Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

The Role of Vocabulary Awareness in Comprehension at the Intermediate Level

Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

The Role of Vocabulary Awareness in Comprehension at the Intermediate Level

Article excerpt

Eric represents many of his classmates who bene6ts from direct vocabulary instruction through richquality texts, in conjunction with comprehension instruction. Eric read the following passage:

The night before the dressmaker was scheduled to come, Mama woke Esperanza in the middle of the night, and they left only with what they could carry. Esperanza held a valise filled with clothes, a small package of tamales, and her doll from Papa. She and mama and Hortensia were wrapped in dark shawls to blend in with the night (Ryan, 2000, p. 55).

A running record identified two misread words: vase for valise and shoals for shawls. His interpretation of Esperanza Rising (Ryan, 2000) is evident in this brief dialogue.

Mr. Stygles: Why do you think Esperanza's family went to Señor Rodríguez' home?

Eric: Because they went into the night.

This behavior suggested Eric's comprehension through visualizing and inferring suffered because of limited word consciousness. Through incorrect substitutions, Eric struggled to envision or empathize with Esperanza's feelings.

From my experience with intermediate students, I noticed students' comprehension of text, through written responses to be based in literal response and at a surface level. Student work typically lacked depth, possessed little clarity, and contained simple language. Student responses commonly included a simple restatement of the question or "gist" level sentence fragments, for example: Because he went to the park. When asked for more elaborate and structured responses, students defaulted to summary writing. Furthermore, responses seldom included key vocabulary from the text or sophisticated use of vocabulary. Based on the evidence', I wondered if the cause could be connected with students' monitoring of vocabulary during reading and vocabulary development.

In this article I will highlight some instructional practices that create a bridge between vocabulary and comprehension instructional strategies by modeling to independent practice, scaffolding students' meaningmaking ability and use of descriptive vocabulary to bolster written response to text. I will also share my study that investigated the effectiveness of three instructional strategies that link vocabulary instruction and reciprocal teaching as a scaffold to improve literature-based written responses at the intermediate level.


Previously, vocabulary instruction had not become a staple or core component of instruction in the reading workshop or across content areas. Instruction included pre-teaching words as part of guided reading lessons and practices such as worksheets, cross word puzzles, and writing assigned words in (contrived) sentences. Noting a lack of vocabulary acquisition amongst students, both in observation and written responses to reading, researched-based strategies offered a fresh perspective. The central belief behind the instruction shift was the necessity to constantly engage students with vocabulary, via direct or implicit learning and within text, since vocabulary is tied to comprehension (Graves, 2009).

Instruction shifted with a focus on "word consciousness", described as "awareness of and interest in words and their meanings" (Graves, 2006). In my classroom I implemented a whole-class vocabulary instructional technique that introduced a new word weekly to scaffold awareness and build in a level of metacognition. I used read-alouds to model word interest and guided reading to scaffold self-monitoring for curious and exciting words. Teaching "Goldilocks" words through read-alouds the class created awareness through connections, morphological awareness, and contextual meaning (Cunningham, 2009).

Comprehension practices based on Fountas and Pinnell's (2001) Guided Reading and Writers had installed a routine of writing reading responses in a workshop model. Students consistently completed journal entries and reflective writing independently. …

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