A systematic review of the effectiveness of vocabulary interventions on vocabulary and reading comprehension outcomes

A systematic review of the effectiveness of vocabulary interventions on vocabulary and reading comprehension outcomes

First Author: Poh Wee Koh -- Texas A & M University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Karen McIntush; Huan Meng
Keywords: Vocabulary Interventions, Reading comprehension, School-aged children
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose. Although the importance of vocabulary to reading is well-documented (e.g., Anderson & Freebody, 1981; Ouellette, 2006), vocabulary instruction in schools is not always implemented in a systematic manner (e.g., Lesaux, Kieffer, Faller, & Kelley, 2012). Thus, this study’s objectives were threefold; to (1) examine the effectiveness of vocabulary interventions reported in the literature on reading comprehension and vocabulary; (2) identify characteristics of effective interventions, and (3) examine intervention effectiveness in typically-developing and at-risk readers.

Method. A comprehensive literature search yielded 34 studies that fit the study objectives and inclusion criteria. Studies were coded for participant characteristics, research design, intervention features, and outcome measures used. For studies that employed experimental-control designs and provided relevant statistics, effect sizes were calculated to examine extent of effectiveness of interventions.

Results. Three main trends were observed in the review of studies. First, the majority of studies reported significant gains in reading comprehension across grades, with bigger gains observed for studies that examined at-risk students as compared to typically developing children. Second, most vocabulary interventions favored the inclusion of explicit teaching of word learning strategies. Furthermore, interventions were typically paired with other instructional elements, often storybook reading instruction, comprehension strategies, and/or the use of technology as supplementary aids. Finally, there was a large variation in measures used to assess vocabulary and comprehension outcomes across studies, especially for vocabulary.

Conclusions. Findings suggest the effectiveness of multi-faceted interventions that incorporate explicit word learning strategies. Implications on how to operationalize and assess vocabulary knowledge will also be discussed.