Effects Of Three Vocabulary Strategies On Kindergarten Tier 2 Word Recognition

Lisa Mello Handfield
Andover Elementary School, Andover, CT


This action research project sought to determine the effects of three vocabulary strategies on Kindergarten Tier 2 word recognition. In a sample of convenience, 16 Kindergartners were pre-tested on their expressive and receptive knowledge of three target words with an investigator created assessment tool. Students were then assigned to small groups for a book sharing activity: Group I received incidental exposure vocabulary instruction,Group X received extended vocabulary instruction, and Groups XR and XR-R received extended instruction with re-reading vocabulary instruction. All groups read Bon-Bon the Downtown Cow (Appleton-Smith, 2003) and were post-tested with the same assessment tool. Overall data analysis results indicated that all groups increased their word knowledge. However, differential percentages of word recognition growth between groups, based on instructional strategies,were noted.


In looking at the five main components (phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension) of quality reading instruction, phonemic awareness and phonics are at the roots of the early levels of learning, where sounds and subsequent letters that match those sounds are being mastered. There are numerous programs and assessments that determine a child’s growth and current ability in these phonological areas. However, determining a young child’s oral vocabulary level, and subsequent instruction and assessment, is more difficult.

When educators delve into vocabulary acquisition, two major areas of influence become apparent for early learners. Educators need to be aware that a large part of word knowledge relies on incidental word learning. Incidental word learning stems from wide reading and rich oral language experiences, where adults have conversations with children and engage in book sharing experiences on a daily basis. Extensive reading also promotes vocabulary development as repeated exposures to words, word concepts and word contexts help widen a young child’s knowledge base. However, these key components may not occur in a youngster’s home or even before entering school.

Accordingly, educators also need to be cognizant of the value of direct vocabulary instruction. The school setting is where explicit instruction of vocabulary becomes most feasible. Specific word instruction relies on expanding a young child’s vocabulary with skill building activities that centers on word analysis, context clues, and reference use. Also, the Armbruster, Lehr & Osborn (2003) found that intentional instruction of vocabulary items is required for specific texts and the dependence on a single vocabulary instructional method will not result in optimal learning. Rich and robust vocabulary instruction allows children to actively engage in using and thinking about word meanings and in creating relationships among words.

Under the umbrella of the effective teaching cycle, I decided to explore and implement research-based vocabulary strategies suitable for young learners and formulate an assessment tool based on specific word instruction. My action research is based on the notion that extended and repeated instruction promotes active engagement with vocabulary, which leads to improved word learning (Armbruster, Lehr & Osborn, 2003) as my intention is to determine what vocabulary instruction method is most beneficial, at the Kindergarten level, for increasing target word recognition.

Review Of Related Literature

Vocabulary is simply the knowledge of words and word meanings. Components of effective vocabulary instruction include incidental word learning and intentional vocabulary teaching. In the first years of school, particularly Kindergarten, teachers utilize read-alouds and book sharing to expose children to oral language. Emphasis has conventionally been placed on the visual part of each page, particularly in the use of picture books and predictable text when reading to children (Justice, Pullen & Pence, 2008). Also, word concept instruction at the lowest grades has included context-specific vocabulary and child-friendly definitions. Key vocabulary instruction strategies consisted of oral and listening language skill building such as teacher think-alouds, questioning, and summarizing.

There is an abundance of research (McGee & Schickedanz, 2007; Lane & Allen, 2010) that supports the effectiveness of rich and robust vocabulary instruction which identifies key words, builds upon an already familiar concept and then allows children to cognitively stretch beyond the original context of word acquisition. Extended instruction is teacher-directed and explicit. Such an approach includes definitional and contextual elements of word knowledge. Repetition and multiple exposures to vocabulary items are important (Armbruster, Lehr & Osborn, 2003). Extended, or dialogic, reading instruction is a strategy which has recently received substantial merit in research findings (Coyne, McCoach, Loftus, Zipoli & Kapp, 2009; Coyne, McCoach and Kapp, 2007).

More specifically, Beck, McKeown and Kucan (2002) promote the use of the Text Talk strategy, with selected Tier 2 vocabulary from a story, to encourage dialogic reading interactions between the teacher and students. Vocabulary instruction involves learning new words for familiar concepts, as well as learning new concepts for familiar words. Early childhood educators need to draw on the higher listening levels that children possess in the pre-literacy stages of reading development to choose vivid words and dramatic storybooks (Newton, Rasinski, & Rasinski, 2008). Educators must orally reinforce child-provided connections between words and meanings (Beck, McKeown and Kucan, 2002). Vocabulary instruction needs to be purposeful, but also flexible, in responding to the individual and egocentric thoughts that young children possess.



Participants were a sample of convenience from my Kindergarten classroom. There were 16 children used for this vocabulary action research project. Ten children were boys and six children were girls. Four participants were identified as remedial/intervention readers who receive daily, supplemental instruction with a Remedial Reading teacher. Fifteen students are Caucasian and one student is of African-American descent. All participants were of Christian faith. No participants received free or reduced lunches. One child is an English Language Learner, with Polish as her first language.


Non-remedial readers (12 students) were randomly assigned to three groups (Group I, X, or XR, which had four students each, while the four remedial readers were kept together to form their own group (Group XR-R). All groups read the book Bon-Bon the Downtown Cow. This book was selected because it was unfamiliar to the children and written to be a high quality, decodable text that could serve numerous instructional purposes. I also chose this book because it was not a picture book so that the children could concentrate on the oral vocabulary, and would not rely heavily on the visual art, to tell the story. The vocabulary strategies employed during the reading the story varied:

Group I (random, non-remedial students) was given incidental exposure instruction, whereby the teacher read the book to them in a quiet, small group setting.

Group X (random, non-remedial students) were given extended instruction, whereby children received pre-reading exercises to expose them to the target words, listened for target words, had the teacher read the book to them in a quiet, small group setting and then discussed target words with postreading exercises.

Group XR (random, non-remedial students) were given extended instruction and rereading of text, whereby children received pre-reading exercises to expose them to the target words, listened for target words, had the teacher read the book to them in a quiet, small group setting and then discussed target words with post-reading exercises. The next day, the teacher re-read the book to them in a quiet, small group setting.

Group XR-R (remedial students) were given extended instruction and re-reading of text, whereby children received pre-reading exercises to expose them to the target words, listened for target words, had the teacher read the book to them in a quiet, small group setting and then discussed target words with post-reading exercises. The next day, the teacher re-read the book to them in a quiet, small group setting.

As part of the extended instruction vocabulary strategy (Groups X, XR and XR-R), the teacher provided oral, pre-reading activities to familiarize the children with the three target words. The participants repeated the target words and were instructed to raise their hand when they heard the words in the story. Upon hearing the words, the teacher re-read the sentence, provided a short definition for the target word and then reread the sentence with the child-friendly definition inserted. When the story was completed, teacherdirected vocabulary activities included answering literal questions, making text to self connections and decontextualized use of the target words. The specific scripts that were followed for pre-reading vocabulary activities were adapted from research by Coyne, McCoach & Kapp (2007).


Through consideration of Armbruster, Lehr & Osborn’s (2003) findings, which assert that specific vocabulary growth is best assessed through researcher-developed measures as they are more sensitive to gains achieved through instruction than are standardized tests, I developed my own pre-/post-instruction assessment. I chose three Tier 2 words that I believed Kindergartners would not normally encounter in their oral or receptive vocabularies. All children were asked individually by a teacher about each word, in turn. In this quiet location, each child was asked if they knew what the target word meant (EXP-DEF, Expressive definition). Each Kindergartner was prompted to answer two yes or no questions to clarify the meaning of the target word (EXP-Y/N, Expressive yes or no question). Both of these assessments parts were to provide a baseline for expressive vocabulary knowledge. Lastly, each Kindergartner was shown four pictures and asked to point to the target word. Distractors that were phonetically similar were included in this picture assessment. This assessment piece was to provide a baseline for receptive vocabulary knowledge (RECEP, Receptive definition). The specific scripts utilized for pre-/post-instruction assessments, and adapted from research by Coyne, McCoach and Kapp (2007).

Data Results/Analysis

Specific instructional strategies results.

In looking at post-instruction assessment data, several more and specific observations can be noted based on the instructional strategy utilized by the teacher. Group I, which received incidental exposure, showed growth in their expressive and receptive vocabulary knowledge. Simply reading a book aloud to children made measurable increases in vocabulary knowledge.

Group X, which received the extended vocabulary instruction strategy showed more than moderate gains in word knowledge. Introducing target vocabulary, discovering these vocabulary words in context and exploring words through decontextualized questions pointed to measurable increases in word knowledge.

Group XR, which received the extended vocabulary instruction strategy and a re-reading of the book, showed moderate growth in the area of word recognition. The overall percentage of preinstruction scores for Group X and Group XR were similar. However, the overall percentage of post-instruction scores varied. Group XR-R consisted of the remedial students who receive daily supplemental services from the Reading teacher. Overall, the gains for these students were the most modest. Better word recognition, after the vocabulary strategies of extended instruction and re-reading of the book, became apparent. Most notable was the fact that none of the students in this group could define any of the target words prior to the intervention; however, 17% could define the words during the post-instruction assessment. Providing two supportive word knowledge strategies (extended vocabulary instruction and re-reading) was the logical choice for these remedial students and these children showed growth when dual vocabulary methods were employed.


Review of the overall post-instruction data illustrated that students had gains in word recognition skills, especially when this sample of convenience made measurable gains in orally defining target words. In addition, it is worthy of note that the overall percentage of definition knowledge growth increased greatly from 14% to 50% while the overall percentage of receptive knowledge growth increased moderately from 52% to 77%.


For me, as an educator, it was valuable to look back at the pre- and post-instruction data from this action research project to discover and analyze the levels of word knowledge in my classroom. Word knowledge can be identified on the following continuum: (a) no knowledge, (b) general sense of the word, (c) narrow, context-bound knowledge and (d) some knowledge of the word, but not being able to recall it readily enough to use it in appropriate situations and (e) rich, decontextualized knowledge of a word’s meaning (Beck, McKeown and Omanson, 1987). This project sought to increase word knowledge and when analyzing the overall findings, the children could answer more post-instruction expressive and receptive questions correctly for the new, target words. Oral vocabulary knowledge increased regardless of type of vocabulary instruction received.

I also discovered that simply reading to children introduces vocabulary and incidental exposure can provide a context for these new words. Extended instruction also exposes children to new vocabulary and can provide a more structured format in which to absorb contextual and decontextualized concepts for these new words. The added benefit of re-reading a story, along with extended instruction, was not evident in my research. However, Armbruster, Lehr & Osborn (2003) determined that how vocabulary is assessed and evaluated can have differential effects on instruction. Further study of the statistical significance of vocabulary gains for extended instruction, with or without re-reading, versus the incidental exposure technique is in  order. Such repeated administrations or replications of this study, using the incidental exposure, extended instruction and extended instruction with re-reading strategies, could better pinpoint for teacher-researchers the effects of each.


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