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General Information and Description

The information below is taken from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development website regarding the findings of the  Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read

The importance of vocabulary knowledge has long been recognized in the development of reading skills. As early as 1924, researchers noted that growth in reading power means continuous growth in word knowledge (Whipple, 1925). Vocabulary is critically important in oral reading instruction. There are two types of vocabulary: oral and print. A reader who encounters a strange word in print can decode the word to speech. If it is in the reader’s oral vocabulary, the reader will be able to understand it. If the word is not in the reader’s oral vocabulary, the reader will have to determine the meaning by other means, if possible. Consequently, the larger the reader’s vocabulary (either oral or print), the easier it is to make sense of the text.

To determine how vocabulary can best be taught and related to the reading comprehension process, the National Reading Panel (NRP) examined more than 20,000 research citations identified through electronic and manual literature searches. From this set, citations were removed if they did not meet prespecified criteria: if they were not reports of research, if they were not reporting experimental or quasi-experimental studies, if they were not published in English, or if they dealt exclusively with learning disabled or other special populations, including second-language learners. Comprehensive review of the remaining set of studies according to the NRP review criteria identified 50 studies for further evaluation. Further analysis and coding of these studies indicated that a formal meta-analysis could not be conducted because there was a small number of research studies in vocabulary instruction dealing with a relatively large number of variables. There are recent published meta-analyses for some selected variables, and it was decided not to duplicate those efforts. Also, a substantial amount of published research on vocabulary instruction did not meet NRP research methodology criteria. Because the Panel wanted to glean as much information as possible from the studies identified in the searches, the vocabulary instruction database was reviewed for trends across studies, even though formal meta-analyses could not be conducted. Fifty studies dating from 1979 to the present were reviewed in detail. There were 21 different methods represented in these studies.

Findings and Determinations

The studies reviewed suggest that vocabulary instruction does lead to gains in comprehension, but that methods must be appropriate to the age and ability of the reader. The use of computers in vocabulary instruction was found to be more effective than some traditional methods in a few studies. It is clearly emerging as a potentially valuable aid to classroom teachers in the area of vocabulary instruction. Vocabulary also can be learned incidentally in the context of storybook reading or in listening to others. Learning words before reading a text also is helpful. Techniques such as task restructuring and repeated exposure (including having the student encounter words in various contexts) appear to enhance vocabulary development. In addition, substituting easy words for more difficult words can assist low-achieving students.

The findings on vocabulary yielded several specific implications for teaching reading. First, vocabulary should be taught both directly and indirectly. Repetition and multiple exposures to vocabulary items are important. Learning in rich contexts, incidental learning, and use of computer technology all enhance the acquisition of vocabulary. Direct instruction should include task restructuring as necessary and should actively engage the student. Finally, dependence on a single vocabulary instruction method will not result in optimal learning.

While much is known about the importance of vocabulary to success in reading, there is little research on the best methods or combinations of methods of vocabulary instruction and the measurement of vocabulary growth and its relation to instruction methods.