The recent report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) illustrates that a student’s expanded vocabulary supports improved reading ability. Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, in commenting about the man reading test says, “About half of the variation in reading comprehension…can be associated with variation in vocabulary.” The gap is even wider for some minority students. This essentially means that students need to learn more words!
In the book The Knowledge Deficit, E.D. Hirsch, Jr. notes about high reading and/or math ability, “…those who have these abilities can find a place in the global economy no matter where they happen to live, while those who lack them can be marginalized even if they live in the middle of the United States.” And “The reason that reading ability is the heart of the matter, is that reading ability correlates with learning and communication.”
It’s critical that young people gain reading and communication skills to be able to leverage their skills and creative ideas in the marketplaces of the future. One way to improve reading skills and background knowledge for reading is to increase the amount, breadth and depth of vocabulary.
Having students memorize lists of vocabulary words isn’t going to make them stick. Teaching Latin and Greek roots, using more colorful adjectives and specific nouns, and promoting multi-sensory techniques like those in the book Language Soup: A Taste of How Diverse People in the World Communicate, will help students make mental connections with ideas and phrases and thus will make the expanded vocabulary “stickier” over time.