Intentional Vocabulary Instruction: Part 1

 “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.   

-Chinese Proverb


This blog post is the first in a three part series on vocabulary development.


Educators have long been told that vocabulary instruction is very important in student learning. That is most definitely true, but why? Words are stored in the brain as knowledge.  According to Fountas and Pinnell (2013), "Vocabulary is more than just knowing words. It involves understanding concepts, connecting networks of information, and developing categories and bodies of knowledge. It drives reading and oral language comprehension."  


Vocabulary knowledge develops in stages as shown in the illustration. Understanding this is important as it helps teachers plan meaningful vocabulary interactions for children. If you stop and think about it, word learning is an infinite cycle, for both children and adults, as we continually add new words into our vocabulary. 

adapted from Overturf, Montgomery and Smith, 2013


For young children, vocabulary is primarily developed through listening and speaking, which provides the foundation for reading comprehension and written expression in the latter years.  Read alouds provide the perfect opportunity to introduce children to new words, as children are learning words within the context of the stories and texts being read aloud.  Teachers can introduce new vocabulary by pointing to the pictures, acting out the words, or by providing a simple definition.


However, a single exposure to a word is simply not enough. According to Beck, McKeown and Kucan (2008), while some instruction of vocabulary is done before and during reading, the robust vocabulary instruction comes after a text is read. It is the teacher’s follow-up instruction that helps children progress through the stages of word learning. Through intentional planning, teachers can incorporate word learning activities to help children make the new words part of their vocabulary.  


In the next two posts of this three part series, we will explore how to engage children meaningful opportunities for practicing newly learned words and how to choose the right vocabulary words for instruction.



Beck, I., Mckweon, M., and L. Kucan. Online article:


Fountas, I. & G. Pinnell (2013). Literacy Beginnings: The Prekindergarten Handbook. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. 


Overturf, B., Montogomery, L. and M. Smith. 2013. Word Nerds: Teaching All Students to Learn and Love Vocabulary. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.






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Training Spotlight

1st-3rd grade educators worked together to learn engaging ways to develop number sense. Students will develop fact fluency while playing games that use their number sense strategies. By learning their facts in this way, students are not merely memorizing, but rather learning to work with numbers flexibly.  “Low achievers are often low achievers not because they know less but because they don’t use numbers flexibly – they have been set on the wrong path, often from an early age, of trying to memorize methods instead of interacting with numbers flexibly.” Jo Boaler,  Stanford University, 2009


April 8, 2019

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