Reading Academy

Vocabulary: Meaning in Words

In the context of reading, vocabulary means understanding the individual words we read. Active readers are constantly increasing their reading vocabularies, so the process of growing this reading component is always ongoing. 

The Process of Vocabulary Building

If we look at the Reading Pyramid as the process for mastering reading, vocabulary is the fourth step. That doesn't mean, however, that learning to understand the meaning of words only happens late in the process. On the contrary, building vocabulary begins from the first day we can actively listen to language. What's more, listening vocabulary, the first type of vocabulary we are able to build, is only one of the four types of vocabulary we build. The other three are speaking vocabulary, reading vocabulary, and writing vocabulary. Developmentally, these vocabularies are obtained in a sequential fashion. 

We start out by building our listening vocabulary by hearing those around us speak, and as we become more phonemically aware, we start building our speaking vocabulary. Building a reading vocabulary and a writing vocabulary, however, is a little more complex. In the beginning, reading and writing vocabularies can be built without strong phonics and decoding skills or fluency, but this often means a learner needs to memorize entire words by sight instead of breaking the words down into smaller, more manageable parts. Although it is helpful to know and include as many “sight words” in our reading and writing vocabularies as possible, we can only build these vocabularies to a certain level through the memorization of entire words. To take reading and writing vocabularies beyond that level, we will need to have a good understanding of phonics and decoding skills and be able to fluently apply them. When a learner has obtained a strong understanding of the foundational components of reading (phonemic awareness, phonics, and decoding) and can fluently apply them, he has everything needed to build an ever-growing vocabulary.

Find out effective ways to build your child’s listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

The Relevance of Sight Words

If you’re just beginning to learn effective reading instruction practices, you may be unaware of the significance and sizable presence of sight words in our reading and writing vocabularies. Sight words are words we often see. We recognize them as "whole words" and learn them without the use of decoding strategies. As children, we are often taught to learn a certain amount of high-frequency words (words that are commonly used in about 75% of all writing) by sight. Knowing these sight words helps early learners quickly begin to read and understand a large amount of the text they will encounter. It is possible to have an expansive vocabulary recognizable purely by sight, but most words introduced after the fourth to sixth-grade reading level will require the reader to have active decoding skills in order to commit the words to memory. 

Vocabulary Building for Struggling Readers

A study done by Dr. Jeanne Chall of Harvard University showed that the 30% of learners who struggle with reading consistently plateau in reading ability at about a fourth to sixth-grade reading level. The amount of sight words we can store by sheer memory also falls around a fourth to sixth-grade level. This is an interesting phenomenon. The reason that the leveling off happens to those who struggle with reading is because these learners are unable to fluently decode large, multi-syllabic words. Once a learner is able to master the more fundamental components of reading (all components below vocabulary on the Reading Pyramid), the fourth to sixth-grade plateau disappears, and learners are able to reach a high level of vocabulary and comprehension. 

How We Can Help Build Strong Vocabularies

Free learning resources: A strong vocabulary comes with a proper understanding of the foundational components of reading. Reading Horizons has several resources to help you learn how to effectively teach those foundational components so your child can master reading. Free resources like the At-Home Reading Academy and the Parent Phonics Training Online Workshop are two good places to start increasing your knowledge. ALso view our list of vocaulary words by grade level.

Well-designed instructional products: If you are trying to provide the best instruction possible for a child who struggles with reading, you may feel a little overwhelmed in getting him or her to a level of reading mastery. Reading Horizons understands your concerns. The Reading Horizons At-Home products have been designed to help you and your child every step of the way. We are as investing in your child’s reading success as you are. 

Taking the Last Step to Reading Mastery

The last step to reading mastery and the highest point in the Reading Pyramid is comprehension. Although all the other components of the Reading Pyramid are necessary, the comprehension component is needed to achieve the ultimate goal of reading: understanding what we read.

Comprehension ›