the words taught, on depth of vocabulary knowledge, on understanding multiple meanings, and on reading comprehension. The intervention effects were as large for the English-language learners (ELLs) as for the English-only speakers (EOs), though the ELLs scored lower on all pre- and posttest measures. The results show the feasibility of improving comprehension outcomes for students in mixed ELL-EO classes, by teaching word analysis and vocabulary learning strategies.

Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction

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

From Barnesandnoble.com:
Three American educators and researchers from the fields of learning, language, and reading explain the rationale for robust vocabulary instruction, as a means of creating the beginning of students' lifelong fascination with words. The text provides K-12 teachers with examples of such instruction for early, intermediate, and later grades. Coverage includes criteria for selecting words for instruction, ways of introducing new vocabulary, developing vocabulary activities, using natural contexts to derive word meanings, and techniques for creating a rich verbal environment in the classroom.

Text Matters in Learning to Read

Heibert, E.H. (1999). Text matters in learning to read (Distinguished Educators Series). Reading Teacher, 52, 552-566. Retrieved June 28, 2005, from CIERA Rep. No. 1-001.

This report examines texts based on high-frequency and phonetically regular words as well as the trade books of current literature-based reading programs. It considers each type of text by examining the task it poses for beginning readers. What does a beginning reader need to know about written English to be successful with a particular type of text? What will a beginning reader learn about text if consistently presented with a particular type of text? From a task perspective, consistent reading of particular types of texts can be likened to a diet where children eat particular food groups but not others. Through experiences with particular texts, children may be acquiring some nutrients (or skills) and not others. This article addresses the diets provided to beginning readers by different instructional texts. To paraphrase Allington (1994), the three sections of the paper deal with (a) the texts used, (b) the texts had, and (c) the texts needed.

Teaching Children to Learn Word Meanings from Context: A Synthesis and Some Questions

Kuhn, M., & Stahl, S. (1998). Teaching children to learn word meanings from context: A synthesis and some questions. Journal of Literacy Research, 30, 119-138.

This article reviews 14 studies investigating approaches that aimed at teaching children to be more efficient at learning words from context. In nearly all of the studies reviewed, treatments were effective at improving children's skill in learning words from context compared to a no-treatment control. However, in the 4 studies that included a practice-only treatment, no significant differences were found between the strategy treatment and practice-only groups. These findings suggest that the effects of the treatments were due to the practice rather than to the specific strategies taught. Suggestions are made for improving research examining the effects of context-clue strategies.

Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children

Hart, B. and Risley, T. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experiences of young American children. Brookes Publishing Company

The landmark longitudinal study of parent-child talk in families. The researchers recorded one full hour of every word spoken at home between parent and child in 42 families over a three year period, with children from seven months to 36 months of age. Follow-up studies by Hart and Risley of those same children at age nine showed that there was a very tight link between the academic success of a child and the number of words the child's parents spoke to the child to age three. See summary

Reading Storybooks to Kindergartners Helps Them Learn New Vocabulary Words

Robbins, C., & Ehri, L. C. (1994). Reading storybooks to kindergartners helps them learn new vocabulary words. Journal of Educational Psychology, 86, 54-64.

In sessions conducted individually, 45 kindergartners who were nonreaders listened to an adult read the same storybook twice, 2-4 days apart, and then completed a posttest measuring their knowledge of the meanings of 22 unfamiliar words, half of which had appeared in the story. Children recognized the meanings of significantly more words from the story than words not in the story, indicating that storybook reading was effective for building vocabulary. Gains were greater among children with larger entering vocabularies.

Effects of Long-Term Vocabulary Instruction on Lexical Access and Reading Comprehension

Beck, I., Perfetti, C., & McKeown, M. (1982). Effects of long-term vocabulary instruction on lexical access and reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 74, 500-512.

To examine the relationship between knowledge of word meanings and semantic processes, 27 4th-grade children were taught 104 words over a 5-mo period. Following instruction, Ss performed tasks designed to require semantic processes ranging from single word semantic decisions to simple sentence verification and memory for connected text. On all these tasks, instructed Ss performed at a significantly higher level than controls matched on pre-instruction vocabulary knowledge and comprehension. Thus, instructed Ss gave evidence both of learning word meanings taught by the program and of being able to process instructed words more efficiently in tasks more reflective of comprehension. Implications for vocabulary instruction and the role of individual word meanings in comprehension are discussed.

What's in a Word? On the Child's Acquisition of Semantics in His First Language

Clark, E. V. (1973). What's in a word? On the child's acquisition of semantics in his first language. In T. E. Moore (Ed.), Cognitive development and the acquisition of language (pp. 65-110). New York: Academic Press.

"There is no substitute for books in the life of a child." — May Ellen Chase