There are strong relationships between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension. (Suggate et al., 2018). Individual words in a text are the building blocks for the comprehension of sentences and the text as a whole, but we also need to consider the complexity of word knowledge and how vocabulary is acquired across the lifespan to understand why and how vocabulary influences text comprehension.
Vocabulary knowledge is not all or none; there are different degrees of knowledge of a word’s meaning(s).
Vocabulary breadth is the number of words known, even a partial meaning. It is related to word recognition and is a shallow measure of vocabulary knowledge.
Vocabulary depth is the amount of detail known about words, individually and in context. It is related to language comprehension and predicts reading comprehension.
Vocabulary knowledge develops cumulatively over our lifetimes. Young children learn most words through social interactions. School-age children learn many words through classroom teaching activities, but most new vocabulary is learned through reading . There is reciprocity between the development of vocabulary and comprehension: vocabulary facilitates reading comprehension; and reading (with good comprehension) supports vocabulary development (van der Kleij et al., 2022).
There are ways in which vocabulary development can be explicitly taught to support reading
comprehension. One way is to help children learn the meanings of specific words. Another is to help children become better at working out meanings of new words using context and/or morphology while reading independently.
It is important to encourage and enable students to find out the meaning of a word they do not know when reading rather than skipping it.
More detail about teaching vocabulary is provided in the Vocabulary section of this website.
Webinars by Professor Pamela Snow and Emina McLean on building vocabulary for reading comprehension
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