Vocabulary: Research Adapted from National  Reading Panel Report, 2000 

Vocabulary refers to the pronunciation and meanings of words necessary for communication.    Vocabulary knowledge is often divided into two categories: oral vocabulary(listening and speaking) and print vocabulary (reading and writing).  The role of vocabulary instruction in the classroom is to expand the oral vocabulary while developing an extensive print vocabularyThe ultimate goal of vocabulary instruction, within the context of reading instruction, is to help students learn the meanings of many words in order to improve reading comprehension.

For the first twelve years in children’s lives they learn words with amazing facility(Anderson, Nagy, & Herman, 1985).  But, not all children learn the same amount and kind of words.  Children can learn as few as 1,000 new words per year or as many as 8,000 words per year.  Researchers believe that these differences in the amounts of word learning relate to children’s experiences with print(Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998).  For example, Adams(1990) reported that differences in the amount of words learned by preschool children relates directly to how much and how often they are read to.  Nagy, Herman and Anderson(1985) estimated that, for school-age children, the more they read, the more vocabulary they learn.  For at-risk children, vocabulary presents a particular problem.  These children may not have the repertoire of vocabulary words that they will need to succeed in school. 

Vocabulary acquisition is critically important to comprehension.  Indeed, vocabulary is the tip of the comprehension iceberg(Freebody & Anderson, 1981).  If children lack knowledge about words, their comprehension will be seriously impaired.  According to Snow et al., 1998, there is a well-documented link between vocabulary size and early reading ability.  Vocabulary can be both expressive and receptive.  It includes the knowledge and understanding of words both orally and in written texts.  Vocabulary development consists of listening, speaking, reading and writing vocabulary (Put Reading First, 2001).  Vocabulary cannot be assigned a specific mastery point as it, like comprehension, is a lifelong skill development process. 

For high poverty children, teaching students the meanings of new words is critically important.  High poverty children are not likely to have the repertoire of vocabulary words that they will need to succeed in school.   Their more privileged peers have been exposed to literally thousands of words more per year than they have(Adams, 1990;  Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998; Hart & Risley, 1995; Nagy & Herman, 1987).  Even though it is estimated that explicit instruction in vocabulary cannot make up for the difference in words learned(Beck, McKeown & Kucan, 2002), it is also true that teachers can help students learn more words and develop an ear for learning words and becoming word conscious(Graves, Watts, & Graves, 1994).


Contact Information

Phyllis Veith Assistant Director

Allen Sexton Coordinator

Building 6, Rm 304
1900 Kanawha Blvd. E.
Charleston, WV 25305

800-642-8541 or 304-558-2696
Fax: 304-558-3741