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Words are how we think.

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

The Importance of Vocabulary in Reading fluency and comprehension.

Vocabulary is the third essential component of 5 components of reading instruction that the National Reading Panel (NRP) found to be essential in their meta-analysis which came out in 2000. In the past 20 years since then there has been many studies and books written on the importance of vocabulary and reading success.

It is believed that there are over a million words in the English language, but it is estimated that we currently use just over 170,000 of them. That is a lot of words. In fact, English has more words than any other language. Your personal vocabulary consists of the words that you know and can use in speaking and writing. Most people recognize more words when they hear them in context than they actually use. The average educated adult has a vocabulary of between 20,000 and 35,000 words.

The vocabulary that is used in books is generally much more varied and sophisticated than vocabulary you are likely to be exposed to in conversation. Poor readers are exposed to considerably less words because they read fewer books. You can see how this produces a compound effect of good readers gaining more and more vocabulary while poor readers are falling farther and farther behind. Words are how we think about things, it is how we store our knowledge. By the time you are in middle and high school poor readers are going to be having difficulty figuring out what the teacher is talking about.

There are three tiers of vocabulary. Tier 1 is everyday words that most likely you do not need to teach unless you are teaching English as a second language. The reason you don’t need to teach them is everybody already knows the meanings of these words. Examples of Tier 1 words are: Color words, number words, common animals, body parts, names of the week…Tier 3 vocabulary consists of words that pertain to specific domains. For example, science, law and math. Unless you are in math class you probably won’t be using words like “exponents”. You need to learn these words in the math class, but they have limited use. Tier 2 words are the words that children (and adults) need to concentrate on. They are the words that are very useful and important in a variety of situations. Often, they consist of root words with suffixes and prefixes. Some examples are capital, collapse, crucial.

If your child is a struggling reader, how can you help them to improve their vocabulary so that even as they work to improve their reading, they do not fall behind in vocabulary knowledge and comprehension? My number one suggestion is read aloud to your children. Sometimes we think that reading aloud is for people who are the size that fit on your lap. But people never get too old to be read to. In my home we don’t read aloud every day like we used to, but I still occasionally read a book out loud to my family even though my children are in their twenties. Also, now I have Audible, so we sometimes listen to a book together. If you come across a word you don’t know look it up and discuss that word together. Write the definition in the margin or start a notebook of new words with easy-to-understand definitions. Try to use the new words in your own sentences.

My next suggestion is to learn Latin roots, prefixes and suffixes. When you do this, you are learning many words at once. For example, if you learn that the root “ject” means to throw then you will know “reject” means throw back and “project” means to throw forward, and “eject” means to throw out…and you can start noticing other words that have the root “ject”. This can be a fun way to increase vocabulary quickly. You can buy workbooks that teach English from the roots up and if you hire an Orton-Gillingham based reading tutor and stick with tutoring long enough your tutor will most likely teach many root words along with prefixes and suffixes.

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