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Text-Based Vocabulary Instruction: A Conversation with Dr. Molly Ness

Categories: Activities, Early Literacy, Education & Teaching, Educators, Learning Ally “How-To Use”, Reading Strategies for K-12, Student Centric Learning, Teacher Best Practices


“When we teach students new vocabulary words that are text-based, we yield better understanding and retention of the words than when we teach words in isolation,” says Dr. Molly Ness, Learning Ally’s Vice President of Academic Content.

Vocabulary building is one of the many goals of early literacy instruction. Just as being able to decode words in a text is an indispensable skill, understanding what those words mean is also a necessary component of reading comprehension. Research shows that explicitly teaching word meanings in the context of authentic texts leads to better word acquisition.

“When students encounter new vocabulary words through text, they have authentic reasons to learn those words and see how they are immediately applied to genuine learning experiences – as opposed to merely memorizing words that randomly appear in a contrived list,” Dr. Ness explains. “Text-based vocabulary instruction shows students that their learning has immediate relevance and application.”

Excite Reading™, Learning Ally’s new supplemental early literacy program, provides the tools that teachers need to help their pre-K through second-grade students build word knowledge. “Because vocabulary plays such an integral role in comprehension, we purposefully provide explicit instruction on meaningful vocabulary words that students encounter in a text,” Dr. Ness says. “Excite Reading intentionally focuses on words that are connected to students' background knowledge, meaningful for reading and writing development, and relevant to students' everyday lives (and therefore likely to be used).”

The corresponding book guides that accompany Excite Reading’s library of human-read e-books offer text-based vocabulary lists, discussion prompts, and extension activities that give students multiple opportunities to hear, speak, read, and write the new words. “We provide vocabulary activities that ensure students receive sufficient exposure to new words, with engaging opportunities to try out these words themselves, and real ways to connect new vocabulary to their story understandings,” Dr. Ness says. “This is the foundation of effective vocabulary instruction, as it results in more retention and transfer of new words than memorizing lists of words in isolation.”

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