The Science of Reading Explained: Vocabulary

Oct 24, 2023
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Due to pandemic disruptions, reading proficiency growth scores have dropped significantly in recent years. In our blog and video series, The Science of Reading Explained, we’ve unpacked the important research model that backs one of the most critical elements of education—foundational literacy. This specific model has become increasingly prevalent due to the drop in scores and a need to support students’ learning recovery. States across the country are turning to research-backed, effective literacy practices, such as those suggested by the science of reading.

If you’re looking for more information on what exactly the science of reading entails and why it’s generating buzz, take a look at the first post in this series. If you’re all caught up, let’s dive into the next science of reading pillar—vocabulary.

What is vocabulary?

The Department of Education defines literacy as the knowledge of words, including their structure (morphology), use (grammar), meanings (semantics), and links to other words (word/semantic relationships). Some of the most respected researchers tell us that focusing on vocabulary acquisition is a critical part of literacy instruction. It is a key building block in the bridge between foundational skills and comprehension.

There is also research to suggest that vocabulary and reading have a “chicken and egg” relationship. Reading more expands student vocabulary, and a larger vocabulary makes reading more complex texts easier for students. High quality vocabulary instruction should include teaching target words that support comprehension of a text, as well as actively engaging with the words rather than using materials such as dictionaries or glossaries.

With Exact Path, Edmentum’s K–12 diagnostic-driven, individualized learning program, vocabulary instruction is woven in throughout the program in a systematic, research-based way that follows the science of reading best practices. Exact Path supports vocabulary skills using texts, so students get a contextualized experience.

Sorting Words into Categories

Sorting in vocabulary, also known as a “concept sort,” is a strategy used to familiarize students with the vocabulary of a new topic or book. Teachers provide students with a list of terms or concepts from reading material, and students place words into different categories based on each word's meaning.

In Exact Path, students are able to practice this skill within the “Categories of Objects” lessons, such as the example below. You can see that in the first screenshot, students start with three objects and then determine what group all the objects belong in. The second picture shows how students work toward sorting objects into two categories. Making these connections is the first building block when learning vocabulary.

Practicing Morphology Skills

Morphology refers to the knowledge of meaningful word parts in a language, typically the knowledge of prefixes, suffixes, and/or roots and base words. Research has shown that in children as young as first grade, knowledge of word parts has influenced their literacy development.

With Exact Path, students are taught the meanings of individual prefixes and suffixes, and then grapple with words containing those affixes in context. Students make more connections when tackling words within a text, so the characters in the program model what determining the meaning of the word using prefixes looks like, and then check the meaning within the context of the text. You can see some examples of this in the lesson featured below.

Using Context Clues

Context clues are hints found within a sentence, paragraph, or passage that a reader can use to understand the meanings of new or unfamiliar words. There are different types of context clues that can be used to determine the meaning of an unknown word.

Similar to how morphology is taught within Exact Path, context clues are taught by using a grade appropriate text to model grappling with words. Characters model looking around the unknown word for context clues and using context clues such as definition or example to determine the meaning of the unknown word. This provides students with texts like what is taught in classrooms, supporting your classroom instruction.

Direct vocabulary instruction is highly important in helping students with comprehension of texts, especially content area texts. Researcher Robert J. Marzano has developed a highly acclaimed 6-step method to help make new vocabulary words “sticky” for students. Try this Marzano Vocabulary Method as students set up their vocabulary notebooks so that they maximize their vocabulary growth.

Why Exact Path?

Throughout the review of a student’s vocabulary skills in Exact Path, students are met with individualized learning through engaging characters and explicit, systematic instruction. When embedded in your reading instruction, Exact Path provides a flexible complement to your daily routine, primed to help you support academic recovery and develop lifelong readers. Learn more about vocabulary and see our Exact Path program come to life in this accompanying video.

Ready to learn more about the Science of Reading? Check out the rest of the series, The Science of Reading Explained, Phonics, Phonological Awareness, Fluency, and Comprehension.

Explore Edmentum's ongoing commitment to the Science of Reading in our white paper, Exact Path: Designed with the Science of Reading.

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