ERIC Identifier: ED412506
Publication Date: 1997-00-00
Author: Smith, Carl B.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Reading English and Communication Bloomington IN.
Vocabulary Instruction and Reading Comprehension. ERIC Digest.
Word knowledge has particular importance in literate societies. It
contributes significantly to achievement in the subjects of the school
curriculum, as well as in formal and informal speaking and writing. Most people
feel that there is a common sense relationship between vocabulary and
comprehension--messages are composed of ideas, and ideas are expressed in words.
Most theorists and researchers in education have assumed that vocabulary
knowledge and reading comprehension are closely related, and numerous studies
have shown the strong correlation between the two (Baker, 1995; Nagy, 1988;
Although the opportunities for vocabulary instruction are especially
pronounced in language arts and reading, vocabulary instruction properly belongs
in all subjects of the curriculum in which learners meet both new ideas and the
words by which they are represented in the language. This Digest will consider
several viewpoints on teaching vocabulary, offer some strategies for
implementing vocabulary teaching, and suggest some sources for further reading.
From a teacher's point of view the issue
in the classroom usually revolves around how to improve the student's reading
comprehension, whether it be in content area reading or in the language arts.
Should the teacher teach vocabulary directly or incidentally? That is, should
words be targeted for the learners or should they develop naturally through
reading and the learner's desire to clarify concepts? Evidence falls in both
directions. Certainly vocabulary knowledge can be acquired through reading and
discussions about certain contexts (Nagy et al, 1985). But it appears that
direct instruction is more effective than incidental learning for the
acquisition of a particular vocabulary, and also more efficient (McKeown and
Beck, 1988). However, in one study of fourth graders that examined whether a
context or a definitional approach was better for vocabulary development,
Szymborski (1995) found that there was no significant difference in raw scores
between the samples using the two different approaches.
It is generally accepted that
students learn vocabulary more effectively when they are directly involved in
constructing meaning rather than in memorizing definitions or synonyms. Thus,
techniques such as webbing that involve students' own perspectives in creating
interactions that gradually clarify targeted vocabulary may be a way to combine
direct teaching and incidental learning in one exercise. Teachers can use
students' personal experiences to develop vocabulary in the classroom. Through
informal activities such as semantic association students brainstorm a list of
words associated with a familiar word, pooling their knowledge of pertinent
vocabulary as they discuss the less familiar words on the list. Semantic mapping
goes a step further, grouping the words on the list into categories and
arranging them on the visual "map" so that relationships among the words become
clearer. In semantic feature analysis, words are grouped according to certain
features, usually with the aid of a chart that graphically depicts similarities
and differences among features of different words. Finally, analogies are a
useful way of encouraging thoughtful discussion about relationships among
meanings of words.
CONTENT AREA READING
In content area reading, the
development of vocabulary as a study of relationships seems particularly
pertinent. Recognition of isolated information in an article on mechanization,
for instance, may represent little understanding of the changes that are
occurring as industry moves from human labor to robotics. Barton and Calfee
(1989) suggest using a vocabulary matrix to establish the dimensions of a
subject. The power of any vocabulary matrix lies in its image of connected
ideas, in its process of discovering context for a new word, and in its visual
reminder of gaps in our understanding.
Vocabulary development in any subject can proceed by asking students to
reveal any vocabulary framework that they already have. Those known words may
help them associate meaning with new vocabulary. In that way, definitions and
the particular meaning within a given sentence have a context and a set of
relations to build on.
One group technique that enables students to list synonyms and/or
definitional phrases that they already associate with the topic involves the
construction of a simple T-bar chart. Suppose, for example, an article on
protecting the environment includes the word "menace." The teacher lists words
that students associate with threats to the environment. Associated terms and
synonyms are them listed in the T-bar chart.
With this kind of visual representation of a word and related terms, a matrix
is begun for most students and the definition is enriched. The semantic context
may now be rich enough for the reader to use this word in its context (Moore et
al, 1989). To build background and to understand vocabulary in content area
reading, students need the benefit of seeing multiple relationships.
Christen and Murphy (1991) contend that
research clearly emphasizes that for learning to occur, new information must be
integrated with what the learner already knows. They feel that teaching
vocabulary as a prereading step is an instructional intervention that should be
considered when readers lack the prior or background knowledge to read in a
content area. Kueker (1990) also argues that prereading activities help
enormously in reading comprehension.
Another technique to help students see a word in a broader context is to have
them answer the following questions: (1) what is it?; (2) what is it like?; (3)
what are some examples? Schwartz and Raphael (1985) believe that this list of 3
questions helps students see relationships between familiar and less familiar
terms and also brings the meaning of an unknown term into focus by requiring
analogies and examples.
In facilitating vocabulary instruction in the
language arts classroom, Hodapp and Hodapp (1996) suggest using vocabulary packs
and cued spelling as intervention strategies, while Cooter (1991) discusses
using storytelling. Wilkinson (1994) opts for enlivening vocabulary lessons by
combining them with two effective teaching strategies--cooperative learning and
story development by students. Ruddiman (1993) also offers activities for
vocabulary development. Bear et al (1996) presents a practical way for teachers
to study words with students, providing more than 300 word study activities
which are set up to follow literacy development from emergent to more mature,
specialized stages. For an overview of current information on vocabulary
instruction and acquisition, see Baker (1995).
Baker, Scott K., et al (1995). "Vocabulary
Acquisition: Curricular and Instructional Implications for Diverse Learners." Technical Report No. 14. Eugene, OR: National Center to Improve the Tools of
Educators. [ED 386 861]
Barton, J., and R. Calfee (1989). "Theory Becomes Practice: One Program." in
Diane Lapp et al (Eds.), Content Area Reading and Learning: Instructional
Strategies. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. [ED 304 673]
Bear, Donald R., et al (1996). Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics,
Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction. New York: Merrill. [ED 386 685]
Christen, William L., and Thomas J. Murphy (1991). "Increasing Comprehension
by Activating Prior Knowledge." ERIC Digest. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Reading, English, and Communication. [ED 328 885]
Cooter, Robert B., Jr. (1991). "Storytelling in the Language Arts Classroom."
Reading Research and Instruction, 30(2), 71-76. [EJ 424 278]
Hodapp, Joan B., and Albert F. Hodapp (1996). "Vocabulary Packs and Cued
Spelling: Intervention Strategies." Paper presented at the Annual Convention of
the National Association of School Psychologists (Atlanta). [ED 396 271]
Kueker, Joan (1990). "Prereading Activities: A Key to Comprehension." Paper
presented at the International Conference on Learning Disabilities (Austin, TX).
[ED 360 785]
McKeown, Margaret G., and Isabel L. Beck (1988). "Learning Vocabulary:
Different Ways for Different Goals," Remedial and Special Education (RASE),
9(1), 42-46. [EJ 367 432]
Moore, David W., et al (1989). Prereading Activities for Content Area Reading
and Learning. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. [ED 300 786]
Nagy, William E., et al (1985). "Learning Word Meanings from Context: How
Broadly Generalizable?" Technical Report No. 347. Urbana,IL: Center for the
Study of Reading. [ED 264 546]
Nagy, William (1988). Teaching Vocabulary to Improve Reading Comprehension.
Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English; Newark, DE: International
Reading Association. [ED 298 471]
Nelson-Herber, Joan (1986). "Expanding and Refining Vocabulary in Content
Areas." Journal of Reading, 29, 626-33.
Ruddiman, Joan, et al (1993). "Open to Suggestion." Journal of Reading,
36(5), 400-09. [EJ 459 161]
Schwartz, Robert M., and Taffy Raphael (1985). "Concept of Definition: A Key
to Improving Students' Vocabulary." Reading Teacher, 39(2), 198-205. [EJ 325
Szymborski, Julie Ann (1995). Vocabulary Development: Context Clues versus
Word Definitions. M.A. Project, Kean College of New Jersey. [ED 380 757]
Wilkinson, Molly (1994). "Using Student Stories to Build Vocabulary in
Cooperative Learning Groups." Clearing House, 67(4), 221-23. [EJ 486 167]