Learn what works

Explicit vocabulary instruction leads to gains in comprehension.  If vocabulary words are not essential to the understanding of the story, but add richness to it and have long-term benefit for children’s vocabulary development, they can be taught after reading.  Look at the context in which the words are found to determine if they are necessary for comprehension of the plot of the story, but may be useful words to add to children’s repertoires.

Actively Engaging Students with Words

Reading widely and often is the single most powerful activity for vocabulary growth. Exposing children to rich oral language experiences is another. However, when a word needs to be taught, there are effective methods that can and should be employed. While there is no one proven method better than another to instruct vocabulary, research has shown that active student engagement with a word using a variety of methods is best. For this reason, we must use a myriad of ways to engage students with words and their meanings. See the chart under Engaging in Vocabulary Activities – See How It Works.

Using Multiple Contexts

Keep in mind that to truly “know” a word is to understand its subtle variations and forms, and to be able to use it in both oral and written language with ease. Vocabulary instruction always begins with the context from the story because it provides a situation that is already familiar to children and provides a rich example of the word’s use. However, it is important to move beyond the context by providing and eliciting examples of the word’s uses. This is important for two reasons, one because multiple contexts are needed for learners to construct a meaningful representation of the word and secondly, without multiple contexts, students have a tendency to limit a word’s use to the context in which it was initially presented.

Do what works

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Actively working with vocab words


  • Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing Words to Life. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
  • Stahl, S. (1999). Vocabulary Development. Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.
  • Stahl, S. & Kapinus, B. (2001). Word Power: What Every Educator Needs to Know About Teaching Vocabulary. National Education Association of the United States.