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What Is Vocabulary?. Maryjane Palmer Slingerland ® Institute. What Is Vocabulary?. Vocabulary refers to word meaning, not the ability to decode words. What is a word? Sounds (phonology) Meaning (morphology – denotation) Spelling (orthography) Related meanings (connotations)

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what is vocabulary

What Is Vocabulary?

Maryjane Palmer

Slingerland® Institute

what is vocabulary2
What Is Vocabulary?
    • Vocabulary refers to word meaning, not the ability to decode words.
  • What is a word?
    • Sounds (phonology)
    • Meaning (morphology – denotation)
    • Spelling (orthography)
    • Related meanings (connotations)
    • Uses (semantics, syntax and pragmatics)
    • History (etymology)
    • Lexicon (storehouse of words)
how many english words are there
How Many English Words Are There?
  • According to the OED possibly over a quarter of a million distinct English words, excluding inflections, and words from technical and regional vocabulary not covered by the OED, or words not yet added to the published dictionary, of which perhaps 20 per cent are no longer in current use. If distinct senses were counted, the total would probably approach three quarters of a million.
where do words come from
Where Do Words Come From?
  • SourceNumber of rare words per 1000
  • Newspapers 68.3
  • Adult books 52.7
  • Comic books 53.5
  • Children’s books 30.0
  • Children’s TV 20.2
  • Adult TV 22.7
  • Mr. Rogers 2.9
  • Cartoon shows 30.8
  • Conversation between

two college-educated adults17.3

(Haynes and Ahrens as cited in Stahl & Nagy, 2006, p. 126)

how many words should we know
How Many Words Should We Know?
  • Students learn 6-8 words per day from 3rd grade on.
  • The average reader in grades 6-9 encounters between 2000 & 3000 new words per year perhaps 1000 by reading (Anderson & Nagy, 1992)
  • By grade 12 a student knows 50,000 words (Miller & Gildea, 1987)
  • A college graduate knows 60,000 active words and 75,000 passive words (Crystal, Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language)
why must we promote wide independent reading
Why Must We Promote Wide Independent Reading?
  • A student in the 20th percentile reads books 0.7 minutes per day.
    • Acquire 21,000 words per year
  • A student in the 80th percentile reads books 14.2 minutes per day.
    • Acquire 1,146,000 words per year
how do children learn new words
How Do Children Learn New Words?
  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Awareness of morphological structure
  • Instruction
what does successful instruction include
What Does Successful Instruction Include?
  • Small number of words taught intensively
  • Exposure to the words in many contexts
  • Focus on meaning of word parts

*prefixes, suffixes, and base words

  • Direct, systematic, and continuous

(Hittleman, 1983)

what are the principles of effective vocabulary instruction
What Are The Principles Of Effective Vocabulary Instruction?
  • Provide definitional and contextual information about a word
  • Generate information that ties the new word to already known information
  • Provide multiple exposures (Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986)
  • Provide simultaneous association of A-V-K modalities (Slingerland, 1981)
what are the developmental stages i n word definition abilities
What Are The Developmental Stages In Word Definition Abilities?
  • Preschool children give function or associated response
  • Elementary level children give synonym or category response
  • Adolescent age students give abstract dictionary definition
what are some d on ts o f t eaching vocabulary
What Are Some Don’ts Of Teaching Vocabulary?
  • Don’t require students to copy definitions
  • Don’t rely on definitions alone
  • Don’t preteach all of the unfamiliar words in a story
  • Don’t forget to link new words to the lives of students

(McKenna, 2004)

what words do you choose to teach
What Words Do You Choose To Teach?
  • How useful is the word? Will it likely be in other texts? Will it be of use to the student in own experiences?
  • How does the word relate to other words? Would it add a dimension to ideas that have been developed?
  • What role does the word play in the text or situation?

(Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002)

(Henry, 2003: Unlocking Literacy)

what are vocabulary tiers
What Are Vocabulary Tiers?
  • Tier 3: Low-frequency words, usually specific to an academic domain & best learned in the related content areas such as isotope, photosynthesis, psychologist
  • Tier 2: High-frequency words that are important for capable language learners to have in their vocabulary, such as remorse, capricious, distinguished
  • Tier 1: Basic words that rarely need to be taught such as hair, always, dress, laugh

(Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002)

what are suggested methods of instruction for elementary school
What Are Suggested Methods of Instruction for Elementary School?
  • Contextualize the word’s role in a story. (Lisa was reluctant to leave the Laundromat without Corduroy.)
  • Ask the children to repeat the word so they can create a phonological representation of the word. (Say the word with me.)
  • Explain the meaning of the word. (Reluctant means you are not sure you want to do something.)
  • Provide examples in contexts other than the one used in the story. (Someone might be reluctant to ride a rollercoaster because it looks scary.)
Children interact with own examples. (Tell about something you would be reluctant to do. Try to use reluctant when you tell about it. You could start by saying something like “I would be reluctant to _________.”)
  • Children repeat word again to reinforce its phonological representation. (What’s the word we’ve been talking about?)

(Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002)

what are other suggestions
What Are Other Suggestions?
  • Questions, reasons, examples
    • What are some things you could do to ______? Why?
  • Making choices
    • If any of these things might be examples of _____, say (the word). If not, don’t say anything.
  • Relating words
    • With facial expressions, gestures, etc.
  • Sentences
    • Use more than one vocabulary word in a sentence. Would you prefer a ______ or a ________.
what are suggested methods of instruction for middle high school
What Are Suggested Methods of Instruction for Middle/High School?
  • Frequent, rich, and extended instruction
    • Word play
    • Frequent use in classroom
    • Using words in many contexts
    • Build kid-friendly definitions
      • Crucial-decisive or critical (Oxford)
      • Crucial-of supreme importance (Webster)
      • Crucial-extremely important (Cobuild)
  • Build words through morpheme analysis
    • Prefixes-re, de, dis, fore, in, mis, pre, un
    • Suffixes-tion, ous, or, ize, ist, ic, able, ible
    • Base words-form, rupt, scribe, strue, flect
Semantic mapping
    • Vocabulary cluster
    • Multiple meaning tree
    • Attribute web
    • Synonym web



  • (Palmer, Krassny, & Brody, 2000; Hamersky, 1993)
semantic map
Semantic map


Part of speech



Vocab word





semantic map example
Semantic map example






eyes are

bigger than

your stomach


Shaq’s feet


The basketball player, Shaquille O’Neal, has mammoth feet.

how does the slingerland approach fit into vocabulary instruction
How Does The Slingerland ® Approach Fit Into Vocabulary Instruction?


  • Encoding
    • Blend new vocabulary words, phrases and sentences
  • Spelling
    • Use rules to add prefixes and suffixes to
  • Dictation
    • New vocabulary words in dictated paragraph


  • Decoding
    • Lists from reading
  • Prep for reading
    • Step 1
    • Step 3
  • Reading from a book

Goal: Independence

Functional use

  • Anderson, R.C., & Nagy, W.E. (1992). The vocabulary conundrum. American Educator, 16, 14-18, 44-47.
  • Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction. New York: Guillford Press.
  • Collins CoBuild Learner’s Dictionary 2nd Ed. (2003). Great Britain: Harper Collins Publishers.
  • Coutchie, S. (2008). Which words to teach in this book? Paper presented at IDA annual Convention, Seattle, WA.
  • Crystal, D. (1995). Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
  • Hamersky, J. (1993). Vocabulary maps. Eau Claire, WI: Thinking Publications.
  • Henry, M.K. (2003). Unlocking literacy: Effective decoding & spelling instruction. Baltimore, MD: Brooks Publishing.
Hittleman, D. R. (1983). Developmental reading, K-8: Teaching from a psycholinguistic perspective (2nd ed.). Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.
  • McKenna, M.C. (2004). Teaching vocabulary to struggling older readers. Perspectives, 30, 13-16.
  • Miller, G.A., & Gildea, P.M. (1987). How children learn words. Scientific American, September, 94-99.
  • Palmer, M. J., Krassny, L. & Brody, D. (2000). Semantic skills for adolescent success. Paper presented at CASHA annual Convention, San Diego, CA.
  • Slingerland, B. H. (1981). A multisensory approach to language arts for specific language disability children. Cambridge, MA: Educator’s Publishing Service, Inc.
  • Stahl, S. A. & Fairbanks, M. (1986). The effects of vocabulary instruction: A model-based meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 56, 72-110.
  • Stahl, S.A. & Nagy, W.E. (2006). Teaching word meanings. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Eribaum.