The Importance of Vocabulary Instruction

by Mandi Olson

Educators know how important vocabulary instruction is for our students. As one of the five core components of reading instruction, vocabulary is essential in helping teach students how to read.  The National Reading Panel (2000) explains that the core components of reading instruction include phonemic awareness, phonics and word study, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.  Vocabulary encompasses the words students must know to access background knowledge, express ideas, and communicate effectively. Vocabulary instruction is important for students of all levels and students should add 2,000 to 3,000 new words annually to their reading vocabularies (Beck, McKeown & Kucan, 2002) because there is a robust relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension.

Word knowledge is crucial to reading comprehension and will determine if students are going to be ready to comprehend texts they read in middle and high school. Comprehension is more than just knowing to acknowledge words and remember meanings and if students don’t know the meanings of the words in a text they are reading, comprehension is impossible. Vocabulary instruction supports students as they are building their word knowledge and can help increase reading comprehension.

The National Reading Panel (2000) found that vocabulary should be taught both directly and indirectly and there is not one best method for vocabulary instruction. Specific strategies that teachers can use to extend vocabulary instruction in their classroom include the addition of both direct and indirect instructional strategies. Direct instruction could include an analysis of word roots and affixes while indirect instruction involves exposing students to several styles of new words, having students read frequently, helping students develop an appreciation for words, and acknowledge the enjoyment or satisfaction of word usage (Baumann, Kame’enui & Ash, 2003).

Another strategy that can be used is to help students make connections to new words they are learning. Teachers can encourage students to actively construct links between new information and previous knowledge they have about a word. As students become cognizant of this process their memory about new words will increase. Taking this metacognitive and metalinguistic approach with students will help them consider their thinking and consider the structure of words as they continue to learn new words.

Students need to understand the importance of developing a rich vocabulary.  Teachers could also allow students to say and write new vocabulary words while providing a student-friendly definition for the word. Providing a definition that is meaningful for students is more impactful and helps to build upon students’ existing vocabularies rather than just providing dictionaries for students. Providing meaningful examples of vocabulary words and allowing students to also share examples will help students to understand word meanings and build their vocabulary.  One of the best ways to help students remember and retain new vocabulary words is to connect a new word to an object in the real-world.  While pictures and flashcards are good, real-world items are even better to help students retain new vocabulary knowledge. Graphic organizers are another tool teachers can use to help students learn new words and understand word meanings.  

An important indirect instructional strategy that supports vocabulary instruction is to provide time for students to read. For teachers, “the single most important thing you can do to improve students’ vocabulary is to get them to read more,” (Texas Reading Initiative, 2002).  Providing students with a variety of different types of text at differing levels including both simple text that is enjoyable as well as more challenging texts is helpful for students as they begin to increase their vocabulary.  

These are just a few of the different strategies a teacher can use to increase vocabulary acquisition in their classroom.  Providing both direct and indirect vocabulary instruction can help our students increase their vocabulary and support them in their reading instruction.


Baumann, J.F., Kame’enui, E.J., & Ash, G. (2003). Research on vocabulary instruction: Voltaire redux. In J. Flood, D. Lapp, J.R. Squire, & J. Jenson (Eds.), Handbook of research on teaching the English Language Arts (2nd ed.). Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., & Kucan, L. (2002).  Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction. New York: Guilford Press. 

National Reading Panel (2000).  Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health. 

Sedita, J. (2005). Effective Vocabulary Instruction. Insights on Learning Disabilities 2(1) 33-45.

Texas Reading Initiative (2002). Promoting vocabulary development: Components of effective vocabulary instruction (Revised edition). Austin, TX: Texas Education Agency. 

Mandi Olson

Mandi Olson Mandi Olson, Ed.D, is an elementary educator who currently works as an instructional coach in Utah. She utilizes her fourteen years of knowledge and experience to support others as they further develop their educational expertise. She will provide practical insight to help teachers navigate the complex roles and responsibilities of an educator.


Cyber Week Print Sale:
SAVE 35% STOREWIDE! use code:CYBER22