Reading and Writing

, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 371–394 | Cite as

Incremental learning of difficult words in story contexts: the role of spelling and pronouncing new vocabulary

  • Patricia F. VadasyEmail author
  • Elizabeth A. Sanders


In this exploratory study we examine the value of exposure to the spelling and pronunciation of word forms when introducing the meanings of new and difficult vocabulary words. Kindergarten English learners were randomly assigned to one of two types of storybook reading delivered by tutors. Students in both treatments listened to short stories containing novel target words. In both groups, students were told the meanings of the difficult words when they first appeared in the stories. However, in one of the groups (Definitions-Plus), students were also shown the printed words when they first appeared in the stories, and were asked to pronounce and spell the words aloud. Vocabulary learning was assessed with three researcher-designed measures including receptive vocabulary, vocabulary definitions, and spelling. Results showed that both groups made significant gains on all three measures, with average gains of 8, 4, and 3 %, respectively. Moreover, the Definitions-Plus group had significantly greater spelling gains (d = .57), and exhibited similar, albeit nonsignificant, trends on vocabulary gains (ds = .30 and .41 for receptive and definitional vocabulary, respectively). Results extend previous studies’ results to younger English learner students on general benefits of novel word exposure in story contexts, and specific benefits for spelling and pronunciation practice in learning new words.


English learners Kindergarten Vocabulary Spelling Pronunciation 



This material is based upon work supported by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), U.S. Department of Education, Grant No. R305A130700. Any opinions, findings, and recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute of Education Sciences.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Oregon Research InstituteSeattleUSA
  2. 2.University of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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