How to provide explicit vocabulary instruction

From Improving Adolescent Literacy: Effective Classroom and Intervention Practices

1. Dedicate a portion of the regular classroom lesson to explicit vocabulary instruction. The amount of time will be dictated by the vocabulary load of the text to be read and the students’ prior knowledge of the vocabulary. Making certain that students are familiar with the vocabulary they will encounter in reading selections can help make the reading task easier. Computer instruction can be an effective way to provide practice on vocabulary and leverage classroom time. (See Strategy 4)

2. Use repeated exposure to new words in multiple oral and written contexts and allow sufficient practice sessions.15 Words are usually learned only after they appear several times. In fact, researchers16 estimate that it could take as many as 17 exposures for a student to learn a new word. Repeated exposure could be in the same lesson or passage, but the exposures will be most effective if they appear over an extended period of time.17 Words that appear only once or twice in a text are typically not words that should be targeted for explicit instruction because there may never be enough practice to learn the word completely. Students should be provided with the definitions of these infrequent words.

3. Give sufficient opportunities to use new vocabulary in a variety of contexts through activities such as discussion, writing, and extended reading.
This will ensure that students begin to acquire a range of productive meanings for the words they are learning and the correct way to use those words in addition to simply being able to recognize them in print.

4. Provide students with strategies to make them independent vocabulary learners.
One way is to give them strategies to use components (prefixes, roots, suffixes) of words to derive the meaning of unfamiliar words; another is to make use of reference material such as glossaries included in their textbooks.18

15. Jenkins et al. (1989).
16. Ausubel and Youssef (1965).
17. Ausubel and Youssef (1965).
18. Baumann et al. (2002); Baumann et al. (2003).


Kamil, M. L., Borman, G. D., Dole, J., Kral, C. C., Salinger, T., and Torgesen, J. (2008). Improving adolescent literacy: Effective classroom and intervention practices: A Practice Guide (NCEE #2008-4027). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc.
See the original document for complete references on the research annotations.