Research on Vocabulary Learning
In reviewing recent research on vocabulary learning and its role in reading, one conclusion becomes crystal clear: reading and writing activities, obviously, are dependent on words. Indeed, all good readers have a large store of high-frequency words they can read and spell instantly and automatically (Allington & Cunningham, 1996). So what do we know about vocabulary learning? To partially answer this question, we discuss in the following section key findings supported by recent research (Adams, 1990; Allington & Cunningham, 1996; Burns, Griffin, & Snow, 1999; Guthrie, 1982; Johnson, 2001; Krashen, 1993; Beck & McKeown, 1985; Nagy et al., 1985; National Reading Panel, 2000; National Research Council, 1998; Partnership for Reading, 2001; Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986; Stahl, Hare, Sinatra, & Gregory, 1991; Stahl & Jacobson, 1986; Templeton, 1995).
Vocabulary Is Built Through Language Interactions
Children who are exposed to advanced vocabulary through conversations learn words needed later on to help recognize and comprehend while reading. Burns et al. (1999) explain it this way:
Vocalization in the crib gives way to play with rhyming language and nonsense words. Toddlers find that the words they use in conversation and the objects they represent are depicted in books—that the picture is a symbol for the real object and that the writing represents spoken language. In addition to listening to stories, children label the objects in books, comment on the characters, and request that an adult read to them. In their third and fourth years, children use new vocabulary and grammatical constructions in their own speech. Talking to adults is children’s best source to exposure to new vocabulary and ideas.
Reading and being read to also increase vocabulary learning. Books give us challenging ideas, colorful descriptive words and concepts, and new knowledge and information about the world in which we live. Conversely, children who come to school with limited vocabularies, because of either second-language learning or the effects of poverty (Cooter, 2003), struggle to take even their first steps in reading and understanding texts. Burns et al. (1999) ask, “How can they understand a science book about volcanoes, silkworms, or Inuits?” What if they know nothing of mountains, caterpillars, or snow and cold climates?”. As teachers, we must make sure that no child is left behind because of weak vocabulary development.
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