Four Types of Vocabulary
Listening – Words we understand when
others talk to us.
Speaking – Words we use when we talk to
Reading – Words we know when we see them
in print (sight words and words we
can decode).
Writing – Words we use when we write.
Language Statistics
The number of words heard by children ages 1-3
•Welfare Households – 10 million
•Working Class Households – 20 million
•Professional Households – 30 million
(Graves & Slater, 1987)
Research on Vocabulary
Vocabulary knowledge is one of the best
indicators of verbal ability, reading
achievement and success in school.
Vocabulary difficulty strongly influences the
readability of text.
Teaching vocabulary of a selection can
improve students’ comprehension of that
(Beck, et al. 1992).
Research on Vocabulary
Growing up in poverty can seriously
restrict the vocabulary that children
learn before beginning school and
makes attaining an adequate
vocabulary a challenging task.
 Disadvantaged students are likely to
have substantially smaller vocabularies
than their more advantaged peers.
(Graves & Slater, 1987).
Research on Vocabulary
Lack of vocabulary can be a crucial factor
underlying the school failure of
disadvantaged students.
Students learn approximately 3,000 to 4,000
words each year, accumulating a reading
vocabulary of approximately 18,000 words by
the end of elementary school and 40,000
words by the end of high school.
(Smith, 1941).
Research on Vocabulary
Some students learn an average of 8 words
per day. Others learn as little as one or two.
Words can be known at different levels of
Directly teaching word meanings does not
adequately reduce the gap between students
with poor versus rich vocabularies. It is
crucial for students to learn strategies for
learning word meanings independently.
(Miller, 1978).
Research on Vocabulary
The development of strong reading skills is
the most effective word learning strategy
available. However, those students who are
in greatest need of vocabulary acquisition
interventions tend to be the same students
who read poorly and fail to engage in the
amount of reading necessary to learn large
numbers of words. [Matthew Effect]
(Beck, et al. 2002).
When teaching vocabulary,
Teach new subject matter vocabulary in
context BEFORE students’ initial reading of
the new material.
Explain words in terms of relationships –word
families, structural analysis, roots and affixes
Constantly direct students’ attention to the
power of words and nuances of meaning
Implicit vocabulary acquisition
o When students engage in rich extensive
oral interactions
o When students are read to
o When students read and discuss what
they’ve read
 Explicit vocabulary acquisition
o Vocabulary activities specifically
designed to teach new words
Explicit vocabulary strategies
Use information and narrative texts
Promote thinking and extend discourse
Encourage use of novel words
Access to print
Semantic mapping
Teach word parts
Teach word origin (older students)
Use graphic organizers
When teaching vocabulary,
Rely solely on incidental approaches;
but avoid drill.
 Teach roots, affixes in isolation.
 Make definitions more difficult than the
words to be defined.
 Forget the different ways of
approaching definitions – analogies,
synonyms, antonyms, etc.
Do not give students lists of words to
look up in a dictionary under the guise
of vocabulary instruction.
 This is only dictionary work, not
vocabulary instruction.
 Students learn the words for the test
Scott and Nagy (1997) report the results of
many research studies that show that
students cannot use conventional definitions
to learn words.
Example from dictionary: redress – set right,
remedy. “King Arthur tried to redress wrongs
in his kingdom”
Student writes: “The redress for getting well
when you’re sick is to stay in bed.”
Dictionary Definitions
Weak Differentiation
 Vague Language
 A More Likely Interpretation
 Multiple Pieces of Information
Bringing Words to Life by Isabel Beck,
Margaret McKeown, and Linda Kucan
Three Tiers of Vocabulary
Tier One
*Rarely require instructional attention
*Consist of basic words
*Examples: baby, clock, happy, walk,
jump, hop, slide, girl, boy, dog
Bringing Words to Life by Isabel Beck,
Margaret McKeown, and Linda Kucan
Three Tiers of Vocabulary
Tier Three
*Made of words whose frequency of use
is quite low and often limited to
specific domains.
*Best learned when a specific need arises
*Examples: isotope, lathe, peninsula, refinery
Bringing Words to Life by Isabel Beck,
Margaret McKeown, and Linda Kucan
Three Tiers of Vocabulary
Tier Two
*Contain high frequency words that are found
across a variety of domains
*Have a powerful impact on verbal functioning
*Must be words students have ways to express
the meaning of the word.
*Examples: coincidence, absurd, industrious,
Bringing Words to Life by Isabel Beck,
Margaret McKeown, and Linda Kucan
Three Tiers of Vocabulary
Selecting Tier Two Words
*Is it a useful word?
*Will the student encounter it again?
*Does the word relate to other words or
*Will it enhance further learning?
Lesson Plan for Tier Two Words
Read the following third/fourth grade paragraph.
Johnny Harrington was a kind master who treated
his servants fairly. He was also a successful
wool merchant and his business required that
he travel often. While he was gone, his
servants would tend to the fields and maintain
the upkeep of his mansion. They performed
their duties happily, for they felt fortunate to
have such a benevolent and trusting master.
(Kohnke, 2001)
Lesson Plan for Tier Two Words
Work with a partner to do this activity.
 Read the paragraph and identify 5 Tier
Two words. (Reminder: Tier Two words
are words that students should have an
understanding of their meaning.)
 Make a list of your 5 words and define
them using vocabulary that a student
would use.
For thousands of years, sinuous strips of bituminous
coal have lain beneath the wooded hills and valleys
of Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Coal lured
immigrants to the area in the 1800’s, and helped
forge their reputation for hard work and hard living.
For generations, men have earned their
livelihoods—and all too often have lost their lives—
in the mines’ dark confines.
(Reader’s Digest, “Nine Alive! Inside the Amazing Mine Rescue”, November 2002,
pg. 164)
Word Knowledge Continuum
Know It
Think I
Know It
No Clue

Vocabulary Instruction