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Teaching vocabulary in the primary grades: Vocabulary instruction needed

Vocabulary Instruction Chapter 3: Teaching Vocabulary in the Primary Grades: UPDATE 2010
Teaching Vocabulary in the Primary Grades: Vocabulary Instruction Needed
Andrew Biemiller
Professor Emeritus
Institute of Child Study
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto
Home Address:
2 Toronto St., suite 1009
Barrie, ON L4N 9R2
A chapter for: Reading Vocabulary: Research to Practice (Second Edition)
Jim Baumann and Ed Kame'enui, (Eds.)
New York, NY: Guilford Press (2012)
Vocabulary Instruction Chapter 3: Teaching Vocabulary in the Primary Grades: UPDATE 2010
Vocabulary is a powerful predictor and correlate of reading comprehension, and consequently of
academic success. By the end of the grade two, children in the highest quartile know twice as
many words as children in the lowest quartile. Schools have done little to change this outcome
during the primary grades, where there is little attention to vocabulary. Unless primary grade
children with low vocabularies have a chance to build vocabulary in school, they will continue to
lag seriously behind more advantaged children. It is possible to identify high priority word
meanings that are known by those with large vocabularies, but not known by those with small
vocabularies. There is also good evidence that low-vocabulary children can learn needed words
from classroom instruction. Teachers can assess how well taught vocabulary is learned by a class
of primary grade children. In short, needed vocabulary can be taught and assessed in primary
grades. It is time that this be done.
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The Relationship Between Vocabulary and Comprehension
There is much evidence that vocabulary levels are strongly correlated with reading
comprehension (Biemiller, 1999; Chall, Jacobs, & Baldwin, 1990; Hart & Risley, 1995;
Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997; Scarborough, 2001; Stahl & Nagy, 2006; Lescaux & Kieffer,
2010;). Chall et al, (1990) and Lescaux and Kieffer (2010) have shown that vocabulary is an
increasingly important predictor of reading comprehension in higher grades. Thus, while
vocabulary is a weak predictor of first grade reading achievement, it is a much stronger predictor
of fourth grade reading achievement (Scarborough) and the main predictor by seventh or eighth
grade (Lescaux & Kieffer, 2010). By the middle elementary grades, 95 percent of children can
read more words than they understand (Biemiller, 2005). From grade three on, the main limiting
factor for the majority of children, is vocabulary, not reading mechanics (decoding print into
In the primary grades, the range between children with smaller and bigger vocabularies is
already large (Biemiller & Slonim, 2001; Biemiller, 2005). By the end of grade two, children in
the lowest vocabulary quartile had acquired slightly more than 1.5 root words a day over 7 years
for a total of about 4,000 root word meanings. In contrast, children in the highest quartile had
acquired more than 3 root words a day for a total of about 8,000 root word meanings. Average
vocabulary increases from an estimated 3,500 root word meanings at the beginning of
kindergarten to 6,000 at the end of second grade (Biemiller, 2005). These estimates are consistent
with findings by Anglin (1993) and my own work, as well as studies of root word knowledge by
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beginning college students (Hazenberg & Hulstijn, 1996; D’Anna, Zechmeister, & Hall, 1991;
Goulden, Nation, and Read, 1990; Nation, 2001).
These large differences reflect many things: (a) levels of parental language support and
encouragement, (b) other language sources (e.g., caregivers, day care, preschool, school, etc.),
and (c) child constitutional differences in the ease of acquiring new words. However, after second
grade, children in all vocabulary quartile groups may acquire new words at about the same rate, at
least until grade six (Biemiller & Slonim, 2001). Therefore, it seems likely that much of the
important vocabulary differences before Grade 3 reflect differences in experiences as well as
constitutional factors.
The Current Level of Vocabulary Focus in Schools
Unfortunately, in 2010, studies continue to suggest that current practice in primary
education does little to promote vocabulary. Age but not necessarily school experience apparently
affects vocabulary. Unlike early academic skills, vocabulary is affected by age but not by school
experience in the primary years (Cantalini, 1987; Christian, Morrison, Frazier, & Massetti, G.,
2000; Morrison, Smith, & Dow-Ehrensberger, 1995). Thus, the vocabulary of old kindergarten
children and young first grade children is similar. The vocabulary of old first grade children and
young second grade children is also similar (Cantalini, 1987).
More than three decades ago, Becker (1977) suggested that the school emphasis on
reading (word identification) skills in the early grades without any emphasis on developing
reasonably advanced vocabulary results in problems for many middle elementary children’s
reading comprehension. Primary grade children with restricted oral vocabularies comprehend at
lower levels. Other studies have shown that (a) developed vocabulary size in kindergarten is an
effective predictor of reading comprehension in the middle elementary years (Scarborough, 1998;
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2001; Silverman & Crandall, 2010); (b) orally-tested vocabulary at the end of first grade is a
significant predictor of reading comprehension 10 years later (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997);
and (c) children with restricted vocabulary by third grade have declining reading comprehension
scores in the later elementary years (Chall, Jacobs, & Baldwin, 1990; Lescaux and Kieffer, 2010 ).
In each of these studies, observed differences in vocabulary were related to later comprehension.
In short, vocabulary levels diverge greatly during the primary years, and virtually nothing
effective is done about this in schools. It is true that some children arrive in kindergarten with less
vocabulary than others. Schools cannot change what happens before children start school.
However, when children fall further behind while in primary school, it becomes less likely that
they can later “catch up”. Our chances of successfully addressing vocabulary differences in school
are greatest in the preschool and early primary years.
In this chapter, I will discuss the problem of assessing vocabulary in primary grades and
briefly describe a new group method for assessing vocabulary with primary and pre-primary
children. I will also discuss the problem of selecting vocabulary for instruction including the
listing available in my book, Words Worth Teaching. Finally, I will discuss types of vocabulary
instruction and numbers of word meanings needed, and plausible methods of instruction and
assessment for primary children.
In addition, I will briefly discuss vocabulary instruction in the upper elementary grades.
Assessing Vocabulary in the Primary Grades: A Major Problem
A major barrier for including vocabulary in the primary curriculum is the difficulty of
assessing vocabulary under classroom conditions. Testing children’s vocabulary orally on a one-
to-one basis is not difficult. The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) (Dunn & Dunn, 1997)
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and the Expressive Vocabulary Test (Williams, 1997) are well established. These and similar tests
are predictive of later school achievement (Scarborough, 1998). However, none of these methods
is feasible for classroom teachers, for such assessments typically take 10 to 15 minutes per
I believe that the inability to readily and directly assess vocabulary and vocabulary growth
has been a major reason why vocabulary receives little attention in the primary grades. If
vocabulary is to be taught in the primary grades, teachers will need to monitor children’s
acquisition of taught vocabulary. At present, the difficulty of assessing vocabulary with
preliterate children (those who do not read at all or do not read well enough to be validly tested)
is a real barrier for teachers. Practical methods for testing vocabulary with groups of preliterate
children have not been available.
One Effective Group Vocabulary Assessment Method for this Age Group
Recently, Gail Kearns and I have published a method for group assessment of
vocabulary with preliterate children (i.e., kindergarten, grade one, and grade two children),
demonstrating that this “two question” method yields results similar to the standard Peabody
Picture method, which requires one-on-one testing (Kearns & Biemiller, 2010). The method is
based on “yes/no” questions used in curriculum by McKeown & Beck (1988) and Stahl (2005).
Our method involves using two questions which could be answered by “yes” or “no” for each
word meaning tested. Correct responses to both questions are required if the child is credited
with knowledge of the word meaning. For example, a child could be asked “Are cherries and
peaches fruits?” (yes or no) A child could also be asked, “Are carrots and beans fruits?” (yes
or no) Correct answers to both questions would indicate that the child understood the meaning
of fruits. The odds of guessing both questions correctly is 25%--the same as the odds of a
correct response on standard 4-alternative tests such as the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test.
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When constructing such tests, we use all Living Word Vocabulary “grade level 2” words in the
test sentences, except for the target words (Dale and O’Rourke, 1981—“grade level 2” consists
of words tested at grade 4 and known by more than 80% of students). In the future, we hope
to restrict all other words in such tests to those known by 80% of beginning kindergartners.
We have used these test sentences with whole classes of kindergarten, grade one, and
grade two children. Questions were given orally. Children responded on a sheet with yes (and
a smile) and no (and a frown). Each item was cued with a small picture. Sample questions and
a sample response sheet are shown in Figure 3-1.
Using a sample of 22 words from the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT), we
compared group results of the two-questions test to full-scale PPVT results gained from
individually administered tests. Using samples of about 80 children in each of the three grades,
we found that children’s scores on the two tests correlations ranged from .77 in kindergarten
to .70 in grade two. When word means from the two assessment methods were correlated,
correlations in the three grades ranged from .76 in kindergarten to .94 in grade two. The study
included both less advantaged and more advantaged children. Details of this study are available
in Kearns and Biemiller (2010). With regular use, this method can be used to test 20 word
meanings in about half an hour. While not perfect, we believe this level of accuracy is sufficient
for monitoring children’s progress in classroom vocabulary.
What Sequence of Word Acquisition Exists?
Any standardized test of vocabulary (e.g., PPVT) identifies words learned early and words
learned later. A child with a relatively large vocabulary will know more of the “later” words than a
child with a small vocabulary, even if they are the same age. Biemiller and Slonim (2001) showed
that words known best by children from Grades 1 to 5 are likely to be known even by children
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with relatively small vocabularies, while those with larger vocabularies know those words plus
words known less well. Our data suggest that, at any given point in time, children are adding
words from an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 of the 17,500 root words known by average Grade 12
students. Ideally, word meanings selected for classroom instruction or explanation should be from
the 2,000 to 3,000 meanings being learned at that point.
Finding Words for Attention and Instruction
The existence of a sequence of already learned word meanings makes it possible to
identify word meanings to be used and taught to children in primary and upper elementary grades.
However, there are two problems. One problem is that children within a particular grade enter
with different vocabulary sizes, and therefore, they are learning somewhat different words.
Addressing the vocabulary needs of children with smaller vocabularies may not meet the needs of
more advanced children and vice versa. The other problem is that we have lacked an accurate,
comprehensive listing of most word meanings known by children at different ages or better,
children with different sizes of vocabulary.
Words Worth Teaching
I have recently published Words Worth Teaching (Biemiller, 2009). This book includes
meanings that should be taught during the primary grades, as well as another set of meanings that
should be acquired during the upper elementary grades. My strategy for finding word meanings
for instruction during the primary grades was to identify meanings known by some children by the
end of grade two. Meanings known by most children at this point would not require instruction in
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the primary grades. Similarly, meanings known by few children at the end of grade two would
also not require instruction (unless the meaning was used in mandated curriculum). However,
root word meanings known by some children are in effect meanings that are known by children
with large vocabularies but less likely to be known by those with smaller vocabularies. For
practical purposes, I identified these high-priority word meanings as those known by 40 to 79
percent of children at the end of grade two.
To construct this list of “words worth teaching,” I used a combination of direct testing of
the words with a representative sample of English-speaking children (3,000 meanings) and rating
another 3000 word meanings (i.e., Words were rated as “probably known”, “worth teaching”, or
“too difficult for primary students”. Each word meaning was rated by 2 raters. If they didn’t
agree, the meaning was tested with students. Validity of ratings was assessed by having 100
meanings tested. Agreement between raters and test results was 80%. Details are reported in
Words Worth Teaching). Most of the word meanings were found in Dale and O’Rourke’s Living
Word Vocabulary, grade levels 4 and 6. A few were found at grade levels 8 or 10.
My colleagues and I found about 1600 high priority root word meanings that ought to be
taught at some point in kindergarten, grade one or grade two. The meanings can be explained as
they are used in meaningful contexts (often stories). Acquisition of at least a sample of these
priority meanings should be assessed. (In the next section, I discuss the practical assessment of
word meaning knowledge in groups of primary grade children.)
Directly teaching or introducing 800+ word meanings per year—or about 20 per week—is
not impossible. (Children won’t learn 800 words. Some words will already be known by some of
the children. However, a review of the vocabulary studies that report word learning shows that
not all meanings taught will be learned (Biemiller and Boote, 2006). In the next main section of
this chapter, I discuss teaching this vocabulary.
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For Words Worth Teaching, we also determined high priority meanings for the upper
elementary period, from grade three to grade six. For this we included many of the meanings that
were too difficult for primary children. In addition, we tested 3000 more root word meanings and
rated 2000 meanings from Living Word Vocabulary meanings listed as known by half of children
at grade eight or grade ten. We used the same criteria for meanings “known well”, “known by
some” and “difficult” at the end of grade six. Overall, we found 2900 high priority meanings,
based on meanings known at the end of grade six.
Beck, McKeown, & Kucan’s Tiers of Words
Beck, McKeown and Kucan (2002) propose categorizing word meanings occurring in text
as “Tier One” (likely to be known without any school instruction), “Tier Three” (rare, to be taught
when needed as part of a specific discipline such as chemistry or biology), and “Tier Two”
(“words…of high frequency for mature language users and are found across a variety of
domains”). However, they do not provide a listing of such words and in fact object to generating
such a list (Beck & McKeown, 2007).
My approach to selecting word meanings is a variation of Beck, McKeown, and Kucan’s
“Tier” approach (Bringing Words to Life, 2002). They describe three tiers of vocabulary for the
elementary grades. Although I agree with the principle of three tiers of words—meanings known
without school instruction (Tier 1), meanings worth teaching (Tier 2), and meanings to be learned
later or when used (Tier 3), I differ in what meanings ought to considered in Tiers 1 and 2,
especially for the primary grades.
Tier One. Beck et al base their conclusion on an estimate of 8,000 root words known by
average children in grade three. Unfortunately, there are many third grade children who know
two to four thousand fewer word meanings by grade three. It is this smaller vocabulary that
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renders low vocabulary children unable to understand typical “third grade” text. Furthermore, the
missing meanings will likely be from the more recently-learned words.
Tier Two. The Tier Two words that Beck et al recommended for teaching are, for the
most part, quite advanced. Example words include coincidence, absurd, industrious, and
fortunate (Beck et al, 2002, p. 8). These are words that are typically learned between 4th and 8th
grade (by half of students) (Dale & O’Rourke, 1981). They are similar to and overlap with what I
have called “words worth teaching” in the upper elementary grades. However, for the primary
grades, there are many other meanings that should probably be given higher priority. The
existence of a strong sequence of meanings acquired suggests that many meanings probably need
to be learned before these more advanced meanings are addressed.
Tier Three. I simply agree with Beck et al’s conclusions regarding Tier Three word
meanings—that is, because these words are generally rare words, they should be taught when
needed as part of a specific discipline (e.g., chemistry or biology).
Academic Word List
Averil Coxhead created a list of 570 useful root words and 3000 derived words, based on
words appearing frequently in school text sources. Her “Academic Word List” can be accessed
at: This list overlaps with my list of words worth
teaching, and includes many others which could be difficult for upper elementary students but
needed by grade 8. Her text, Essentials of Teaching College Vocabulary, provides suggestions
for teaching words in the Academic Word List (Coxhead, 2006).
Verbally-Defined vs. Concrete Meanings
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Some word meanings refer to specific things or groups of things that can be pointed to
and pictured. Other words refer to actions that can be demonstrated or imitated. These are what
are commonly called “concrete meanings”. However, many word meanings require some verbal
definition. Some verbally-defined word meanings are called “abstract”—examples are process or
molecule. However, many other verbally-defined meanings are not “abstract”, but are not
concrete either. Examples are think, because, or animal. These last examples may be understood
by age 5, but are not concrete. I call all non-concrete meanings “verbally-defined”. I’m sure a
more refined set of categories for “verbally-defined” meanings will evolve.
I suspect that the verbally-defined words may be the most important for later
development. I recently reviewed data for advantaged students from the Biemiller & Slonim
(2001) data and found that knowledge of verbally-defined meanings were more predictive of
reading comprehension a year later than knowledge of concrete meanings—for children in
kindergarten and grade one. In the higher elementary grades, this was not true for this
advantaged population. Much more data will be needed to see whether this distinction will prove
to be useful when deciding what meanings to teach or address in school programs.
Promoting Vocabulary in the Primary Years
What is the magnitude of the teaching of vocabulary in primary school grades? I have
described the 2000 root word meaning gap between average and the lowest 25 percent of children
(Biemiller, 2005). This refers to a sample of English-speaking children, who were from a range of
economic backgrounds but mostly white. It is likely that gaps are even larger for seriously
disadvantaged and second language children.
My hope is that if children know root word meanings, they will be able to infer meanings
of derived words (words with prefixes or suffixes or compound words) from context. There is
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evidence that this can happen when use of affixes (prefixes and suffixes) is taught (Baumann et al,
2003; Bowers & Kirby, 2010).
Many children enter kindergarten with low vocabularies, and continue to acquire new
vocabulary at low rates during the primary grades (Biemiller, 2005; Hart & Risley, 1995). I
estimate that at the beginning of kindergarten, average low vocabulary children (i.e., those in the
lowest 25% tile) are about 1200 meanings behind average classmates. To “catch up” to the
average by the end of second grade, these children would have to
acquire 1200 root meanings each year, instead of 600 as they do now. Adding an additional 600
meanings to be learned per year may not be possible, and vocabulary support will likely need to
start earlier and continue later.
There is now clear research showing that vocabulary instruction results in learning word
meanings in the kindergarten and pre-primary periods (Marulis and Neuman, 2010). Marulis and
Neuman (2010) report “effect sizes” (i.e., they compare word knowledge of instructed groups
with control groups or with word knowledge before instruction). On average, gains in word
knowledge for the instructed groups were about 0.9 standard deviations or almost a full standard
deviation. Marulis and Neuman (2010) note that whole-class lessons were as effective as tutoring
or small group instruction.
It’s hard to translate effect sizes into words learned per week. However, in a shorter
review of 11 studies, including 2 studies of ours (Biemiller and Boote, 2006), we found that
acquiring up to 10 to 12 word meanings per week was plausible, using approximately 30 minutes
of teacher reading and instruction each day. These studies, and most of the 67 studies that
Marulis and Neuman reviewed involved reading stories to children several times plus various
levels of direct word meaning instruction. The few studies Marulis and Neuman (2010) included
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that omitted direct word meaning instruction resulted in substantially fewer word meanings being
In the past, most studies of vocabulary instruction have involved relatively short
interventions, conducted for one or two weeks. While impressive, it was unclear whether such
levels of gains could be sustained over half a year or a year. However, Marulis and Neuman
(2010) report results for 29 studies that exceeded 42 days of instruction, and found that the effect
size was about the same as for 30 shorter interventions. In short, it appears entirely possible to
use vocabulary interventions for all or most of a school year and sustain a high level of word
meaning acquisition.
There are good books on word meaning instruction including Graves’s (2006) The
Vocabulary Book, Stahl and Nagy’s Teaching Word Meanings (2006), or Beck et al’s Bringing
Words to Life (2006). At present, the available data suggests that teaching more meanings per
week in less depth (20-25 meanings) appears to result in acquiring more meanings than teaching
fewer meanings in greater depth (5-10 meanings). Published results suggest that individual
children typically learn one-third to one-half of previously unknown word meanings as a result of
instruction. This finding holds whether many word meanings are taught (e.g., Biemiller & Boote,
2006) or few word meanings are taught in greater depth (e.g., Beck and McKeown, 2007). If it
could be shown that teaching meanings in greater depth would result in learning more unknown
meanings and/or that teaching meanings in depth would significantly improve inferring other
unknown meanings, there would be a strong case for teaching fewer meanings in greater depth.
I should acknowledge that at present, vocabulary instruction in regular primary classrooms
for a full school year or more has not yet been carried out. Until this research is conducted, we
won’t know (a) if this level of instruction is adequate to meaningfully increase general vocabulary
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(as measured by the PPVT or other general vocabulary tests), or (b) if this level of instruction will
significantly improve reading comprehension.
If a year-long program of instruction can consistently raise general vocabulary knowledge
for kindergarten children, educators must understand that this will have to be continued in
subsequent primary grades to bring students to average vocabulary levels by third grade, when
vocabulary demands of texts will become a major problem for low-vocabulary students.
Summary of Studies of Vocabulary Intervention in Primary Grades
All of the preschool or primary grade studies are remarkable for the magnitude of
language gains produced from relatively short daily interventions with whole class or –less than
whole class interventions. In the long run, effective intervention will involve vocabulary work as a
normal part of a primary curriculum. Interventions leading to acquiring ten word meanings per
week may appear to have a limited impact on overall vocabulary. However, over 150 days of
school instruction (allowing that instruction will not occur every day), up to 300 words could be
learned across a school year. If this gain proves to be largely in addition to words learned at
home, many low-vocabulary children would have a serious chance of moving close to grade-level
Practical Problems in Promoting Vocabulary
Adding an oral teacher read-aloud component with some direct vocabulary and
comprehension instruction should provide a significant opportunity to improve vocabulary. While
reading aloud to children is a common component of primary classroom programs, it is often used
as a transition activity for changes of instruction or as a relaxation activity just after lunch
(Lickteig & Russell, 1993). In my observation, books are rarely reread and rarely used in
conjunction with any direct vocabulary or comprehension instruction. If teachers are to include a
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read-aloud component with some deliberate instruction, there will be a number of practical issues
to address that include, for example: choosing books; selecting words for explanations; reading
with word explanations; keeping track of words taught; and assessing student progress.
Choosing Books
The first problem is choosing books to read to children. In my opinion, teachers should
select books that are somewhat challenging for children in the less advanced half of the class when
read orally. (You’ll be able to tell how challenging the book is when you check children’s
knowledge of some vocabulary you have targeted.) There should be a number of words not
known by at least half of the class. These books will have more advanced vocabulary than the
beginning readers should be reading.
It is not desirable to concentrate on words known by only a few of the children in a class,
nor to select books that contain many little-known words. Allowing children with below-average
vocabulary to acquire vocabulary known by children with above average vocabulary will probably
be most important. This will move them up in the sequence of word meanings learned.
Selecting Words for Explanation
Which words in the book you’ve chosen should be selected for attention? We have found
that our intuition is good but not perfect. We start by simply selecting words that we think will be
challenging. We then check to see whether these words are on the list of “words worth
teaching”—not either too well-known, nor too difficult (Biemiller, 2009). (Word frequency in
school books is another source [e.g., Zeno et al, 1995]. However, print frequency is often a poor
indicator of knowledge of word meanings [Biemiller & Slonim, 2001].) If we are selecting words
for preschool or kindergarten children or English language learners, even some of the “easy”
meanings may need to be taught. You can only address a limited number of words, and although
children may be able to learn rare word meanings, they will rarely encounter them in the primary
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grades. (Of course, if a rare word is to be used in the Science curriculum, for example, the
meaning should be taught.)
Reading with Word Explanations
Having established target word meanings that are not well-knownat least by half of the
classwe read the text several times, mostly with meaning explanations. In our experience, it is
important to read the book once with minimal interruptions. After this initial reading, we find that
we can interrupt up to 8 or 10 times to explain words while rereading a book, depending on the
length of the book. However, we try not to interrupt more than once every 75-100 running words
while reading. With very young children, we try not to interrupt more than once a page in a
specific reading. Books for very young children are typically short. Two such books may have to
be read to be able to explain 10 words a day (Biemiller and Boote, 2006). It is possible that word
explanations can be presented after story reading rather than during reading. The procedure
would be similar.
We try to keep word explanations simple, which are given in a specific context. We explain
only what is needed to understand the content being read. For example, in kindergarten, the
teacher reading Clifford at the Circus (Bridwell, 1977) comes to, “A sign said the circus needed
help. The teacher rereads this sentence and then explains,Help in this story has a different
meaning. The circus needed help means the circus show wants to hire some people to work at the
show—to help put on the show.” (Somewhat to our surprise, children have not had difficulty with
the use of the word means.)
Keeping Track of Words Taught
As a teacher proceeds with reading and word explanations, it would be very useful to keep
a list of words introduced to the children and preferably some idea of whether the words were
learned. I recommend keeping an alphabetical list of words introduced, and brief notes on the
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books in which the words appeared and the teacher’s estimate of children’s mastery of the words.
It is rare for words to go from unknown by all to known by all. Rather, we can expect a
significant increase in the percentage of children knowing a word.
Assessing Some Taught Meanings
I urge teaching 20 to 25 word meanings per week. Based on the studies reviewed in
Biemiller and Boote (2006) and in our own experience, we can expect children to acquire 3 to 4
out of 10 words taught . Most meanings taught will already be known by some children. Some
meanings will not be learned. These results have been reported both for studies teaching many
words in less depth and in studies teaching fewer words in greater depth. If teachers test a sample
of meanings taught during a month, both at the beginning of the month and again at the end, it
will be possible to determine if half of words not known initially are learned by the end of the
month. I recommend that a sample of 20 meanings taught during a month be assessed at the end
of the month. In this chapter, I have described one method that can be used for assessing
vocabulary with groups of primary grade children.
Promoting Vocabulary in the Upper Elementary Years
The need for vocabulary instruction changes, once students become literate (i.e., able to
understand text in print that students would understand if they heard it—typically somewhere
between second and fifth grade). Students can take greater responsibility for learning unfamiliar
word meanings. With guidance, students can become more sensitive to unfamiliar meanings—not
just passing over them (Biemiller, 2009; Biemiller, 2010). Students can also be alerted to
appositions (definitions supplied in texts) and other meanings that are available in texts (Edwards
et al, 2004). Skills for using affixes can be taught (Bauman et al, 2003; Graves, 2006). Stahl also
recommended attention to Greek and Latin prefixes and roots (Stahl, 1999; Stahl and Nagy,
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2006). While students can become more responsible for acquiring new meanings with various
strategies, I recommend assessing vocabulary acquisition as new meanings appear in texts. (I list
some 2900 root meanings to be acquired in the grade 3 to grade 6 (Biemiller, 2009). Of course,
assessing vocabulary is much simpler with literate students, once written vocabulary assessments
can be used.
Conclusion: Using Children’s Literature to Teach Vocabulary
The research literature suggests that children can acquire an average of 10 words per
week, assuming that around 25 words per week are taught. While this may not seem like a lot of
words, vocabulary work on 40 weeks could add 400 root words to individual children’s
vocabularies. Marulis and Neuman’s (2010) and our data suggest that children with initially
smaller vocabularies (specific to the books instructed) have at least the same gains and sometimes
larger gains. Those with relatively smaller vocabularies are most in need of added words.
Increasing vocabulary gains by 400 words a year would have a measurable effect on
vocabulary size. If vocabulary instruction were sustained over three years, this would add about
two thirds of the number of words needed to bring children from the lowest vocabulary quartile to
average vocabulary levels, assuming that these children would continue to learn some words
outside of school. However, I suggest that there is no magic bullet in vocabulary acquisition.
Unlike early work with reading mechanics (e.g., Becker, 1977) or numbers (e.g. Griffin, Case &
Siegler, 1994), promoting vocabulary in the primary grades is not likely to increase self-learning
of word meanings through inference. This is true of children who are not reading fluently or
widely. (Among older children, especially in middle and high school, there is some evidence that
active inference may help with vocabulary learning.) During the primary years, new root words
are learned mainly from explanations by others.
Vocabulary Instruction Chapter 3: Teaching Vocabulary in the Primary Grades: UPDATE 2010
Other vocabulary methods could be used in addition. A “word of the day” could be added
(preferably a word which will be used in the classroom). If children can be encouraged to ask
about unfamiliar words—and parents can be persuaded to encourage such questions—more gains
could be achieved. However, total gains greater than three words a day have yet to be seen (or
A classroom intervention along the lines described in this chapter would take about 30
minutes. I realize that asking for 30 minutes a day is a lot, as state and provincial curricula
become ever more demanding. For example, some of the teachers I have worked with have
complained that “they were not able to complete the curriculum” (science, social studies, and art
content) if they had to focus on stories and vocabulary 30 minutes a day. Their principal suggested
that becoming literate was probably more important than some of the details in the prescribed
curriculum. Curricula that result in children reaching Grade 3 without the best possible vocabulary
instruction and opportunities are curricula that probably hold disadvantaged children back. Some
of the read aloud and word explanation activities can be conducted with specified curriculum
materials related to social studies or science. However, in the primary grades, we should be more
concerned with children acquiring an adequate normal vocabulary than mastering specific social
studies or science facts. It is now widely accepted that children need basic academic skills—word
identification, handwriting and spelling, and number skills. We will not begin to close the gaps
between advantaged and disadvantaged children until we also succeed in ensuring adequate
vocabulary development and use.
Vocabulary Instruction Chapter 3: Teaching Vocabulary in the Primary Grades: UPDATE 2010
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Vocabulary Instruction Chapter 3: Teaching Vocabulary in the Primary Grades: UPDATE 2010
Figure 1. Sample Test Items for the Primary Group Vocabulary Test and Sample Student
Response Page Items. (Test items are sample items only; these words were not taken from the
PPVT and were not used in the actual study.)
1. ALONE Y Can a person find interesting things to do when he or she is
5. ALONE N Is someone with you when you are alone?
2. FRUIT Y Are peaches and cherries fruits?
6. FRUIT N Are carrots and beans fruits?
3. SIGNATURE Y Would you write your name if someone asked you for your
7. SIGNATURE N Would a red traffic light be a signature?
4. LUXURIOUS Y Would a rich person live in a luxurious home?
8. LUXURIOUS N Would a luxurious suit of clothes be raggedy?
* Graphics used are from collection of 6,000 “Literacy Support pictures,” courtesy Slater
... Most children have acquired the technical aspects of reading in the first and second grade. Consequently, cognitive capacities are set free to engage in reading comprehension and vocabulary plays an increasingly important role (Biemiller 2012). An investigation of inference skills in reading thus becomes particularly interesting from the third school year onwards. ...
... The youngest children were in the second or third grade (Werner & Kaplan 1950;Nagy et al. 1987;Fukkink et al. 2001;Fukkink 2005). Provided that the critical age of the automatisation of decoding abilities or fluent reading is usually developed from the third grade onwards (Biemiller 2012) when decoding skills are confirmed through practice (see section 3.3) (Biemiller 2012), this particular age group is interesting to investigate. However, investigating children needs careful methodological reflections. ...
... The youngest children were in the second or third grade (Werner & Kaplan 1950;Nagy et al. 1987;Fukkink et al. 2001;Fukkink 2005). Provided that the critical age of the automatisation of decoding abilities or fluent reading is usually developed from the third grade onwards (Biemiller 2012) when decoding skills are confirmed through practice (see section 3.3) (Biemiller 2012), this particular age group is interesting to investigate. However, investigating children needs careful methodological reflections. ...
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Die Forschung zu lexikalischen Inferenzstrategien und -prozessen bei der Bedeutungserschliessung und damit beim Erwerb unbekannter Wörter konzentriert sich mehrheitlich auf zweitsprachliche Kontexte und interlinguale Hinweise. Zu lexikalischen Inferenzprozessen in der Erstsprache hingegen gibt es nur wenige und methodisch unterschiedliche Studien – insbesondere in der frühen Schulzeit. Ziel dieses Beitrags ist es, die Erkenntnisse zu Inferenzstrategien von Unterstufenkindern beim Lesen in ihrer Erstsprache in dieser begrenzten Zahl von Studien zusammenzutragen, zu untersuchen und unter methodischem Fokus zu diskutieren. Verschiedene Faktoren, besonders das Alter und die Lesefähigkeit, aber auch die Wahl der zu erschliessenden Wörter und des sie beinhaltenden Lesetexts scheinen nicht nur für den Erfolg der korrekten Identifikation eines unbekannten Wortes entscheidend zu sein, sondern auch in Bezug auf die für die Bedeutungserschliessung verwendeten Hinweise und die Art der Strategien im Umgang mit den unbekannten Wörtern. Es werden schliesslich Grenzen und Möglichkeiten dieser Methoden zur Erfassung lexikalischer Inferenzstrategien auf der Zielstufe diskutiert und weitere Forschungsperspektiven vorgeschlagen.
... En fait, les auteures expliquent comment sélectionner des mots pour l'enseignement, présenter leur signification et créer des activités d'apprentissage engageantes qui favorisent à la fois le désir de découvrir le sens des nouveaux mots, l'ajout de mots au lexique de l'enfant et leur compréhension approfondie à l'oral et à l'écrit. Selon ces chercheuses, entre autres (Biemiller, 2012 ;Hughes et Dexter, 2011), la majorité des nouveaux mots qu'introduisent les enseignants devrait provenir du deuxième niveau. Il est important à noter qu'un enfant peut maitriser à fond un maximum de six à dix mots sur une période de cinq à neuf jours (Beck et al., 2013). ...
... Cadre conceptuel de la rechercheEn appliquant les caractéristiques et les éléments clés connus pour améliorer le DP pour les CP(Joyce et Showers, 2002 ;Kalinowski et al., 2019) et en nous appuyant sur le principe de la formation du formateur(Duchesne et Gagnon, 2014), nous prédisons que les enseignants appliqueront les stratégies gagnantes servant à promouvoir l'usage du français et à faire un enseignement direct et explicite du vocabulaire scolaire et polyvalent(Biemiller, 2012 ;Gordon et al., 2022 ;Levlin et al., 2022 ;Marzano, 2012 ;Pullen et al., 2010) présentées par les CP. Nous prédisons également que le DP favorisera une prise de conscience sur la réalité, les valeurs et les croyances des CP et des enseignants face à l'enseignement de et dans la langue minoritaire(Ferrer et Allard, 2002).MéthodeLa réalisation de cette recherche s'inscrit dans un partenariat entre l'UniversitéLaurentienne et le Conseil scolaire public du Grand Nord de l'Ontario (CSPGNO). ...
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Apprendre une langue dans une communauté linguistique minoritaire peut mener à des difficultés sur le plan de l’acquisition et du maintien de cette langue. Cette recherche-action avait comme buts l’amélioration des pratiques pédagogiques utilisées pour l’enseignement du « vocabulaire scolaire » et polyvalent des élèves en contexte minoritaire, et la sensibilisation des équipes-écoles aux enjeux liés à l’enseignement d’une langue minoritaire par le biais d’une formation de développement professionnel (DP) destinée aux conseillers pédagogiques sur une période de six mois, selon une stratégie fondée sur le principe de la formation du formateur. Sept conseillers pédagogiques et quatorze membres du personnel enseignant ont participé. Les participants ont répondu à un questionnaire au début et à la fin de l’étude. Malgré certains défis, la plupart des participants ont déclaré avoir changé leurs pratiques pédagogiques en lien avec l’enseignement direct et explicite du vocabulaire. De plus, ils ont pris part à un processus de prise de conscience envers les enjeux liés à l’enseignement d’une langue minoritaire.
... Natural interaction is defined as communicating through gestures, expressions, movements and manipulating physical objects by interacting with the real world [59]. At a young age, children learn language through conversation with their parents, storybook reading, and other use of language in their environment [10,14,22]. Through embodiment social robots can provide natural interaction, which stimulates language learning in children. ...
... In a 3-wave (T0-T2) field experiment, the robot/tablet read an interactive story with the children. Interactive storytelling is a natural way for young children to learn new vocabulary and has proven to be effective in a situation where parents or teachers read a story [10,44,45]. T0 served as a baseline and in between T1 and T2, children were read stories 3 times including exercises (E1-E3). ...
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Especially these days, innovation and support from technology to relieve pressure in education is highly urgent. This study tested the potential advantage of a social robot over a tablet in (second) language learning on performance, engagement, and enjoyment. Shortages in primary education call for new technology solutions. Previous studies combined robots with tablets, to compensate for robot’s limitations, however, this study applied direct human–robot interaction. Primary school children (N = 63, aged 4–6) participated in a 3-wave field experiment with story-telling exercises, either with a semi-autonomous robot (without tablet, using WOz) or a tablet. Results showed increased learning gains over time when training with a social robot, compared to the tablet. Children who trained with a robot were more engaged in the story-telling task and enjoyed it more. Robot’s behavioral style (social or neutral) hardly differed overall, however, seems to vary for high versus low educational abilities. While social robots need sophistication before being implemented in schools, our study shows the potential of social robots as tutors in (second) language learning.
... In L1 vocabulary reading research, scholars have distinguished between Tier 1 (known, high frequency), Tier 2 (applied across many settings and subjects), and Tier 3 (low frequency, teach as need arises) words and have recommended to instructors that they focus on teaching Tier 2 words (see Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2013;Biemiller, 2012;Nagy & Townsend, 2012). However, U.S. L2 learners have not acquired even the large numbers of high-frequency, Tier 1 words that native speakers of Spanish have learned before ages 5-6. ...
... In regard to vocabulary, many children from low SES enter kindergarten knowing significantly fewer words than their peers (Beck et al., 2013;Biemiller, 2012;Risley, 1995, 2003). In a study by Hart and Risley (2003), preschoolers from low SES had been exposed to 30 million fewer words than those from medium to high SES. ...
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The present study examined a six-component theoretical model of word reading acquisition in 449 Spanish-speaking children from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Measures of phonological awareness (PA), rapid automatized naming (RAN), vocabulary, letter name-sound knowledge, and parent education were obtained at the beginning of kindergarten and a measure of word reading at the end of grade 1. A path analysis was applied to test specific hypotheses. The approach revealed a conditional dependence structure between the components as follows: (1) vocabulary depends on parent education; (2) PA depends on vocabulary; (3) letter name-sound knowledge depends on PA; (4) letter name-sound knowledge explained 76% of the variance in word reading; (5) vocabulary indirectly influences word reading through PA and letter name-sound knowledge. Plausible interpretations of the results regarding early reading acquisition among children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are discussed.
... Initially, this may not seem like many words, especially when working with school-aged children. However, targeting small sets of words (e.g., 10-12 words per week) is a common practice in clinical settings and as part of school curricula (Biemiller, 2004;Biemiller & Boote, 2006). Nevertheless, there is room for future work to examine whether the number of vocabulary items that are trained during a single session might interact with the observed benefits of aerobic exercise. ...
Purpose Previous studies show that there is increased brain activity after exercise, leading to improved word recall in adults. The aim of this study was to examine whether different types of exercise (i.e., aerobic vs. anaerobic) may also lead to improved performance during vocabulary learning in children. Method A total of 48 participants (24 in Experiment 1 and 24 in Experiment 2) between the ages of 6 and 12 years completed a word learning task. Training of words took place in a resting and in an exercise condition using a within-subject design. In the resting measure, children were taught names of novel objects and then colored for 3 min before being tested on their ability to recognize the words. In the exercise condition, the same steps were followed, but instead of coloring, children engaged in 3 min of either aerobic exercise (i.e., swimming in Experiment 1) or anaerobic exercise (i.e., a CrossFit-like workout in Experiment 2). Results In Experiment 1, accuracy of word recognition was significantly higher for words that were trained in the aerobic exercise compared to the resting condition. In Experiment 2, there was no significant difference in performance between the anaerobic exercise and resting conditions. Conclusions These findings suggest that previously identified benefits of exercise on language abilities in adults also extend to school-aged children. However, not all types of physical activity lead to this boost in performance, as only aerobic (but not anaerobic) exercise improved children's ability to acquire new word–object relations. Supplemental Material
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Persekitaran reka bentuk landskap boleh dianggap sebagai elemen yang berkesan dalam membantu proses pendidikan dan pembelajaran (PdP) di sekolah. Setiap sekolah di Malaysia mempunyai reka bentuk landskap yang tersendiri. Namun begitu, kebanyakan rekabentuk landskap di sekolah kebangsaan khususnya kurang menekankan konsep semangat tempat dan hanya memperlihatkan ciri-ciri asas landskap sahaja di sekolah. Walhal, rekabentuk landskap di sekolah mempunyai potensi positif dalam membantu proses PdP secara kognitif mahupun sosioemosi. Oleh itu, makalah ini bertujuan untuk mengenal pasti ciri-ciri rekabentuk landskap di sekolah dalam membentuk semangat tempat serta membantu proses PdP di sekolah. Untuk mencapai objektif kajian ini, kaedah kualitatif dipilih sebagai asas reka bentuk kajian. Selain itu, teknik kajian kes telah diterapkan sebagai subjek untuk pengumpulan data. Data utama untuk kajian ini diperolehi daripada proses temubual mendalam separa berstruktur bersama 10 orang informan dari Sekolah Kebangsaan Bagan Pasir, Perak. Untuk mengukuhkan lagi dapatan kajian ini, data turut disokong oleh pemerhatian turut serta dan analisa dokumen. Pendekatan analisa secara tematik telah digunakan untuk menganalisa data kajian secara lebih teratur. Hasil dapatan kajian ini membuktikan bahawa rekabentuk landskap yang dihasilkan di kawasan sekolah secara tidak langsung dapat membantu proses PdP sama ada secara kognitif mahupun sosioemosi. Selain itu ciri-ciri rekabentuk landskap yang baik turut menceriakan persekitaran sekolah serta dapat membentuk semangat tempat. Persekitaran yang ceria dan cantik dapat menarik minat pelajar khususnya untuk belajar dan hadir ke sekolah. Akhir sekali, kajian ini diharapkan dapat dijadikan sumber rujukan kepada pihak sekolah dan pihak berkaitan tentang pentingnya melestarikan rekabentuk landskap di kawasan sekolah.
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Lesen ist ein komplexer Prozess, der ein weites Spektrum von Fähigkeiten abdeckt. Dieser Band widmet sich insbesondere zwei zentralen Teilbereichen des Lesens: der Entwicklung von Leseflüssigkeit zu Beginn des Lesenlernens sowie dem lesestrategischen Vorgehen geübter Leserinnen und Leser beim Umgang mit multiplen Dokumenten. Er umfasst dabei empirische Beiträge mit Fokus auf Wortlesen und Leseflüssigkeit im Grundschulbereich sowie Studien mit jungen Erwachsenen, die mehrere Texte Lesen und diese später schriftlich im Rahmen von komplexen Arbeitsaufträgen weiterverarbeiten. // Reading is a complex process that covers a wide range of skills. This volume focuses on two central aspects of reading: the development of reading fluency at the beginning of learning to read and the reading strategies of proficient readers when dealing with multiple documents. It includes empirical contributions focusing on word reading and reading fluency at the elementary school level as well as studies with young adults who read multiple texts and later process them in writing in the context of complex work assignments.
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