WHAT IS VOCABULARY?
Vocabulary refers to the words we must understand to communicate effectively. Educators often consider four types of vocabulary: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Listening vocabulary refers to the words we need to know to understand what we hear. Speaking vocabulary consists of the words we use when we speak. Reading vocabulary refers to the words we need to know to understand what we read. Writing vocabulary consists of the words we use in writing.
Vocabulary plays a fundamental role in the reading process, and contributes greatly to a reader’s comprehension. A reader cannot understand a text without knowing what most of the words mean. Students learn the meanings of most words indirectly, through everyday experiences with oral and written language. Other words are learned through carefully designed instruction.
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO ME: A CHILD’S PERSPECTIVE
When a child has a difficulty or frustration, they are usually unable to express what is causing this feeling. Instead they may say, “I hate this!“, “It’s stupid!“, or they may avoid the task all together. Those few children who are able to express themselves often tell me:
- I don’t like to write because I’m always using the same words over and over again.
- I don’t understand many of the words in a lot of the books I read by myself.
- When the teacher reads a book to us I usually don’t understand what is happening in the story.
- When a friend tells me about what happened during recess, I don’t really understand what she said about it.
WHAT I SEE AT HOME: A PARENT’S PERSPECTIVE
Here are some clues for parents that a child may be having reading difficulties as a result of his or her vocabulary:
- She often fumbles for words when telling me about her day.
- He is unable to tell me about a show he’s watched on television in a way that makes sense.
- She misuses common words.
- He talks in very basic words.
WHAT I SEE IN THE CLASSROOM: A TEACHER’S PERSPECTIVE
Here are some clues for teachers that a student may have difficulties as a result of his or her vocabulary:
- He is not able to make connections among words in various texts.
- She is often unable to find the proper word to describe something.
- His writing is often unconnected and confusing, due to a weak vocabulary.
- He has a lot of questions about the meanings of words in grade-appropriate leveled text.