Vocabulary Intervention

for Linguistically Diverse Students

Dr. Nonie Lesaux

Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia
Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

Questions that lead her research:

  • How do we identify a reading disability for a second language learner?
  • What does it mean for intervention if a child is not fully proficient in the language of instruction?


Found that only 10% of total instruction supports vocabulary development but it tends to be incidental - a teacher might stumble across a word and tell students what it means

Vocabulary and Comprehension

“The more words one brings to the reading that they are doing, the more they are likely to be able to learn from that text”

Alias Vocabulary Intervention Program

20 week program for upper elementary and middle school classrooms to increase kids' understanding of how words and language works.

  • Engages adolescents who need more support and build their reading comprehension
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  • In curriculum, took magazine articles that featured a hot topic: should boys and girls be separated at school?
  • The big idea was segregation but it met the kids where they were at, by taking segregation into their world. It gave them a platform for the big idea of segregation, policies, and gender equality.
  • Students were so engaged in the story which helps motivate them to learn vocabulary that was involved; Authentic way to learn vocabulary rather than a word list.

What does this mean?

For teachers: Anchor vocabulary teaching in big ideas and rich content.

For parents: Talk at home, play with words, and use your native language.

For principals: Introduce an aligned system of literacy instruction that moves beyond K-3, provide structure and repetition while increasing rigor in vocabulary.

For policy makers: Reinforce the notion of literacy from K-12, help provide resources for content based literacy, and provide support.