Vocabulary instruction for young, diverse learners

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Date: November-December 2014
From: Childhood Education(Vol. 90, Issue 6)
Publisher: Association for Childhood Education International
Document Type: Essay
Length: 5,108 words
Lexile Measure: 1170L

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Literacy development, starting at the elementary level, is a fundamental approach for preparing students to achieve academically. This is especially true when addressing the learning needs of English language learners in U.S. schools. Vocabulary instruction plays a key role in the process. Research indicates how language proficiency negatively affects school-based learning experiences. This article highlights the instructional practices of a teacher in operationalizing vocabulary research into pragmatic strategies while teaching English language learners. It strengthens prior research suggesting that enriched oral language and vocabulary experiences directly correlate with improved learning and emphasizes the significance of high-quality vocabulary instruction for young children.

As is true of other schools in this region of central Florida in the United States, many students in Ms. Smith's 1st-grade classroom ire on free or reduced-price lunches, and many are English language learners (ELLs). Because she believes that "all children come to school with extraordinary linguistic, cultural, and intellectual resources, just not the same resources" (Dudley-Marling & Lucas, 2009, p. 369), Ms. Smith is known for understanding her students' diverse needs, her innovative teaching, and her ethic of care. She is a member of several literacy organizations and reads their associated literacy journals. Between these conduits of professional growth and the professional development she received at her school, she is familiar with many of the best practices related to vocabulary instruction. Spending time in her classroom revealed to us how she operationalized her understanding of vocabulary research through active and explicit instruction and strategies and activities to support the children's vocabulary development.


Ms. Smith realizes children's vocabulary knowledge plays a significant role in their academic achievement (Dickinson & Tabor, 2001; Senechal, Ouelette, & Rodney, 2006; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Storch & Whitehurst, 2002). She knows her students' vocabulary knowledge is not only related to comprehension achievement (Beck & McKeown, 2007; Biemiller, 2005); she understands that the number of difficult words in text is a powerful predictor of text difficulty (Nagy & Scott, 2000), and there are also predictive relationships between vocabulary, phonological awareness, and code-based reading skills in primary grades (Dickinson, McCabe, Anastasopoulos, Peisner-Feinberg, & Poe, 2003; Dickinson & Tabor, 2001; Lonigan, 2007; Storch & Whitehurst, 2002).

However, Ms. Smith has concerns because she has read about the significant gap in early vocabulary acquisition between children from low-income families as compared to children from middle--and upper-income backgrounds (Farkas & Beron, 2004; Neuman, 2006). She realizes this gap in vocabulary may lead children from low-income homes to long-term gaps in reading and academic achievement as compared to students from mainstream, higher income backgrounds (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002; Biemiller, 2004; Neuman, 2008).

She recognizes there may be differences in vocabulary and oral language development between her students who are ELLs and those who are native English speakers (Craig & Washington, 2004; Genesee, Paradis, & Crago, 2004). As a result, the ELLs may struggle to learn school-based and academic language and content. As mentioned earlier, Ms. Smith respects her students' linguistic and cultural...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A393988536