This article reviews the embodied theoretical basis for the meaningful learning of abstract vocabulary and reviews selected educational programs that are theoretically based and have both success and promise for abstract vocabulary development. Abstract vocabulary is a mainstay of academic vocabulary, but its nature and educational development are not well understood. From the perspective of embodied cognition and neuropsychology, the meaning and development of abstract words are based on nonverbal sensory, sensorimotor, and affective evocations as elaborated by verbal contextual associations both abstract and concrete. Developmental psychometric studies suggest a mutual relationship between nonverbal reasoning and increasingly abstract vocabulary that is a basis of the developing intellect. Although abstract vocabulary is typically learned through exposure to rich oral language and wide reading, direct instruction is also vital for many students. Educational interventions consistent with this nonverbal-verbal embodied theoretical account have been shown to be effective in learning academic vocabulary in general and abstract vocabulary in particular. However, more research is needed in both theory and practice.
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Sadoski, M., Lawrence, B. Abstract Vocabulary Development: Embodied Theory and Practice. Educ Psychol Rev 35, 84 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-023-09802-9