Instructional Guidelines for Vocabulary Instruction
Young Learners (Pre-K through Early Primary)
Harris, Golinkoff, and Hirsh-Pasek (2011) studied different approaches to early language learning with an emphasis on vocabulary. They compared the natural way infants and toddlers learn vocabulary through everyday interactions with parents and caregivers with the explicit, isolated approach of direct instruction. They contend that the interest young children show when they ask “what is it?” is more than just wanting to know the name of something, explaining that "from a child’s perspective, vocabulary learning is not about learning words in isolation but about acquiring the concepts for which the words stand” (Harris et al., 2011). Based on this understanding of early language learning, the authors suggest guidelines that will take these “lessons of the crib” and transfer them to the classroom. The guidelines include the following six principles of word learning.
- Frequency matters: Children learn the words that they hear the most.
- Make it interesting: Children learn words for things and events that interest them.
- Make it responsive: Interactive and responsive contexts rather than passive contexts favor vocabulary learning.
- Focus on meaning: Children learn words best in meaningful contexts.
- Be clear: Children need clear information about word meaning.
- Beyond the word: Vocabulary learning and grammatical development are reciprocal processes (Harris, Golinkoff, Hirsh-Pasek, 2011, p. 52)
Intermediate Learners (Grade 2 and above)
The US National Literacy Panel on Language Minority Children and Youth stated in a recent report that they found the components necessary for successful reading for mainstream students are ones that support literacy in students learning English as an additional language (EAL). However, the panel also found that EAL students need more explicit instruction and more time for comprehension. In her work, Margarita Calderon (2009) identified the following instructional suggestions that may be useful in designing instruction for EAL students.
- Teach important words before reading, not after.
- Teach as many words as possible before, during, and after reading.
- Teach simple everyday words (BICS- Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) along with information processing words and content specific/academic words (CALP- Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency).
- New words must be used within the context of reading, talking, and writing within the same class period.
- Lexical items (e.g., tense, root, affixes, phrasal and idiomatic uses) should be emphasized and used as strategic learning tools.
- Avoid sending students to look up words in the dictionary. This doesn’t help.
- Avoid having a peer translate for students; this doesn’t help either (Calderon, 2009, p. 342).
Guidelines for Vocabulary Teachers
Blachowicz and Fisher (2011) recognize that opportunities for vocabulary instruction occur in classrooms every day at a variety of levels and for a variety of purposes. The authors acknowledge that teachers hold the responsibility to make word learning enjoyable, meaningful, and effective for an increasingly diverse group of learners. To help teachers meet this expectation, Blachowicz and Fisher (2011) offer the following guidelines that have been suggested in their review of the research.
Effective vocabulary teachers
- Create a word-rich environment that provides opportunities for students to immerse themselves in incidental and intentional learning as well as to develop a “word awareness”;
- Support students in their development as independent word learners;
- Utilize instructional strategies that teach vocabulary and model good word-learning behaviors;
- Provide explicit instruction for essential content and concept vocabulary and for high-frequency words and draw on multiple sources of meaning;
- Utilize assessment that matches the instructional goals; and
- Integrate vocabulary instruction throughout the curriculum.
August, D., & Shanahan, T. (Eds.)(2006). Developing literacy in second-language learners: Report of the National Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Blachowicz, C., & Fisher, P. (2008). Attentional vocabulary instruction: Read-alouds, word play, and other motivating strategies for fostering informal word learning.In A. E. Farstrup & S. J. Samuels (Eds.), What research has to say about vocabulary instruction (pp. 32-55). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Calderon, M. (2009). Language, literacy and knowledge for EAL pupils. Better: Evidence-based Education, 1(1), 14-15.
Harris, J., Golinkoff, R., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2011). Lessons from the crib for the classroom: How children really learn vocabulary. In S. B. Neuman & D. K. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook of early literacy research (pp. 49-65). New York: Guilford Press.