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Vocabulary A-Z is an online resource that supports vocabulary learning in alignment with leading research on language acquisition.

Effective Vocabulary Instruction

Vocabulary learning is a foundation of literacy and a key determiner of academic success. Research has established that vocabulary knowledge plays an important role in students’ ability to comprehend text. The relationship between vocabulary and reading comprehension relies partly on inference-making. Directly teaching vocabulary has also been shown to improve reading comprehension. Many studies advocate the necessity of multiple exposures to target words to improve both vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension.

White Paper: Effective Vocabulary Instruction

Approaches to Vocabulary Instruction

Several investigators have proposed similar approaches to teaching vocabulary. For example, Marzano (2009) describes a six-step method for teaching new words that consists of:

  1. Explaining the word using student-friendly language
  2. Having students paraphrase using their own words
  3. Asking students to show the word with a picture
  4. Allowing students to discuss the word
  5. Engaging students in refining and reflecting on their original writing of the word
  6. Applying the word through games.

Beck, McKeown, & Kucan (2013) suggest a similar approach that includes saying the word, defining it, providing an example, and assessing on the meaning.

To provide an adequate vocabulary foundation, teachers need to directly teach between 400 and 700 words per year (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2013). Because instructional time is limited, strategic word selection is a key step toward maximizing the educational gains of vocabulary instruction (Baumann & Graves, 2010). An adequate choice of target words ensures that students learn words that lead to academic success. According to Beck, McKeown, & Kucan (2013), words can be sorted into three common categories for vocabulary instruction:

Selecting target vocabulary words based on their educational value must then be followed by a plan to ensure that students develop a robust understanding of those words through effective instruction.

Features of Effective Vocabulary Instruction

Vocabulary instruction should meet additional guidelines to ensure learning and retention: spaced independent practice with multiple exposures using multiple modalities.

Spaced independent practice refers to the frequency and duration with which students practice words independently. Multiple, shorter practice sessions are more effective at promoting understanding and retention than sessions that are longer but less frequent (Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel, 2014; Willingham, 2002). In other words, practice sessions should be spaced out over time rather than condensed within a short period of time.

Multiple exposures refers to how many times students see a new word. Students are better able to understand a word and integrate it into their writing, speech, and play once they have been exposed to it a dozen or more times (McKeown, Beck, Omanson, & Pople, 1985). Experiencing multiple exposures to a word increases the likelihood that those cumulative exposures will provide the context clues and background knowledge to help students learn the word.

Multiple modalities refers to implementing variation into how students interact with new words–for example, by having students read, hear, and say the words (University of Michigan, 2016). Students also benefit from exposure to the phonemic properties of words, including hearing the word while simultaneously observing the corresponding letters in the written word (Marzano, 2004). Playing games that involve manipulating vocabulary words also helps students develop a metacognitive understanding of the function and role of words: when students see words as entities that can be used and examined, they become more interested in them (Blachowicz & Fisher, 2004).

Vocabulary A-Z Resources Support Effective Vocabulary Instruction

Word Lists are lists of vocabulary words organized by function; content area; tier; specialized sets such as Dolch, Fry, and Marzano word lists; and connection to other resources, including those for English language learners. Teachers can access these word lists or search a database of over 17,000 words to create a customized list with a maximum of twelve words.

Printable Materials can be generated for customized word lists. These can include a five-day lesson plan with flashcards, worksheets, ideas for centers and games, and an assessment. The lesson plan may be used over five consecutive days or as a plan for spaced practice.

Interactivities are online activities where students apply their knowledge of new words in game-like tasks and receive immediate feedback on their answers. In Interactivities, students engage in activities such as matching words to definitions, context sentences or images; filling in context sentences with the correct words; and using definitions, context sentences, and cloze sentences as clues to find or spell vocabulary words.

Quizzes are printable or interactive tools that assess students on their understanding of target vocabulary words and allow teachers to quickly gauge student knowledge.

Premade Vocabulary Lessons are lesson plans for vocabulary words found in specific Reading A-Z, Raz-Plus, ELL Edition, and Science A-Z resources. These lessons include definition and context sentence flashcards, worksheets, and a final assessment. Premade Lessons give students extra practice learning words that apply to a particular Learning A-Z context.

Baumann, J. F., & Graves, M. F. (2010). What is academic vocabulary? Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 54(1), 4-12.
Beck, I. L., McKeown, M. G., & Kucan, L. (2013). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction. New York: Guilford Press.
Blachowicz, C. L., & Fisher, P. J. (2004). Vocabulary lessons. Educational Leadership, 61(6), 66-69.
Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Marzano, R. J. (2004). Building background knowledge for academic achievement: Research on what works in schools. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Marzano, R. J. (2009). The art and science of teaching: Six steps to better vocabulary instruction. Educational Leadership, 67(1), 83-84.
McKeown, M. G., Beck, I. L., Omanson, R. C., & Pople, M. T. (1985). The art and science of teaching: Some effects of the nature and frequency of vocabulary instruction on the knowledge and use of words. Reading Research Quarterly, 20(5), 522-535.
University of Michigan. (2016). Vocabulary best practices. Retrieved from
Willingham, D. T. (2002). Allocating student study time: “Massed” versus “distributed” practice. Retrieved from