Growing Vocabulary:Conditions That Support Nurturing a Love of Words in K-8 Classrooms

by Lynne R. Dorfman

Teachers are fascinated by language and share their interests with their students. The classroom is alive with thoughtful interactions with myriad opportunities to engage in language play across the day. Language is a tool for thought as students and teachers share, explore, and refine their thinking about curriculum content.

There are multiple opportunities to inquire, wonder, and delight in learning experiences, and there are multiple opportunities to think about words while reading, writing, and learning content material. Classroom walls are draped with print that is meaningful to the learners and organized by the learners.  The classroom is an experience-oriented one, where language and vocabulary develop as students build and refine their understanding of “big ideas” or concepts.

How Students Learn New Words: What the Research Says

  • The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children. (Anderson, Hiebert, et al. 1985)
  • Children who read for pleasure acquire a large vocabulary. They do this voluntarily and without conscious effort. (Krashen, 1993)
  • Impressive experimental results show that second language learners and native English speakers who read more outside of school have better reading comprehension and vocabulary skills. (McQuillan, 1998)
  • What is needed to produce vocabulary growth is not more vocabulary instruction but more reading. (Nagy, 1988)
  • Most theorists agree that the bulk of vocabulary growth during a child’s lifetime occurs indirectly through language exposure rather than through direct teaching. (Cunnignham & Stanovitch, 1998)
  • Vocabulary expansion through reading is about ten times more efficient than vocabulary instruction. (Nagy, Anderson, & Herman, 1987)
  • Vocabulary learning takes place when students are immersed in words. (Blachowicz & Fisher, 1996)
  • The single most important thing a teacher can do to promote vocabulary growth is to increase students’ volume of reading. (Nagy, 1988)
  • Read, read, read. (Burke, 1999)

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