Why it Works

Excerpted from Vocabulary for the New Science Standards (Marzano, Rogers & Simms, 2015)

Words are the medium through which ideas are formulated and communicated; the more words a person comprehends, the more ideas he or she will be able to ponder and express.

As the National Reading Panel (2000) stated, “Benefits in understanding text by applying letter-sound correspondences to printed material come about only if the target word is in the learner’s oral vocabulary. When the word is not in the learner’s oral vocabulary, it will not be understood when it occurs in print” (chapter 4, p. 3). In other words, vocabulary knowledge is the critical link between decoding and reading comprehension (Biemiller & Slonim, 2001).

Even more interestingly, Biemiller (2005, 2012; Biemiller & Slonim, 2001) found that after third grade, most students could decode (on average) 25–30 percent more words than they could understand: “From third grade on, the main limiting factor for the majority of children is vocabulary, not reading mechanics (i.e., decoding print into words)” (Biemiller, 2012, p. 34). Therefore, students with smaller vocabularies in third grade experienced declining reading comprehension in subsequent years (Biemiller & Boote, 2006; Chall & Jacobs, 2003).

As Jennifer Berne and Camille Blachowicz (2008) stated, “the teaching of vocabulary is not a luxury; it is an equity issue” (p. 314).

Carla’s 6 minute summary  of the research.

Vocabulary Acquisition

The single most accurate predictor of how well a reader understands text is general vocabulary knowledge. In the literature-based classroom, teachers find themselves in a dilemma. Because of time constraints, teachers rely on increasing student vocabulary through the incidental word-learning that results from shear volume of reading. Research proves this is seriously inadequate. Studies show that of 100 unfamiliar words encountered in reading (written context), a reader learns from 3 to 15 of them.*

The gap in “word bank” sizes between students starts early and grows rapidly. Studies show it can grow to a disparity of 30,000 words by eighth grade when intentional, rigorous intervention is not applied. Additionally, these studies confirm there is a direct correlation between “word bank” size and success in school.

Also insufficient is the common practice of locating the dictionary definition and using the word in context. Current research recognizes three general requirements for in-depth teaching of new words: variety of approach, relevancy, and repetition. Applying these requirements to its Word List activities, Word Lab has included eleven of the most highly recommended word acquisition techniques. The techniques are structured so that the student is guided by mediated scaffolding that connects with student background knowledge and expands and refines that knowledge, creating new connections.  *Baumann, J.F., & Kameenui,E.J. (2005). Vocabulary Instruction – Research to Practice. New York: Guilford Press.

Best Practices

The eleven best approaches for teaching word acquisition as recommended by researchers:
1. Learning within a context (Word Lab Learning Stations 1,2,3)
2. Active processing by accessing prior knowledge and by challenging thinking (Word Lab Learning Stations 1,2,3)
3. Categorization activities (Word Lab Learning Stations 1,2,3)
4. Visualizations (Word Lab Learning Station 1, 2,3)
5. Peer interaction* (Word Lab all stations – see below)
6. Word choices and learning activities catered to student needs (Word Lab Pre-assessment and Learning Stations 1,2,3)
7. Teaching/modeling of word awareness skills (Word Lab Learning Stations 1,2,3)
8. Accessing a variety of word associations (Word Lab Learning Stations 1,2,3)
9. Repeated opportunities to practice (Word Lab Learning Stations 1,2,3 & Challenge)
10. Knowledge of derivatives (Word Lab Learning Station 4)
11. Awareness of grammatical category or function of the words (Word Lab Learning Station 1)

*Teachers may choose to pair up students in teams of two so they may discuss and enter their ideas as a team. A team assessment is provided online. To test for independent mastery, print-outs of the test are available on the Word Lab Web Admin site.

Computer-Assisted Instruction

Research recommends the use of computer-assisted instruction for the following reason:
1. Graphic organizers (word maps, categorization charts) can be easily manipulated and visualized for more focused and organized learning.
2. Personalized data in the form of student-made word maps and other word analyses can be neatly and easily saved, printed, and organized into personalized resources.
3. Computer drill and practice is motivating due to ease of access and immediate reinforcement.
4. Repetition, as needed, is easily provided.
5. The extra practice and immediate feedback have a strong positive effect on the amount of student effort, and students know they can always succeed.
6. Learning can easily be tailored to student needs and is self-directed.

Word Choice

Words have been chosen from a variety of standard student literature and texts based on their level of frequency. A full list set may vary from 30 words total to more than 150 words. Eight to ten words are pre-assessed at a time and then taught, based on the results of the pre-assessment.