Vocabulary for Struggling Readers Part 1

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In this first of a series of vocabulary blogs, we’ll discuss some basic underlying concepts concerning struggling readers and vocabulary. In the next few blogs, we’ll look at how to choose words to teach, how to provide robust vocabulary instruction, and how to incorporate engaging vocabulary strategies into daily learning.

 

Vocabulary for Struggling Readers Part 1

 

How Do Students Learn New Words?

 

  • Indirectly, through conversations with peers and adults

. context clues are needed for learning, often missing

. learning of new words usually random

. little chance for review or practice

 

  • Through independent reading

. context clues are needed here as well

. level of vocabulary learned is dependent on level of reading

. little chance for review or practice

 

  • Directly, though classroom instruction

. most important/useful words can be targeted

. discussion, practice and review can be incorporated

. all levels of readers can benefit

 

 

Why is Teaching Vocabulary Critical for Struggling Readers?

 

  • Fluent readers can read most of the words in their listening vocabulary by 4th or 5th
  • Fluent readers learn several thousand new words each year primarily by reading.
  • Because struggling readers do not read well, they have limited exposure to new words and to words in different contexts.
  • Struggling readers often read “easier” texts with more limited vocabulary. The gap that begins in early grades increases over time, making comprehension of grade-level texts more and more difficult.
  • Struggling readers may have heard a word used but may lack in-depth knowledge of that word since it has not been seen in print.
  • “Many poor readers must overcome a huge vocabulary deficit before they will be able to read successfully beyond the 5th grade level.” (Beck & McKeown, 1991).

 

 

How is Decoding Related to Vocabulary?

 

There is, as we know, a clear relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension. However, having a large mental dictionary of words contributes to reading success in many other ways.

 

  • Vocabulary knowledge helps beginning/struggling readers decode a new word more quickly. If a student has the word in his oral vocabulary, he can more easily and quickly sound it out, read it, and understand it when he encounters it in text. (National Reading Panel, 2000)

 

  • Having the unknown word in his mental dictionary reinforces that the unknown word has been decoded correctly, as it will make sense in the sentence. Without this knowledge, the student may wonder, “Have I read that word right?”

 

  • Being able to decode those unknown words more easily contributes to fluent reading and thus to comprehension.

 

  • A large store of vocabulary words makes it easier to read and understand words in the same morphological family. If a student knows that “strategy” means “plan”, then “strategic” and “strategize” become more accessible both for reading and for comprehension.

 

Coming Next : How to Choose Words to Target and How to Provide Robust Vocabulary Instruction

 

Lynn has been a practitioner in the field of literacy education for almost 40 years and has served as a special education teacher, teacher educator and trainer, intervention director, and university professor. Her focus has always been on intervening with struggling readers and on helping educators to do this most effectively. Lynn is the developer and facilitator of OGOA’s Connect to Comprehension Course.

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