Vocabulary refers to the words we must know to communicate effectively. In general, vocabulary can be
described as oral vocabulary (the words we use in speaking or recognize when listening) or reading vocabulary
(the words we recognize or use in print). Vocabulary plays an important part in learning to read. As beginning
readers, children use the words they have heard to make sense of the words they see in print. They have a much
more difficult time reading words that are not already part of their oral vocabulary.
Vocabulary is also very important 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.
Here are some of the highlights from the evidence-based research on vocabulary instruction:
Children learn the meanings of most words indirectly, through everyday experiences with oral and
written language. They do so by engaging daily in oral language, listening to adults read to them, and
reading extensively on their own.
Although a great deal of vocabulary is learned indirectly, some vocabulary should be taught directly.
This can be done through specific word instruction (teaching specific words, extended instruction that promotes
active engagement with words, and repeated exposure to words in many contexts) and word learning strategies
(using dictionaries and other reference aids, using word parts, and using context clues).
- Vocabulary instruction should focus on important words (key words to help readers make sense of the
text), useful words (words they will encounter often), and difficult words (words with multiple meanings,
idiomatic words, etc.).