Reading First: A Guide to Vocabulary Instruction

Vocabulary is generally thought of as oral vocabulary and reading vocabulary. Oral vocabulary refers to words we use while speaking and words we understand when listening. Reading vocabulary refers to words we use while writing and words we understand when reading.

The goal of reading instruction is fluent reading with good comprehension. Vocabulary knowledge is closely tied to a reader's comprehension. Not only do readers need to know word meanings, but they must also have background knowledge to support their vocabulary. Additionally, topics have specialized vocabulary that influence comprehension. For example, a crease can mean a fold in fabric, but in the sport of cricket, creases are lines marking a player's position. Vocabulary is strongly related to reading performance as well as to overall school achievement.

This being said, how do we effectively teach vocabulary so that our students develop a large vocabulary repertoire? We all remember the old way to teach vocabulary: give out a list of words on Monday, look them up in the dictionary and maybe write them in a sentence, and test on Friday. This strategy to teach vocabulary is ineffective. Students need to actively learn word definitions in contextualized settings that allow them to compare the new words to already known words and concepts.

Vocabulary Instruction: Guidelines for Word Selection
Many studies have shown that the vocabularies of high performing children exceed those of their same-age peers. One way you can help build vocabulary, as well as support listening and reading comprehension, is to directly teach vocabulary. The first step in specific word instruction is appropriate word selection. This section of the Vocabulary Guide will map out guidelines for selecting words to preteach.

Instructional Activities for Vocabulary Development: Direct Vocabulary Instruction
Direct vocabulary instruction of difficult words and/or concepts that are relevant to a shared text will lead to better reading comprehension. Each activity described in this section of the guide involves direct teaching of word meanings with repeated exposure to words in contextualized settings.

Instructional Activities for Vocabulary Development: Indirect Vocabulary Instruction
Children learn vocabulary indirectly when they hear and read words in a variety of contexts. The activities described in this section of the guide are designed to help your students learn strategies that will enable them to learn vocabulary indirectly while listening and reading.

Click here to see a list of resources that address vocabulary instruction

Please feel free to download and use any of the activities and information that we have provided. You may contact the Reading First office at the University of Virginia if you have any questions.

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