Pillar 3: Vocabulary

The Science of Reading approach to reading instruction is based on five decades of research in cognitive science and literacy. The approach emphasizes five pillars as the core for explicit teaching of reading.

The Five Pillars to the Science of Reading are:
  1. Phonemic Awareness
  2. Phonics
  3. Vocabulary
  4. Oral Reading Fluency
  5. Comprehension

In terms of literacy instruction, developing Vocabulary means to increase the words a child can read, correctly pronounce, and comprehend.  For example, a child might know how to read and the meaning of the word “water” but vocabulary means they can read and pronounce and comprehend everything from the ocean to a puddle to the water in their drinking glass.

Expressive vocabulary is the vocabulary a child can use in speaking and writing. They produce this vocabulary.

Receptive vocabulary is the vocabulary a child or person can understand. This means they read and comprehend the meaning of the word. Someone’s receptive vocabulary is often 10x (or more) larger than their expressive vocabulary.

Children learn new vocabulary through exposure and explicit instruction and practice. Explicit vocabulary instruction goes beyond teaching children to read and describe a word they encounter. Many educators practice and develop vocabulary through semantic mapping, word categorization, and deep word studies.

Vocabulary is essential for reading development because, in most cases, readers should comprehend at least 95% of the words they encounter in order to understand the passage or piece they are reading.

Vocabulary is, therefore, directly linked to comprehension. Often children can decode and read passages but are unable to understand the reading because they lack the schema and vocabulary knowledge to comprehend the passage.

Some Science of Reading programs link vocabulary and decoding with word studies and word categorizing. In this methodology, educators practice explicitly and sequentially teach meaningful word patterns like prefixes and suffixes. With this method, teachers are instructing on the correct decoding of such patterns and how those patterns relate to the meaning in vocabulary.

While reading programs of the past de-emphasize the value of decoding and phonics, most reading programs have promoted the value of vocabulary development. Currently, much of the Science of Reading literature promotes reading without images to encourage word attacking and decoding. There is some debate about the importance of pictures and images for creating understanding and developing language and vocabulary skills.

Caregivers can practice vocabulary with their children by speaking with them and reading books with new vocabulary. Additionally, caregivers can introduce the concepts of synonyms and antonyms to encourage diverse vocabulary and language usage. Asking children to describe something or tell a lengthy story of an event can also support the development of expressive vocabulary.

Amira Learning understands the imperative function vocabulary plays in the students’ development as readers. Amira is an AI reading coach that provides in-the-moment support for students as they read. When Amira detects a student lacking the vocabulary knowledge or schema to comprehend a passage, the program deploys interventions that creatively and effectively help students read and understand new words.
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