Why Is Vocabulary Instruction Important?


Building vocabulary is such an important component of reading. It’s one of those things that needs to be explicitly taught. As primary grade teachers, we plan our reading instruction. Many of us explicitly teach phonics because research show that is the best way to approach phonics instruction. Have you thought about explicitly teaching vocabulary?

SQ Vocabulary Blog Series

This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I’ll receive a small commission. This helps me to build my collection of books so I can share ideas with you.  You will never infer a fee or charge for this.

Why Is Vocabulary Important?

Vocabulary is related to reading comprehension. Many vocabulary words are learned indirectly, meaning that children pick up the meaning by listening to others talk and read. The problem is students don’t come to us with the same level of experience when it comes to vocabulary and background knowledge.

This is why vocabulary needs to be taught. One thing to note, it that all words are not created equal as far as a priority when it comes to teaching new words. It is important to understand which words we should prioritize when it comes to teaching vocabulary.

Types of Vocabulary Words

There are three categories the words can fall into when it comes to vocabulary.

Tier 1 words are everyday words that most students pick up in everyday conversation (table, in, out, blue).

Tier 2 words are words that are more frequently used across content areas (evaluate, compare, explore, curious)

Tier 3 words are content specific words. They are lower in frequency and are usually pertinent to the content being taught.

Here is an example of some words that might be taught during a salmon unit: fish, life cycle, migrate, ocean, stream, fry, smolt, eggs, camouflage, and adapt. When you think about putting words into tier categories, it may depend on the age of your students and their background knowledge. Here is how I would sort these words for my class.

Tier 1 WordsTier 2 WordsTier 3 Words

When we are thinking about what vocabulary words we want to explicitly teach, it is best to focus on tier two words. Although as a kindergarten teacher, I find that sometimes I need to teach tier 1 words because they often don’t have the life experiences at that young of an age.

Professional Development Books

Are you looking for some books on vocabulary instruction to add to your professional library? Here are a few of my favorites.

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Word Nerds (Overturf, Montgomery, Smith) was one of the first books on vocabulary that I added to my library. This book is one that I refer back to often. There are so many easy to implement activities for you to use with your class.

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Bringing Words to Life (Beck, McKeown, Kucan) is another great book to add to your professional development library.

So in summary, we as educators need to be sure we are teaching vocabulary. You can read bout how I plan and organize vocabulary words to teach here.

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