Vocabulary Workshop

Heather Frehner - October 29, 2014

History of Vocabulary Research

  • In his 1944 article, Davis determined that two of the key skills in reading comprehension were (1) knowledge of word meanings and (2) the ability to select the appropriate meaning of a word based on its contextual setting. The fact that two of Davis's nine key skills in reading comprehension focus on vocabulary says a lot about the importance of vocabulary in comprehending what we read.
  • During his 1964 State of the Union address, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a "war on poverty" (Matthews, 2014). As a result the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was passed. This brought forth more focus on student educational growth and development and future educational initiatives such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
  • Hart & Risley (2003) were a couple of the many researchers and educators who took the War on Poverty seriously and attempted to be a part of the solution, focusing interventions on children in impoverished areas. Through their research, they found that a child's socioeconomic status (SES) has an effect on the size of their vocabulary. In fact, children from professional families have, on average, had access to 30 million more words by age 3 than those of welfare families. What is even more challenging is that the rate of vocabulary acquisition amongst children of welfare families is much slower than that of children from professional families.
  • Throughout the 1980's, McKeown & Beck published much research relating vocabulary knowledge to overall reading comprehension. In a 1983 article, they stated that "for vocabulary instruction to affect reading comprehension, the instructional strategies must not be limited to establishing an accurate association between a word and its definition" (p. 4). They continued, discussing the need for vocabulary instruction to be deep and meaningful.
  • In 2000, the National Reading Panel (NRP) identified teaching vocabulary words as one of the key components of reading instruction. In their report, the NRP stated, "vocabulary seems to occupy an important middle ground in learning to read" and that "vocabulary is crucial to the comprehension processes of a skilled reader" (p. 239).

Vocabulary Tiers

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Text Talk - A Vocabulary Instructional Strategy Presented by Beck & McKeown (2007)

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Steps for Creating Child-Friendly Definitions

  1. Use everyday language to explain the meaning of the word.
  2. Ask yourself, "When do I use this word?" and "Why do we have this word?"
  3. Include something, someone, or describes in your child-friendly definition to clarify how the word is used.

Lane, H.B. & Wright, T.L. (2007). Maximizing the effectiveness of reading aloud. The Reading Teacher, 60(7), 668-675.

Examples of Child-Friendly Definitions

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Beck, I. & McKeown, M. (2007). Increasing young low-income children's oral vocabulary repertoires through rich and focused instruction. The Elementary School Journal, 107(3), 251-271.

Davis, F. B. (1944). Fundamental factors in reading comprehension. Psychometrika, 9,

Hart, B. & Risley, T. (2003) The early catastrophe: The 30 million word gap by age 3. American Educator, Spring 2003, 4-9.

Lane, H.B. & Wright, T.L. (2007). Maximizing the effectiveness of reading aloud. The Reading Teacher, 60(7), 668-675.

Manyak, P.C., Van Gunten, H., Autenrieth, D., Gillis, C., Mastre-O'Farrell, J., Irvine-McDermott, E., Baumann, J.F., & Blachowicz, C.L.Z. (2014). Four practical principles for enhancing vocabulary instruction. The Reading Teacher, 68(1), 13-23.

Matthews, D. (2014). Everything you need to know about the war on poverty. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/01/08/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-war-on-poverty/

McKeown, M., Beck, I., Omanson, R., & Perfetti, C. (2983). The effects of long-term vocabulary instruction on reading comprehension: A replication. Journal of Reading Behavior, 15(1), 3-18.

National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction.