To produce and understand spoken and written language, we need three main bodies of knowledge:

  • Knowledge of word meanings (vocabulary knowledge)
  • Knowledge of how word meanings are combined into sentence meanings (grammatical knowledge)
  • Knowledge of how sentence meanings can be affected by context of use (contextual knowledge).

We deploy these three layers of knowledge to construct meaning, whether we are engaging in a conversation or reading text. Moreover, it is the first layer, vocabulary knowledge, that forms the foundation on which the more sophisticated comprehension processes can operate. As such, unsurprisingly, vocabulary knowledge has repeatedly been shown to be correlated with reading comprehension ability, and national research reports (the National Reading Panel, the Rowe Report, and the Rose Review) and subsequent studies recommend instruction that targets vocabulary as one of the five keys to reading that will support children’s reading comprehension.

Image: @brett_jordan on Unsplash

Key readings

Beck, I. L., McKeown, M. G, & Kucan, L. (2008).
Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction.
The Guildford Press.

Babayiğit, S., Roulstone, S., & Wren, Y. (2021).
Linguistic comprehension and narrative skills predict reading ability: A 9-year longitudinal study.
British Journal of Educational Psychology.

Nation, K., & Cocksey, J. (2009).
The relationship between knowing a word and reading it aloud in children’s word reading development.
Journal of Experimental Child Psychology

Green, C. (2021).
The oral language productive vocabulary profile of children starting school: A resource for teachers.
Australian Journal of Education
Wegener, S., Beyersmann, E., Wang, H-C., & Castles, A. (2022).
Oral vocabulary knowledge and learning to read new words: A theoretical review.
Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties.

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