Words and Learning to Read and Reading to Learn

We move from a focus on sounds to words in understanding early literacy development. Children need to be able to identify words (to read them silently or to recognize and pronounce them in oral reading) as they read text. They also need to know the meaning of the words they read, which will be our primary focus at the word level. First a few links for word identification info/ideas.

Word Identification
Word identification instruction has a long history in learning to read and reading to learn. There are many systematic programs and approaches to teaching word identification skills.


Generalizing word identification knowledge and skill to text reading. This is wide ranging issue to be addressed later in the discussion of Discourse/Text.

Word Meaning
Vocabulary knowledge is central to reading and reading comprehension. Five topics are of importance to be addressed over the next few weeks:

^Oral Language Development of Vocabulary—as the basis for reading vocabulary
^The Matthew Effect—the impact of early vocabulary development and the achievement gap
^Academic Vocabulary
^Vocabulary Differences in Narrative and Information Texts
^Vocabulary Instruction.

Oral Language Development & Vocabulary: Three perspectives

Speaking and Listening for Preschool Through Grade Three, Lauren B. Resnick and Catherine B. Snow, IRA, 2009

“Speaking and listening are the foundation of reading and writing. A child who does not have a large and fluent vocabulary will have difficulty with every aspect of reading, from recognizing or sounding out words to making sense of a story or directions.” (p. vi)

“From the time they are infants until they are about 8 years old, children learn most of what they know by hearing other people talk: Talking is the main way children get to know the world, understand complex events, and encounter different perspectives.” (p. 3)

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Harvard Graduate School of Education, Winter 2001 by Lori Hough

The beginning of the reading process…
“The reading process begins, of course, way before kids even walk into classes like McCaffrey’s. As Shonkoff, a former pediatrician and current director of Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, says, “Kids learn to understand words before they speak them.” As soon as parents and caregivers pick up a cooing baby and coo back, the process begins, with the baby beginning to understand the back and forth of conversation.
By the time a child is 18 months old, Shonkoff writes in his book, From Neurons to Neighborhoods, their world is a language explosion, acquiring, on average, about nine new words a day, every day, through preschool.”
“By the time children enter formal education, it is estimated that they know the meaning of about 5,000 to 6,000 words when they hear them, and can probably recognize in print a handful of easily memorized “sight words” — words like “the” and “to” and “stop” that pop up often in books and on signs and menus.”

Read more: http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news-impact/2011/01/you-need-r-ee-d-to-read/#ixzz2xPHYEHeR

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Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto
The Importance of the Number of Words Known by Age Five for Later School Achievement by Andrew Biemiller,

“Children who do not know many words by the end of kindergarten often have poor reading comprehension in later grades. By the time children begin kindergarten, they have already acquired much of their language. They speak in sentences and they understand simple stories and simple explanations. By 5 years of age, most children probably know more than one or two thousand root word meanings.”


“I estimate that by the beginning of kindergarten, children’s vocabulary size ranges from 2300 root word meanings (average for children with low vocabularies) to 4700 root word meanings (average for children with high vocabularies).

During the grades from kindergarten to grade two, the difference between children with small and large vocabularies continues to get larger. By the end of grade two, children in the low vocabulary group average 4000 root word meanings, children in the average vocabulary group know about 6000 meanings, and children in the large vocabulary group average 8000 meanings. These large vocabulary differences have developed before children have had much of an opportunity to build vocabulary from their own reading. Beginning readers (kindergarten-grade two) mainly read “primer” texts using relatively few words.”

How Word Meanings are Learned

“In this section, I discuss how words are learned and how some children come to know many more words than other children. I will also discuss how home differences and child-care interventions affect word development.”


“See Table 1 for a list of some preschool words and their meanings. See Table 2 for a list of word meanings recommended for attention, explanation, or instruction for children ages 3 to 5 years. [There are approximately 40 pages that make up these lists.”