Explicit Intervention in Vocabulary

Intervention Overview

In an explicit intervention in vocabulary, teach high utility words and academic language, including instruction in morphology (the meanings of roots and combining forms, prefixes, and suffixes) using explicit instructional routines. Words should be taught in clusters and connected to texts. In addition, there should be judicious review with multiple exposures of previously taught words.

Why Does Vocabulary Matter to Reading?

Comprehension of written material depends upon vocabulary knowledge. To make meaning from print, students must be able to read the words accurately, as well as understand their meanings. Experts estimate that students need to know 90-95% of the word meanings in a text to comprehend it (Nagy & Scott, 2000). However, there can be considerable differences among students in the size of their vocabularies. Many students experience underlying weaknesses in vocabulary that make reading grade-level text challenging. 

Explicit Intervention in Vocabulary

Explicit intervention in vocabulary is one way to build word knowledge and comprehension of complex, grade-level text. Learn more about planning and delivering explicit intervention in vocabulary in the video below.

Preparing to Implement the Intervention

Before delivering an explicit intervention in vocabulary, identify words to teach from a text. Select words that are: (1) unknown to students, (2) critical to understanding a text, and (3) used in other contexts. Be sure to include Tier 2 words (academic language terms used in multiple content areas) and Tier 3 words (domain specific words critical to a specific content area). Plan explicit instructional routines that you will use to teach the words, such as the four-step routine presented in the video.

What Elements to Include in an Explicit Vocabulary Intervention

An Explicit Routine for Introducing New Terms

Visuals, Sentence Starters, Examples, Nonexamples

Practice and Review

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An Explicit Routine for Introducing New Terms

Use instructional steps to introduce new vocabulary words.

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Visuals, Sentence Starters, Examples, Nonexamples

Enrich the vocabulary instruction by involving the students in the examples, use visuals to match the words, and relate the words to their use in the text.

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Practice and Review

After going through the instructional routine, create opportunities for students to process the word’s meaning in additional formats and contexts, including speaking and writing. Providing multiple exposures to each word helps students remember them.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why use an explicit instructional routine to teach new terms?

A well-designed instructional routine gives structure to the intervention time and facilitates dialogue and thinking about vocabulary that might not occur otherwise. For these reasons, teachers are encouraged to select a consistent instructional routine for vocabulary intervention.

Why should vocabulary intervention focus on Tier 2 words?

Students need to know high-utility (Tier 2) words that they are likely to meet often in academic texts across the content areas. The more Tier 2 words students know, the better students will access content in other subject areas. Furthermore, students will likely keep these words in their vocabularies because of their frequent use and the many opportunities to see them in context.

Is teaching a word once enough for it to be learned?

No. Multiple encounters are necessary for a word to be learned. Some researchers estimate that it takes up to 17 exposures to learn a word! Repeated, deliberate, and varied practice opportunities can help students retain vocabulary words introduced through a explicit instructional routine. Practice opportunities can also facilitate the transfer of vocabulary to reading proficiency.

Featured Resources

A free resource available from Student Achievement Partners that can assist you in identifying grade-level Tier 2 vocabulary words found in any text.

Partner or group activities can get students talking with each other about new vocabulary words.

Try these writing activities to facilitate engagement with new vocabulary. Ensure students repeat the vocabulary term in their written responses.

This book explains how to select words for instruction, introduce their meanings, and create engaging learning activities that promote both word knowledge and reading comprehension.

Graphic organizers can help students think about vocabulary words in different ways. Use graphic organizers at any point in a lesson to help students learn new words and classify terms and concepts into meaningful categories.

Learn how content area teachers can support students’ in upper elementary develop vocabulary by using a set of instructional practices.

Find instructional routines provided by the Florida Center for Reading Research to use during small group vocabulary intervention.

Additional Learning Opportunities

Watch Dynamic Vocabulary Instruction presented by Dr. Anita Archer.

Watch World Smarts Using Morphology Bases & Affixes to Develop Vocabulary Skills presented by William Van Cleave.

Listen to Nancy Hennessy as she highlights how to explicitly teach vocabulary to students through a research-supported approach.