Effective Vocabulary Instruction for Kindergarten to 12th Grade Students Experiencing Learning Disabilities

This short guide covers vocabulary instruction for K-12 students with learning disabilities. 

Beverly Weiser, PhD
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Council for Learning Disabilities
Publication Year
Resource Type
Instructional Material
Number of Pages
Product Type
Target Audience

The National Reading Panel of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD, 2000) identified vocabulary instruction as an essential skill that students need to improve reading performance. In fact, there is strong evidence to support providing vocabulary instruction not only to improve students’ reading comprehension and writing quality, but also their listening vocabulary and their speaking vocabulary (Joshi, 2006; Kame’enui & Baumann, 2012). Vocabulary knowledge, including both oral and written vocabulary, is critically important for a child’s success in school (Kamil et al., 2008).

Vocabulary learning research with students with learning disabilities over the last 25 years has repeatedly reported that teachers should provide students with (1) explicit vocabulary instruction, (2) repeated exposures to new words, (3) sufficient opportunities to use words in activities such as discussion and writing, and (4) strategies to help determine word meanings independently (Farstrup & Samuels, 2008; O’Conner, 2007).Further, research also supports pre‐ teaching the meanings of words that are critical for developing background knowledge and necessary to comprehend the main concepts of the text students will be reading. This is true for all school‐age students, as well as across all content areas.

This report answers frequently asked questions and provides many effective research‐based strategies and instructional routines  to increase the vocabulary development of students with learning disabilities, especially in the area of reading comprehension.

What the experts say

This resource may be used in a professional development for program administrators and instructors on reading strategies.  It also may be the topic for a reading circle.  There may be value in including it in a college course for adult education instructor/administrator programs. The greatest value of the article is the description of the four steps for teaching vocabulary and the Six-Step Process by Robert Marzano.  Both are simply described and would be extremely helpful for instructors to implement in their classes.

Individual teachers may choose to use this resource to increase and/or consolidate their understanding of vocabulary instruction.  Program managers may find it provides an overview of the importance of vocabulary instruction. Teachers across levels and content areas would find it useful for a program-level study group, with each teacher reflecting on how the information and links within the resource can be applied in their specific context and content. It is a reminder to all that vocabulary instruction is not just for English instruction. 

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