A developed vocabulary is essential for reading—after all, students can't possibly understand the meaning of a text without knowing most of the words in that text. But how important is vocabulary instruction? Do students need explicit vocabulary instruction?

The Case from Education

Studies have shown that socioeconomic background correlates with vocabulary development; children from poorer households tend to enter school with a smaller vocabulary than children from richer households. Schools catering to students from lower-income neighborhoods may need to compensate by devoting more time to explicit vocabulary instruction.

Students with underdeveloped lexicons suffer in more than just English/Language Arts classes. Most classes involve reading and writing in some manner; students who struggle with reading at grade level will struggle with textbooks for other classes, History/Social Studies and Science classes among them. Vocabulary therefore is important not just to learning how to read and write, but to learning in general.

The Case from Future Success

Scores on standardized tests like the SAT and ACT continue to be a factor in college admissions. Graduating from college is positively correlated with higher earning potential, which has its own benefits on a person's life.

Some writers have remarked that achieving a high score on the Verbal section of the SAT requires a robust vocabulary. This is almost certainly true; many questions on the SAT are, whether directly or indirectly, about word meanings.

Having extensive vocabulary knowledge can only help your students' chances of entering college, giving them a chance at higher income for the rest of their lives. It's no guarantee of future success, but every little bit helps.

We would argue that explicit vocabulary instruction of some type is essential to student success, especially for students from lower-income backgrounds. For the next couple of months, we'll be featuring articles on how to make vocabulary instruction interesting, meaningful, and fun. Feel free to share your own tips and tricks with your fellow teachers in the comments.