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Improving Vocabulary Instruction
Sebastian Wren, Ph.D.

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Book Review 
One of the areas that greatly undermines reading comprehension for struggling readers is a limited vocabulary.  So-called "at-risk" students simply do not know as many words as their more advantaged peers.  The gap in vocabulary between readers and struggling readers is large in the early grades and the gap grows throughout their lives.  Educators absolutely must deliberately address this gap with the most powerful instructional strategies available.

Alas, I have to say that in my experience, vocabulary instruction is usually done very poorly.  I am frequently in classrooms where students are expected to simply look up words in the dictionary or in the glossary, where a list of vocabulary is presented and a test is given at the end of the week, where there is little rich discussion or use of advanced vocabulary.  The books I am recommending for vocabulary instruction explain why those strategies are not very effective, and they provide a plethora of very rich, engaging, and entertaining strategies for enriching the vocabulary of students at all ages.

-- To learn more about a particular book, or to purchase a copy of that book, just click on the image of the book cover --
Vocabulary Development
Steven A. Stahl
Published in 1999 by Brookline Books

This book is one in a series of books that I heartily recommend (not just this book, but all of the books in this series).  The series is called "From Reading Research to Practice: A Series for Teachers." The series was edited by Jeanne Chall, and every book in the series is short, concrete, and very useful.

This particular book directly addresses the issues related to vocabulary instruction and vocabulary development, providing an overview of the research and important topics, and then providing very concrete examples of activities and strategies that educators can use to enhance the vocabulary development for students.  This is a book that "novice" teachers or lay-people can pick up and read with full understanding in just a few hours.

I have used this book in study circles and as a professional development resource many times over the years with a great deal of success.  Steven Stahl is a delightful writer who masterfully cuts to the core issues in vocabulary instruction and provides a solid foundation for teachers to build their instruction and knowledge upon.  This book is an excellent starting point for professional development in vocabulary instruction.  Read this book first.

Language and Reading Success (From Reading Research to Practice, V. 5)
by Andrew Biemiller, Paula Menyuk
Published in 1999 by Brookline Books

This book is another in the series of books that I heartily recommend (not just this book, but all of the books in this series).  The series is called "From Reading Research to Practice: A Series for Teachers." The series was edited by Jeanne Chall, and every book in the series is short, concrete, and very useful.

This book provides information about vocabulary development in children as the learn to speak, listen, read, and write.  The authors also talk about determining the readability of text, and discuss ways to assess the vocabulary difficulty of text.

This book focuses more on language issues and their relevance to reading development, but a very large part of this book is dedicated to discussion of vocabulary development.  Like the Steven Stahl book above, this one is very short, but quite informative.

Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction 
Isabel beck2, Margaret McKeown, and Linda Kucan
Published in 2002 by Guilford Press

This wonderful book provides a very practical introduction to effective vocabulary instruction.  beck2's now widely accepted concept of "Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3" words is introduced and explained, and some very practical demonstrations of lessons are given as well.  This book is an excellent example how "research-into-practice" should be done -- it is very readable, informative, practical, and concrete.

While I am deeply impressed with this book, I do have to say that it is not a complete book on vocabulary instruction.  This book provides some excellent and engaging strategies for broadening vocabulary, but no attention is paid to explicit instruction in morphemic analysis (examining word parts and considering their relevant meanings) nor is there any discussion of the important topic of vocabulary instruction for students who are bilingual or who are learning English as a second language.  This is not a criticism of the book; I only bring it up to encourage educators to go beyond the information contained in this book.  It is an excellent follow-up to Steven Stahl's book -- a little more advanced; a little more detailed.  However, I would continue to scaffold professional development with teachers to the next level.

Vocabulary Instruction: Research to Practice
edited by James Baumann and Ed Kame'enui
Published in 2003 by Guilford Press

This is a much more advanced, detailed book that I would recommend for educators who have already read and started applying Stahl's and beck2's books on vocabulary.  Each chapter of Vocabulary Instruction: Research to Practice was written by an expert in the field of vocabulary instruction, and very nice examples of activities are provided by most of the authors to help educators apply what they learn in their own classroom instruction. 

The topics are much more diverse, and because each chapter is authored by a different person, they each have a slightly different feel (with some being more concrete and applicable, and others being more abstract and theoretical).  Most of the chapters are very relevant and important, however, and I would strongly recommend that this book be used in more advanced professional development activities with teachers who are ready for more abstract and theoretical discussions.

Chapters by Isabel beck2 and Margaret McKeown, Andrew Biemiller, and Steven Stahl and Katherine Dougherty Stahl are very informative reminders of the importance of rich, meaningful vocabulary instruction.  Chapters by Michael Graves and Shane Templeton and Elizabeth Carr go well beyond the traditional view of vocabulary being a simple familiarity with words and their meanings.  They remind us that good vocabulary instruction also focuses on breaking words apart and analyzing their morphemes (the meaningful parts of words).  The words "know" and "knowledge" and "acknowledge" all have similar meanings -- obvious if you know to examine word parts and consider root meanings of words.

This is an excellent book for the advanced reader who wants to gain a wide understanding of a lot of different issues related to vocabulary development and vocabulary instruction. 

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Last Updated 9-24-04