English - Vocabulary

Rationale for our approach to teaching vocabulary in KS2

Across The Redstart Learning Partnership we passionately believe in the power of words. For this reason, we take a research-informed approach to ensuring our children develop a wide vocabulary of intentionally selected words. There is extensive evidence that links educational outcomes with the breadth of a child's vocabulary. See Feldman et al. (2005) for evidence that vocabulary size in infancy is a strong predictor of linguistic and cognitive abilities at four years and Marchman & Fernald (2008) for the same at 8 years. In addition, vocabulary size is clearly linked to the acquisition of competence in reading (see for example Ouellette 2006; Snow, Tabor, Nicholson, Kurland 1995) and, in turn, to success in school (see for example Biemiller & Boote 2006; Bornstein & Haynes 1998; Tymms, Merrell & Henderson 1997). 

We take a two-dimensional approach to vocabulary instruction based on the 'Tier System' developed originally by Beck (2013) in Bringing Words to Life. In this model, Tier 1 words are those that are very common and frequently seen in conversational language. Tier 3, meanwhile, are those that are very specific to a certain field and whilst they are critical for gaining expertise in that area, they have less utility across a wide range of linguistic events. Tier 2 are those words that sit somewhere in between. They are unlikely to be used in spoken language, but appear regularly across a range of texts. Our methodology across The Redstart Learning Partnership targets the explicit teaching of both Tier 2 and Tier 3 words. 

Tier 2 words are taught as part of our guided reading curriculum (see separate document) in which texts are selected to form a synergy between reading lessons and other areas of the curriculum. Crucially, all students are exposed to this teaching, including those who are still struggling to decode and are undertaking additional phonics to help them catch up. The rationale for this is clear: Scarborough's reading rope (2001) demonstrates that word recognition is only one element of reading and therefore we aim to develop all learners' other elements of reading as they receive extra support decoding. No pupil is kept behind in developing their vocabulary and, in turn, developing their other areas of comprehension. 

The Tier 2 words we teach are carefully selected by first choosing high-quality texts which link to our curriculum. Teachers choose their Tier 2 language from these texts so that reading and vocabulary instruction are seamlessly intertwined. Although the texts themselves link to the curriculum, the words taught are those that have the greatest scope of utility across a range of circumstances. For example, when reading a text concerning Tudor monarchs, the words selected would be equally as likely to appear in a text on volcanoes or the environment. These words are selected well in advance and can be found on the first page of each Guided Reading unit. By collating these it is possible to draw up a progression of all Tier 2 words taught in KS2 down to the year, term, unit, and even lesson that they are taught in. 

Each Guided Reading session begins with a clear sequence for vocabulary instruction. This sequence remains the same in every KS2 session for the main reason that 'the predictability of the format of your vocabulary rollout will both maximise your instructional time and increase student ownership… Habits lead to efficiency and in this case, optimising the focus on studying words' (Lemov 2016). The new word is introduced by displaying it on the board and is pronounced by the adult followed by a call and response from the class. Students are then provided with a child-friendly definition, a picture which illustrates the word, and example sentences to understand how it is (and is not) used in context. Five new words are introduced in this manner, and as the adult introduces each new word, they quiz pupils on the previous vocabulary (again, using whole class call and response to maximise participation). Pupils are then equipped with the knowledge of these five new words which they encounter in the text used in that session. Every Guided Reading lesson ends with a review of that day's five new words, whereby the new vocabulary is displayed in the classroom for children to reference and use in their own writing. To ensure retention, the subsequent session begins with a review of the previous lesson's words, and every 6th Guided Reading lesson is a low-stakes vocabulary quiz. This spacing is designed to move learning from the short-term to long-term memory.

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