What is Vocabulary for Reading?

Students cannot understand texts if they do not understand the words. The same is true when they are listening to people speak. On the flip side, they have to know the meanings of words to express their own ideas. When we talk about vocabulary, we ask “How many words does a student know?” From the standpoint of reading instruction, the definition of “vocabulary” is broader than how many words a student knows.


Ability to understand words as they are used in a text.

The phrase “as they are used in a text” is important to remember. As we saw in the discussion of oral language development, words can have many meanings. In vocabulary instruction, we want students to learn not only what words mean but also what they mean when the author uses them. Sometimes they are the same, but other times they are not.

This phrase also means that students need to learn how to understand and interpret words. Students, and all people, will encounter unfamiliar words or words used in unfamiliar ways. Vocabulary instruction also needs to help students figure out what new words mean and what the author intends to communicate by using them.

Students with good vocabulary skills not only know the meanings of many words but also know how to discover the meanings of words.

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