What to Teach with Vocabulary

Vocabulary contributes to several other reading components, such as oral language, phonics, fluency, and comprehension. It goes both ways. If you are focusing on helping students develop their vocabulary, provide instructional activities in oral language, phonics, and comprehension that use the new words.

Oral language: Words can be used in many ways. With oral language instruction, students explore how word meanings change according to how they are being used. When oral language instruction is combined with vocabulary instruction, students study what the words mean according to an author and other ways the new words can be used. The result is an improved ability to understand and use words to communicate a variety of messages.

Phonics: Decoding is the first step in the process for learning new words and recognizing them in text. This has two implications for vocabulary instruction. First, students need to know how to decode words and have decoding skills that are sufficiently advanced for decoding the new words. Second, whenever students first encounter new words in text, or when they are using the discovery process for new words, they need to spend time decoding the words. Not only will this reinforce the first step in the discovery process but also will help students recognize the words when they find them in text.

Comprehension: Once students have a grasp of what a word means, they need to see how the word contributes to the meaning of a text passage. Learning words in isolation (without reading them in text or using them in discussion) has almost no value. Words must be applied. In terms of reading instruction, this means that students need to read the new words in meaningful text. As they do so, provide comprehension activities about the text. After all, the end goal of vocabulary instruction is not to learn new words. The end goal is to understand the text.