The Influence of Vocabulary Instruction on Word Knowledge and Word Solving

The Influence of Vocabulary Instruction on Word Knowledge and Word Solving

First Author: Gina Cervetti -- University of Michigan
Additional authors/chairs: 
Elfrieda H. Hiebert; Miranda Fitzgerald
Keywords: Vocabulary, Systematic review
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose: The current study synthesizes research on the impact of vocabulary instruction on elementary students’ acquisition of vocabulary knowledge and skill. This study focuses on distal (transfer to general measures of word knowledge and word solving), rather than proximal effects (impacts on instructed words and word parts). Further, the study is concerned with practical significance, working to identify effective and time-economical ways of influencing broad word knowledge and word-solving skill.

Methods: We selected studies according to the following criteria: (a) published in a peer-reviewed journal, (b) compared two or more instructional conditions; and (c) included an assessment of general vocabulary or word-solving skill; and (d) involved participants from grades K-5. Within each qualifying study, we examined sample, intervention type and duration, outcomes, instructional features (e.g., instruction characteristics, word type), and effect sizes. We documented patterns across studies, and within subsets of studies, including characteristics of interventions that distinguished more and less positive outcomes.

Results: Interventions involving direct instruction of word meanings have mixed outcomes that, contrary to expectations, are not associated with the duration of the intervention or number of words instructed. Interventions that taught students to solve the meanings of unknown words using morphology or context clues had more consistent impacts on transfer measures. Patterns related to instructor, instructional grouping, participants’ language status, and instructional features are also described.

Conclusions: This study synthesizes decades of research in order to identify effective and time-economical ways of influencing broad word knowledge and skill, which has implications for future research and instruction.