Frequency Matters in Vocabulary Instruction

We’ve gotten into the habit of teaching a vocabulary with a “one and done” practice. Teach a set of words and then move on to the next list the following week. In fact, we should really be re-teaching vocabulary words, because frequency matters. When studying third graders, researchers found that “semantic and lexical knowledge accrues over time” (McGregor, Shane & Ball, 2007).

In order to improve the depth of vocabulary knowledge, repeated exposure to Tier 2 words is a must. Multiple exposures, allows a child to add more features and contexts to the words they are learning. It helps them to store words neurologically and continually refine that storage to include synonyms, word parts and other semantic features. Continually building on the knowledge of a word helps a child internalize the meaning and own it.

We need to change our vocabulary instruction model from a “one and done” to a continual learning cycle. Robust vocabulary instruction should be a continually evolving process that keeps students engaged while reinforcing their word knowledge.