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Vocabulary and the simple

One way of understanding the reading process and its

view of reading

components is the simple view model of reading (Gough Nelson, 2012)


& Tunmer, 1986; Hoover &Gough, 1990). According to

the simple view, reading comprehension is the product of
decoding and language comprehension: R=DxLC. During
early reading development, reading comprehension
and listening or language comprehension (LC) are closely
correlated. As the words and structures in texts become
more complex, the child encounters words and syntax not
used in spoken language. In this simple view, as children
develop accurate and fluent decoding and word reading
skills in the early elementary grades, decoding has a
lesser influence on reading comprehension in the upper
elementary grades. At that point, language
comprehension including vocabulary knowledge plays a
greater role in reading comprehension.
Vocabulary knowledge and the network of word and
knowledge connections are, not surprisingly, the
strongest predictors of reading comprehension.
Childrens vocabulary knowledge at school entry predicts
word reading ability at the end of first grade (Senechal &

(Patricia F. Vadasy, J. Ron

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Cornell, 1993). Vocabulary knowledge continues to

predict reading to predict reading comprehension up
through the 11th grade (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998;

Muter, Hulme, Snowling, &Stevenson, 2004)

Vocabulary knowledge is fundamental to reading


comprehension; one can't understand text without


knowing what most of the words mean. A wealth of


research has documented the strength of the relationship

between vocabulary and comprehension. The proportion
of difficult words in a text is the single most powerful
predictor of text difficulty, and a reader's general
vocabulary knowledge is the single best predictor of how
well that reader can understand text (Anderson &
Freebody, 1981). Increasing vocabulary knowledge is a
fundamental part of the process of education, both as a
means and as an end. Lack of adequate vocabulary
knowledge is already an obvious and serious obstacle for
many students, and the number of such students can be
expected to rise as an increasing proportion of our
students fall into categories considered educationally at
risk. At the same time, advances in knowledge will create
an ever-larger pool of concepts and words that a person

(Nagy, 1998)

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must master to be literate and employable. The

obviousness of the need and the strong relationship
between vocabulary and comprehension invite an overly
simplistic response: if we simply teach students more
words, they will understand text better. However, not all
vocabulary instruction increases reading comprehension.
In fact, according to several studies, many widely used
methods of vocabulary instruction generally fail to
increase reading comprehension (Mezynski, 1983;
Pearson & Gallagher, 1983; Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986). Let
me present the point in another way. Imagine an
experiment with two groups of students about to read a
selection from a textbook. One group is given typical
instruction on the meanings of some difficult words from
that selection; the other group doesn't receive any
instruction. Then both groups are given the passage to
read, and tested for comprehension. Do the students who
received the vocabulary instruction do any better on the
comprehension test? Very often, they don't. This news (if
it is news) should be unsettling. A major motivation for
vocabulary instruction is to help students understand
material they are about to read. If traditional instruction is

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not having this effect, teachers should know why not, and
what to do about it. The purpose of this report, then, is to
lay out, on the basis of the best available research, how
one can use vocabulary instruction most effectively to
improve reading comprehension. The term "vocabulary"
will be used primarily for reading vocabulary; it should
therefore be noted that the discussion will be relevant
primarily to students already past the initial stages of
reading, for whom learning new words means acquiring
new meanings, and not just learning to recognize in print
words already a part of their oral vocabulary. Although the
focus is on improving reading comprehension, some
connections will be made to other aspects of instruction,
linking vocabulary instruction and reading comprehension
with broader goals of the language arts program.
Examples of useful approaches to vocabulary
instruction--mainly, but not exclusively prereading
activities--will be presented for use or adaptation by
classroom teachers. The primary purpose, however, is
not to provide a smorgasbord of activities, but to provide
the teacher with a knowledge of how and why one can
choose and adapt vocabulary-related activities to

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Vocabulary Knowledge and

maximize their effectiveness.

The relationship between vocabulary knowledge and

(Marcella Hu Hsueh-chao, Paul


reading comprehension is complex and dynamic. One

Nation, 2000)

way of looking at it is to divide it up into two major

directions of effect- the effect of vocabulary knowledge on
reading comprehension (which is the main focus of this
paper) and the effect of reading comprehension on
vocabulary knowledge or growth.
Chall (1987) suggests that these two effects achieve
prominence at different times for young native speakers
of English. When they begin to learn how to read, native
speakers vocabulary knowledge supports their reading
comprehension. That is, typically they work with texts that
contain only known vocabulary. As native speakers begin
school with a vocabulary approaching 5,000 word families
this is not difficult to arrange. After three or four years of
learning to read, the relationship changes. Having gained
control of many of the skills of reading, reading can
become a means of vocabulary growth. That is, the
learner learns new vocabulary through reading words that
have not been met elsewhere.
Researchers have suggested several models to describe

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the relationship between vocabulary knowledge and

reading comprehension. The factors involved in these
models involve language knowledge (of which vocabulary
knowledge is a part),knowledge of the world (sometimes
called background knowledge) and skill in language use
(of which reading comprehension is one result).
A large number of different types of studies have shown
the strong statistical relationship between vocabulary and
language use. The causal relationships, however, are not
so clear. Anderson and Freebody (1981) and Nation
(1993) distinguish three views that are reflected in
Shared Reading to Build

Numerous scholars have discussed the value of shared

Vocabulary and

reading for childrens vocabulary acquisition and the link


between vocabulary knowledge and overall

comprehension (Coyne, Simmons. Kameenui, &
Stoolmiller, 2004; Fisher, Frey &Lapp, 2008; McKeown &
Beck, 2006). Fisher et al. (2008) identified four areas of
instruction that teachers with expertise in shared reading
in grades 3 through 8 demonstrated: comprehension,
vocabulary, text structures and text features.
McKeown and Beck (2006) explained that young children,

(Kesler, 2010)

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especially those from nondominant groups, need explicit

support with comprehending the decontextualized
language in books, which, they contended, is a major
source of learning and thus is at the center of academic
achievement (p. 293). To do this, teachers need to
support expansive, thoughtful responses, aiming to get
children to explain, elaborate and connect their ideas
(p.293) and produce language.