What is vocabulary development?
Vocabulary development focuses on helping students learn the meaning of new words and concepts. Helping students develop vocabulary means providing explicit instruction on important words from the reading passage and strategies to help them learn word meanings independently.
Why is vocabulary development and knowledge important for secondary struggling readers?
Because of the relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension, students need to understand the meaning of words quickly as they read to promote reading comprehension.
Vocabulary development is crucial if students are to learn the content of the secondary curriculum.
Students do not necessarily possess the vocabulary that is a prerequisite to their understanding of the content-area curriculum.
What are the goals of vocabulary instruction for secondary struggling readers?
The goals of vocabulary instruction for secondary struggling readers are to
expand students' repertoire of new words,
help students connect new words to existing knowledge,
enhance students' ability to understand text, and
increase students' word knowledge to facilitate reading comprehension and academic success.
What are some instructional guidelines for developing vocabulary?
Use explicit instruction to preteach unfamiliar important words from the text.
Have students use mapping techniques, such as Semantic Mapping, to help them think about the new word meanings.
Help students relate new vocabulary to their prior knowledge and experiences.
Have students add new words and concepts to their maps.
Use content-area word walls as a resource.
Teach students to use word parts such as prefixes and suffixes to read new words.
Teach students how to use the context of expository text to figure out word meanings.
Expand on word meanings that were defined in the textbook to ensure students' understanding of the new words.
Teach unfamiliar words that were not learned before or during reading.
Have students use their own words to explain the meaning of new words.
Play vocabulary games (e.g., using synonyms, antonyms) to provide enrichment of new word meanings.
Provide numerous opportunities through activities and reading to extend word knowledge and to develop a deeper understanding of word meanings.
What are some tips for selecting vocabulary to preteach using explicit instruction?
Select words that are critical for understanding the text.
Select words that will be the most difficult for students. Teach only a few words before reading to help students comprehend what they read.
Do not select words that students may know based on their word parts if students can use word parts to figure out word meanings.
Select words that are not likely to be learned independently and that are critical for understanding the main ideas.
What are some research-based interventions for teaching vocabulary to secondary struggling readers?
The best method of vocabulary instruction depends on the goals of instruction, the words to be learned, and the characteristics of the learners.
Word Building: Word Building is a strategy to teach derivational meanings (prefixes, suffixes, combining forms). Students select a root word, select a prefix and/or suffix, and add them to the root word. Students write a sentence using the newly created word. Root words should be selected from the text to be read.
Illustrate and Associate: Illustrate and Associate is a strategy to introduce associations among words, including synonyms, antonyms, and analogies. The strategy involves listing the vocabulary word, writing a brief definition, drawing a picture to illustrate the meaning, and identifying an antonym for the word, if possible.
Character Mapping: To learn connotative meaning, students can use a Character Map. They identify a character from their story and use parts of speech to describe the character's attributes.
Word Map: Students can map concepts (key vocabulary) by identifying characteristics of the concept and providing examples for the word.
What are some issues and guidelines for English-language learners?
English-language learners may demonstrate difficulties learning numerous word meanings encountered in text even though they may demonstrate some proficiency with listening to and speaking English vocabulary.
English-language learners may have to reread passages several times before comprehending the meaning.
For English-language learners, development of vocabulary is an important factor affecting academic achievement.
Introduce only a few new vocabulary words at a time to English-language learners.
Review unfamiliar vocabulary. English language-learners may be able to decode words correctly and still not know their meaning.
Engage students in instructional conversations to develop vocabulary.
Review key vocabulary in both English and the native language.
Resources and References
Allen, J. (1999). Words, words, words: Teaching vocabulary in grades 4-12. York, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Anders, P., & Bos, C. (1986). Semantic feature analysis: An interactive strategy for vocabulary development and text comprehension. Journal of Reading, 29, 610-616.
Baker, S. K., Simmons, D. C., & Kameenui, E. J. (1995a). Vocabulary acquisition: Curricular and instructional implications for diverse learners (Tech. Rep. No. 13). Eugene: University of Oregon: National Center to Improve the Tools for Educators.
Bean, T. W. (1992). Combining text previews and three level study guides to develop critical reading in history. In E. K. Dishner, T. W. Bean, J. E. Readence, & D. B. Moore (Eds.), Reading in the content areas: Improving classroom instruction (3rd ed., pp. 264-269). Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.
Beck, I. L., & McKeown, M. G. (1991). Conditions of vocabulary acquisition. In R. Barr, M. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, & P. D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. 2, pp. 789-814). White Plains, NY: Longman.
Bryant, D. P., Ugel, N., Thompson, S., & Hamff, A. (1999). Strategies to promote content area reading instruction. Intervention in School and Clinic, 34, 293-302.
Carlisle, J. F. (1993). Selecting approaches to vocabulary instruction for the reading disabled. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 8(2), 97-105.
Englert, C. S., & Mariage, T. V. (1991). Making students partners in the comprehension process: Organizing the reading "POSSE." Learning Disability Quarterly, 14, 123-138.
Cunningham, P. M., & Hall, D. P. (1996). Making more big words. Torrance, CA: Good Apple.
Gersten, R., & Jimenez, R. (1998). Promoting learning for culturally and linguistically diverse students. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Nagy, W. E. (1988). Teaching vocabulary to improve reading comprehension. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Scruggs, T., & Mastropieri, M. (1989). Mnemonic instruction of LD students: A field-based evaluation. Learning Disability Quarterly, 12, 119-125.
Stahl, S. A., & Nagy, W. (2000). Promoting vocabulary development. Austin: Texas Education Agency.
Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts. (2000). Enhancing vocabulary instruction for secondary students. Austin: Author.
Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts. (2001). Effective instruction for struggling readers: Research-based practices. Austin: Special Education Reading Project (SERP).
Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts. (2001). Second grade teacher reading academy. Austin: Author.
Prepared by Diane Pedrotty Bryant, Judy Englehard, and Linda Reetz
CLD grants permission to copy the infosheet for educational purposes.
Other infosheets are available on our Web site (Council for Learning Disabilities Home Page-The Council for Learning Disabilities) or by contacting
Council for Learning Disabilities,
P.O. Box 4014
Leesburg, VA 20177