Vocabulary instruction for reading comprehension

This systematic review examines how vocabulary instruction impacts reading comprehension. The authors looked at intervention outcomes from 36 studies of Pre-K through 12th grade children, with and without disabilities, some English language learners, and all subject to vocabulary intervention. The results guide us to:

  • Teach word meanings to support comprehension. Even just a little definition instruction was found to be helpful, compared to none at all.
  • … however, just being told the definition of a word isn’t enough. Students need to be actively engaged in thinking about the word meaning.
  • Studies easily find an impact on taught vocabulary. What we don’t know is if vocabulary intervention can broadly impact reading comprehension.
  • There also isn’t strong data to indicate that teaching a strategy (instead of specific words; e.g. using context clues) can broadly impact reading comprehension. 

Wright, T.S., Cervetti, G. (2016). A systematic review of the research on vocabulary instruction that impacts text comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1002/rrq.163.