Page 6: Vocabulary

Morley Victoria Primary School - Vocabulary Development


Vocabulary Development

Vocabulary Video  (click here)

Vocabulary is an important focus of literacy teaching and refers to the knowledge of words, including their structure (morphology), use (grammar), meanings (semantics), and links to other words (word/semantic relationships).

Vocabulary reflects prior knowledge and concepts in a particular area. There is a strong relationship between the knowledge of word meanings and reading comprehension.

The National Reading Panel (2000) concluded that there is no single research-based method for developing vocabulary and closing the gap. From its analysis, the panel recommended using a variety of indirect (incidental) and direct (intentional) methods of vocabulary instruction.

How to Build Your Child's Vocabulary (+ FREE Stories and Activities!)    

Incidental Vocabulary Learning
Most students acquire vocabulary incidentally through indirect exposure to words at home and at school—by listening and talking, by listening to books read aloud to them, and by reading widely on their own. The amount of reading is important to long-term vocabulary development (Cunningham and Stanovich, 1998). Extensive reading provides students with repeated or multiple exposures to words and is also one of the means by which students see vocabulary in rich contexts (Kamil and Hiebert, 2005). 

Intentional Vocabulary Learning
Students need to be explicitly taught methods for intentional vocabulary learning. According to Michael Graves (2000), effective intentional vocabulary instruction includes:

  • Teaching specific words (rich, robust instruction) to support the understanding of texts containing those words.
  • Teaching word-learning strategies that students can use independently. 
  • Promoting the development of word consciousness and using wordplay activities to motivate and engage students in learning new words.

Teachers can promote the development of word consciousness in many ways:

Link -Relate students’ past experience with present ones

Elaborate -Add more information about the familiar content, or suggest rewording

Input -Introduce new vocabulary & reinforce through constant use

Connect- Tie new words to the activity or activity to new words

Clarify- Add examples, illustrations, or descriptions

Question- Stimulate thinking about terms through questioning

Relate -Show how new words compare w/ what students know

Categorize -Group new words, ideas, and concepts

Label- Provide names for concepts, ideas, and objects 


Cunningham, A. E. & Stanovich, K. E. (1998). “What reading does for the mind,” American Educator, Vol. 22, pp. 8–15.

Graves, M. F. (2000). “A vocabulary program to complement and bolster a middle-grade comprehension program,” in B. M. Taylor, M. F. Graves, and P. Van Den Broek (eds.), Reading for meaning: Fostering comprehension in the middle grades, New York: Teachers College Press.

Kamil, M. L. & Hiebert, E. H. (2005). “Teaching and learning vocabulary: Perspectives and persistent issues,” in E. H. Hiebert and M. L. Kamil (eds.), Teaching and learning vocabulary: Bringing research to practice, Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.