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What is the Importance of Vocabulary in Reading Comprehension?

Vocabulary is key to reading comprehension. Readers cannot understand what they are reading without knowing what most of the words mean. As children learn to read more advanced texts, they must learn the meaning of new words that are not part of their oral vocabulary.

What are the 4 types of vocabulary?

Each type has a different purpose and, luckily, vocabulary development in one type facilitates growth in another.

  1. Listening Vocabulary

  2. Speaking Vocabulary

  3. Reading Vocabulary

  4. Writing Vocabulary

This blog will focus on reading vocabulary. What is it? How can I Help?

What is Vocabulary in Reading?

​Vocabulary is an important focus of literacy teaching and refers to the knowledge or words, including their structure (morphology), use (grammar), meanings (semantics), and links to other words (word/semantic relationships).

Isabel Beck, Sharon Walpole and Nanci Bell, all vocabulary and comprehension experts, discuss Vocabulary and Comprehension in this video. Vocabulary and Comprehension

How Can I Help Increase Vocabulary?

The scientific research on vocabulary instruction reveals that most vocabulary is learned indirectly and that some vocabulary must be taught directly. Thus, research supports using a combination of both indirect and direct approaches. Reading Rockets provides the following suggestions. These are easy to implement and you can start today.

Indirect Vocabulary Learning

Children learn the meanings of most words indirectly, through everyday experiences with oral and written language. Children learn word meanings indirectly in three ways:

  1. They engage daily in oral language

  2. They listen to adults read to them

  3. They read extensively on their own

To increase indirect vocabulary acquisition, here are some great read aloud suggestions: 100 Best Read-Aloud Books - Scholastic

Direct Vocabulary Learning

Although a great deal of vocabulary is learned indirectly, some vocabulary should be taught directly.

Direct instruction helps students learn difficult words. These words may represent complex concepts that are not part of the students' everyday experiences. Direct instruction of vocabulary relevant to a given text leads to better reading comprehension.

Direct instruction includes:

  • Providing students with instruction in specific words that are important to students’ content learning or understanding of a particular text.

  • Teaching students more general word-learning strategies that they can apply to a variety of words, such as analyzing parts of words (e.g., root words).

Watch this video of a kindergarten teacher teaching the word startled to her students: Academic Vocabulary Instruction in Kindergarten

If you are interested in trying this technique, here is what suggests.

Choose the words to teach. For weekly vocabulary instruction, work with students to choose three to five new words per week. Select words that students will use or see most often, or words related to other words they know.

Before you dive in, it’s helpful to know that vocabulary words can be grouped into three tiers. These tiers are outlined in more detail in Isabel Becks book Bringing Words to Life Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction :

  • Tier 1 words: These are the most frequently used words that appear in everyday speech. Students typically learn these words through oral language. Examples include dog, cat, happy, see, run, and go.

  • Tier 2 words: These words are used in many different contexts and subjects. Examples include interpret, assume, necessary, and analyze..

  • Tier 3 words: These are subject-specific words that are used in particular subject areas, such as peninsula in social studies and integer in math.

When choosing which vocabulary words to teach, you may want to pick words from Tier 2 because they’re the most useful across all subject areas.

Select a text. Find an appropriate text (or multiple texts for students to choose from) that includes the vocabulary words you want to teach.

Come up with student-friendly definitions. Find resources you and your students can consult to come up with a definition for each word. The definition should be easy to understand, be written in everyday language, and capture the word’s common use.

How to teach a new vocabulary word:

1. Introduce each new word one at a time. Say the word aloud and have students repeat the word. For visual support, display the words and their definitions for students to see, such as on a word wall, flip chart, or vocabulary graphic organizer. Showing pictures related to the word can be helpful, too.

2. Reflect. Allow time for students to reflect on what they know or don’t know about the words. Remember that your class will come to the lesson with varying levels of vocabulary knowledge. Some students may be familiar with some of the words. Other students may not know any of them.

3. Read the text you’ve chosen. You can read it to your students or have students read on their own (either a printed version or by listening to an audio version). As you read, pause to point to the vocabulary words in context. A link for free audio books here. The 8 Best Websites to Download Audiobooks for Free

4. Ask students to repeat the word after you’ve read it in the text. Then remind students of the word’s definition. If a word has more than one meaning, focus on the definition that applies to the text.

5. Use a quick, fun activity to reinforce each new word’s meaning. After reading, use one or more of the following to help students learn the words more effectively:

  • Word associations: Ask students,“What does the word delicate make you think of? What other words go with delicate?” Students can turn and talk with a partner to come up with a response. Then invite pairs to share their responses with the rest of the class.

  • Use your senses: Ask your students to use their senses to describe when they saw, heard, felt, tasted, or smelled something that was delicate. Allow students time to think. Then ask them to give a thumbs up if they’ve ever seen something delicate. Call on students to share their responses. Do the same with each of the senses.

  • Picture perfect: Invite students to draw a picture that represents the word’s meaning. This link to Teacher Pay Teachers will take you to many choices to use with this technique. Drawing Vocabulary Pictures Teaching Resources | TpT

  • Examples and non-examples: Give one example and one non-example of how the word is and isn’t used. For instance, you could tell students that one thing that is delicate is a teacup. One thing that isn’t delicate is the cement stairs into the school. Then invite students to share their own examples of things that are and aren’t delicate.

After students do one or more of the activities above, have them say or draw the word again.

6. Play word games. Throughout the week, play word games like vocabulary bingo, vocabulary Pictionary, and charades to practice the new words. Include words you’ve taught in the past for additional reinforcement. Here is a word generator to use for Pictionary. Pictionary Generator Here is a charades word generator. Charades Generator

7. Challenge students to use new words. They can use their new vocabulary in different contexts, like at home, at recess, or during after-school activities. Consider asking students to use a vocabulary notebook to jot down when they use the words.

Vocabulary knowledge is an important part of reading comprehension. Pre-teaching vocabulary in a text will help struggling learners be successful. has additional information regarding comprehension and vocabulary instruction. Some important bullet points were featured in this post.

“One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die.” -Evelyn Waugh

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