Most upper grade readers don’t have a problem with decoding, but many are hampered by inadequate vocabulary and background knowledge.

What do we know about English Vocabulary?

A student’s oral language vocabulary in Grade One can be a predictor of his or her reading comprehension in Grade 11!  (Stanovich and Cunningham, 2001)

Students striving to learn English must contend with arguably the largest word bank in the world. English consists of a very small number of frequent words, and an extremely large number of infrequent words. The 100 most frequent words account for almost 50% of the words in a typical text. The first 5,000 account for almost 80%.  The remaining 100,000 plus words account for the remaining 20%. (Graves, 2009)

Printed school English (Grades 3-9) consists of about 88,500 word families; if multiple meanings, idioms and proper nouns are included, that figure would increase to about 180,000 words (Nagy and Anderson, 1984).

For more information on Vocabulary, check out Susan Ebbers’s interesting Vocabulogic blog.

Word Cloud - Character Traits

Vocabulary expert Michael Graves tells us that robust vocabulary instruction should consist of four components.

Graves 4-part Vocabulary Plan

1. Providing rich and varied language experiences:
We learn many words informally just by being immersed in a fertile vocabulary environment.  This includes hearing complex texts read aloud and hearing rich discussions.

2.  Teaching Individual Words
This includes explicit instruction in both Tier 3 (technical terminology pertinent to content area studies) and Tier 2 (“book language”) vocabulary.

3.  Teaching Word-Learning Strategies
Students must learn to be independent word-solvers.  The flowchart below depicts a set of actions for word analysis. See also “Inside the Word, Outside the Word.”

4.  Fostering word-consciousness
“Word-consciousness” refers to an awareness of and interest in words and their meanings.  This involves teaching about word origins, relationships with other words, and ways to put words together most effectively.  Word games and word play are excellent tools for fostering an interest in and curiosity about words.

Word Solving Flow chart from High Interest Publishing


Struggling Readers by Lori Jamison Rog

Outside the Word, Inside the Word:  A combination of context clues and morphological chunks is the most effective system for word-solving beyond primary grades.  This is an excerpt from Lori Jamison Rog’s book Struggling Readers: Why Band-aids Don’t Stick and Worksheets Don’t Work. [spacer height=”20px”

See also:

Vocabulary Squares

Word Clouds

Holiday Word Games

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