Vocabulary Instruction

Feb 2, 2009 by

What does scientifically-based research tell us about vocabulary instruction?

1)  Most vocabulary is learned indirectly.
     Children learn word meanings indirectly by:

  • engaging daily in oral language
  • listening to adults read to them
  • reading extensively on their own

2)  Some vocabulary must be taught directly.
     Teachers can provide direct instruction by:

  • Providing students with specific word instruction
  • Teaching students word-learning strategies
Dependence on a single vocabulary method
will not result in optimal learning.

What does it mean to “know” a word?

Students move from:

Not knowing a word


Having an acquaintance with the word


Deep, rich flexible knowledge of the word


Guidelines for Effective Vocabulary Instruction

Guideline 1:  The effective vocabulary teacher builds a word-rich environment in which students are immersed in words for both incidental and intentional learning.

  • Wide reading
  • “Flood of words”
  • Word aware classroom

Guideline 2:  The effective teacher helps students develop as independent word learners.

  • Self-selection of words
  • Words in context
  • Connect known to the unknown

Guideline 3:  The effective teacher uses instructional strategies that not only teach vocabulary effectively but model good word learning behaviors.

  • Make word meanings and relationships visible
  • Use semantic webs, maps, organizers, relational charts
  • Make word learning personal (use experiences, mnemonics, analogies, keywords)

Guideline 4:  The effective teacher uses assessment that matches the goal of instruction.

  • Assessment through use
  • Assess depth and breadth of vocabulary knowledge
  • Incorporate targeted words in responses to questions and in summaries and retellings

From Teaching Vocabulary in All Classrooms by  Blachowicz and Fisher, Merrill Prentice Hall, 2009.

This research-based book features a wealth of ideas for developing vocabulary in all content areas:

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