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How Are Using Word Walls an Effective Way to Develop Vocabulary?

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Submitted By studentlife15
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Vocabulary instruction and the impact it has on reading comprehension is a topic that appears to be discussed but is not researched as much as we previously envisioned. There are many articles discussing how to implement quality instruction to provide vocabulary development at the elementary level. There appears to be little research on how vocabulary directly impacts student reading comprehension. There is also little research on how word walls impact overall vocabulary development. Vocabulary is one of the five major components of reading along with phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency and reading comprehension. All components are essential when it comes to reading but we believe that vocabulary plays an important role both in learning to read and in comprehending text. Readers cannot understand text without knowing what the words they are reading mean. Although we did not find as much research as hoped, we did find a wide variety of articles that examined the impact that vocabulary instruction has on reading. Many of the articles that we found explained a variety of ways to improve vocabulary instruction that would in turn increase vocabulary development. Some studies looked at emerging language skills such as alliteration, rhyming, segment blending and letter-word identification. Others focused more on decoding, word knowledge and word recognition. Other variables considered included age, gender, race or ethnicity, household income, disability and even parental intelligence. All of these variables were assessed to find a connection or link to reading comprehension. The articles included many variables that could impact overall vocabulary knowledge and development. It was difficult to pin point which variable had the biggest impact on vocabulary development with the end result of improved reading comprehension. Majority of the research found was conducted within the last ten years.
In 2013 Carlson uses data from a national sample of students to examine the interaction of various literacy measures among young children with disabilities. This research study explored the relationships among phonemic awareness, vocabulary, decoding, and reading comprehension in a population of young children with disabilities. It examined the role that three phonemic awareness skills played in the development of decoding and vocabulary skills and the role that those skills played in reading comprehension. He examined the relationships among measures of phonemic awareness, decoding vocabulary and reading comprehension. The findings added to evidence demonstrating the critical relationship between phonemic awareness and decoding. The effect of phonemic awareness on passage comprehension was through decoding. Findings from this study also supported other related research that Carlson (2013) used, demonstrating that there are two paths to reading comprehension, one through decoding and a second through vocabulary. Decoding and vocabulary measures in the study had strong links with reading comprehension at ages 8–10 years, showing that both literacy subcomponents are essential in learning to read. As a result, it is critical to provide intensive support not only for young children deemed at risk based on poor phonological awareness but also those with poor vocabulary or other language skills. It is also important to consider the age at which different risk factors can be identified, either those associated with phonemic awareness and decoding or those associated with language (Carlson, 2013). This study did find that vocabulary is essential in reading comprehension but other components such as decoding are just as crucial.
One research article we found was a study done to investigate the impact of word walls on improving the English reading fluency of Saudi kindergarten children. The study conducted by Al Shaiji, O. A. & Al-Saleem, B. (2014) attempted to answer if there was a significant difference between the children's mean score on an English Reading fluency test due to using word wall activities over a control group. The results of the pre and post-tests indicated that reading efficiency for the children of the experimental group increased by the end of this study. Students increased words read per minute as the mean increased from 16.41 to 23.09; indicating that at the completion of this study, participants read more words per minute. The relatively stable standard deviations, 3.73, 3.41 respectively, suggest that improvement with all students did occur. However, the high standard deviations also indicate that even though most students improved, some students still struggled with reading fluency and reaching the 168 high frequent word per 45 seconds expectation for kindergarten students. When administering the post-test, some students still struggled because they were focusing on sounding out the sight words. Although this study just focused on kindergarten students the positive results found could also impact vocabulary development and reading fluency in other grades. It is also an indicator
In the article, “Interactive Word Walls, Transforming Content Vocabulary Instruction”, the authors conclude an interactive word wall that provides visual aids helps students gain a deeper meaning of the vocabulary. “Interactive word walls require planning, because they build schema for individual terms through the use of images and manipulatives while showcasing connections between terms in a unit or lesson, teachers need to organize the information themselves before they can present it and involve students.” (Jackson, 2011) An interactive word wall is a great tool to use in the classroom to build vocabulary instruction. The best word wall includes words that are aligned with current instruction, visible from a distance, and include visual representations of the words. It is also important to have student generated materials posted on the word wall. These factors change an ordinary word wall into an interactive word wall. After choosing the words for the wall, it is important to select pictures to represent the word meanings. “The most effective word walls include photographs or the actual item (realia).” (Jackson, 2011) The photographs provide students with a deeper meaning of the vocabulary. A concept map to connect the vocabulary will make the words more meaningful for the students. This is especially essential for ELL students. During a classroom discussion, students can refer to the word wall for reminders of the vocabulary. The students were asked if they preferred the traditional word wall or the interactive, and the results were they preferred an interactive word wall. The students found the visual aids and the organization of the words was very valuable to learning.
Kucan (2012) details the results of the Lexical Quality Hypothesis. “According to Perfetti, it is the interconnectedness of semantics, phonology, orthography, morphology, and syntax that allows readers to rapidly, precisely, and flexibly determine the meaning of the word in a particular context” (Kucan, 2012, p.360). The thinking behind this theory is if children understand more about the words they are learning, and how they are constructed, then the instruction will be valuable. The article gives information about what each of these areas of word study is, and discusses which words to choose for instruction. How to teach vocabulary seems to be the easier task, than choosing the words to teach. “There are so many kinds of words to consider: high-frequency words, words that have important structural features, words that are need to comprehend specific texts, concept-specific terms (Kucan, 2012, p.363). I think it depends on the grade level you are teaching, when choosing which words to teach your students. For example, if teaching kindergarten, grades 1 and 2, then one would use high-frequency words. These are words that children will see often as they are reading, and the primary goal in these early years in learning how to read. If teaching grades 3-6, then teaching students about the way words are constructed is very important because learning these strategies will make them independent in their reading. Also, teaching children words associated with the content areas in very important. As the students move toward the intermediate grades, Science and Social Studies are added into their curriculum.
In the article, “Four Practical Principles for Enhancing Vocabulary Instruction”, the authors discuss a research study conducted in fourth and fifth classrooms at a school in Colorado. The study conducted over three years, was “a federally funded project aimed at developing, implementing, and researching a comprehensive, multifaceted vocabulary instruction program (MCVIP) in fourth-and fifth-grade classrooms (Manyak, 2014, p.14). Research has shown “…these facts underscore that a limitation in vocabulary knowledge represents a key obstacle to long-term academic success for many students and point to the urgent need for teachers and schools to improve the quality of vocabulary instruction across grade levels (Manyak, 2014, p.14). There seems to be a need for not only vocabulary instruction, but great quality of vocabulary instruction. The starting point for the research was from Michael Graves’ book, The Vocabulary Book: Learning and Instruction. “The research team believed that Graves (2006) four-part framework for vocabulary instruction represented a starting point for developing a powerful vocabulary instructional program for these grades” (Manyak, 2014, p.15). According to Graves (2006), vocabulary instruction should include: a variety of great experiences, individual words, as well as, word-learning strategies should be taught, and it is important for students to develop word consciousness. Using this information, the research team developed activities to support learning. According to Manyak (2010), these activities included: providing a kid-friendly definition, using the word multiple times, showing a visual image of the word, and encouraging student use. Manyak stressed that:
Teachers should invest time in planning in order to streamline the word introduction routine, stick with a small number of routines and continually seek to refine them, keep instruction focused on providing students with a fast-paced yet varied set of experiences with the words, and plan for review experiences that allow students multiple opportunities to develop deeper understanding of the word meanings. (Manyak, 2014 p.17).
After three years of research the results were positive. “Overall quantitative findings were very positive, as students showed more than expected growth on a standardized test in general vocabulary knowledge and very large positive effect sizes on specifically taught words.” (Graves et al, 2014, Manyak, 2014, p. 15). This research implies that vocabulary knowledge and development do impact reading comprehension. There are also other factors that impact comprehension like phonemic awareness and decoding (Carlson, 2013). We believe there will be more research done in the future. Current research is proving the connection between vocabulary development and reading comprehension. More teachers are doing their own research by trying various techniques and seeing what works best for their students. Vocabulary instruction should be multifaceted, incorporating the teaching of individual words, the development of word learning strategies and the fostering of word consciousness (Manyak, 2014). Teachers also need to vary their approach to teaching word meaning based on the nature of the targeted words. Vocabulary instruction cannot simply focus on a dictionary definition of a word. Words need to be presented in a variety of contexts, exposed multiple times and promote students’ active processing of new meanings. How can a child understand what they are reading if they do not know what the words on the pages mean? It seems so obvious yet there is not much research to support the claim.


Al Shaiji, O. A., & Al-Saleem, B. (2014). The impact of word walls on improving the english reading fluency of Saudi kindergarten’s children, Education, 135(1), 39-50.

Carlson E. (2013). The interactions of vocabulary, phonemic awareness, decoding, and reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Research, 106(2):120-131. doi: 10.1080/00220671.2012.687791

Jackson, J, Tripp, S, Cox, K (2011). Interactive word walls, transforming content vocabulary Instruction, Science Scope (serial online), November 1, 2011; (35) 3, p. 45-49.

Kucan, L. (2012). What is most important to know about vocabulary? Reading Teacher, 65(6), 360-366. (

Manyak, P. L. (2014). Four practical principles for enhancing vocabulary instruction. Reading Teacher, 68(1), 13-23. doi:10.1002/trtr.1299…...

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