Concepts and Research
Vocabulary Knowledge is...
Learning, as a language based activity, is fundamentally and profoundly dependent on vocabulary knowledge. Learners must have access to the meanings of words that teachers, or their surrogates (e.g., other adults, books, films, etc.), use to guide them into contemplating known concepts in novel ways (i.e. to learn something new).
(Baker, Simmons, & Kame'enui, 1998) See References.
Definitions of key Vocabulary terminology:
Contextual Analysis: A strategy readers use to infer or predict a word from the context in which it appears.
Expressive Vocabulary: Requires a speaker or writer to produce a specific label for a particular meaning.
Morphemic Analysis: A strategy in which the meanings of words can be determined or inferred by examining their meaningful parts (e.g., prefixes, suffixes, roots, etc.)
Receptive Vocabulary: Requires a reader to associate a specific meaning with a given label as in reading or listening.
Vocabulary Research Says:
- The importance of vocabulary knowledge to school success, in general, and reading comprehension, in particular, is widely documented. (Becker, 1977; Anderson & Nagy, 1991; see References)
- The National Research Council (1998; see References) concluded that vocabulary development is a fundamental goal for students in the early grades.
Hart & Risley, 1995 (see References)
Children enter school with "meaningful differences" in vocabulary knowledge.
- What doesn't matter: race/ethnicity, gender, birth order.
- What does matter: relative economic advantage.
- Emergence of the Problem
- Cumulative Vocabulary Experiences
- Meaningful Differences
In a typical hour, the average child hears:
|Family Status||Actual Differences in Quantity of Words Heard||Actual Differences in Quality of Words Heard|
|Welfare||616 words||5 affirmations, 11 prohibitions|
|Working Class||1,251 words||12 affirmations, 7 prohibitions|
|Professional||2,153 words||32 affirmations, 5 prohibitions|
|Family Status||Words heard per hour||Words heard in a 100-hour week||Words heard in a 5,200 hour year||Words heard in 4 years|
|Welfare||616||62,000||3 million||13 million|
|Working Class||1,251||125,000||6 million||26 million|
|Professional||2,153||215,000||11 million||45 million|
By the time the children were 3 years old, parents in less economically favored circumstances had said fewer different words in their cumulative monthly vocabularies than the children in the most economically advantaged families in the same period of time.
|Children from welfare families:||500 words|
|Children from working class families:||700 words|
|Children from professional families:||1,100 words|
The Vocabulary Gap
- Children who enter with limited vocabulary knowledge grow much more discrepant over time from their peers who have rich vocabulary knowledge (Baker, Simmons, & Kame'enui, 1997; see References).
- The number of words students learn varies greatly:
2 vs. 8 words per day 750 vs. 3,000 per year
- Printed school English, as represented by materials in grades 3 to 9, contains 88,533 distinct word families (Nagy & Anderson, 1984; see References).
- 88,533 word families result in total volumes of nearly 500,000 graphically distinct word types, including proper names. Roughly half of 500,000 words occur once or less in a billion words of text (Nagy & Anderson, 1984; see References).
- An average student in grades 3 through 12 is likely to learn approximately 3,000 new vocabulary words each year, assuming he or she reads between 500,000 and a million running words of text a school year (Nagy & Anderson, 1984; see References).
- Between grades 1 and 3, it is estimated that economically disadvantaged students' vocabularies increase by about 3,000 words per year and middle-class students' vocabularies increase by about 5,000 words per year.
- Children's vocabulary size approximately doubles between grades 3 and 7.
- Massive vocabulary growth appears to occur without much help from teachers.
Variation in the Amount of Student Independent Reading Significantly Affects Vocabulary Growth
Research has shown that children who read even ten minutes a day outside of school experience substantially higher rates of vocabulary growth between second and fifth grade than children who do little or no reading. (Anderson & Nagy, 1992, see References)
|Percentile Rank||Minutes Per Day||Words Read Per Year|
Selected Statistics for Major Sources of Spoken and Written Language (Sample Means)
|Rank of Median Word||Rare Words per 1000|
|Abstracts of scientific articles||4,389||128.0|
|Popular prime-time adult shows||490||22.7|
|Popular prime-time children's shows||543||20.2|
|Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street||413||2.0|
|Expert Witness Testimony||1,008||28.4|
|College graduates to friends, spouses||496||17.3|