The goal of this experimental intervention study was to determine if evidence-based instructional strategies for general vocabulary words are effective with middle school English learner (EL) students and academic vocabulary words. Participants showed significantly more growth in their knowledge of academic vocabulary during the treatment condition than during the control condition. A secondary goal of this study was to examine the predictive utility of students’ English language proficiency, and students’ general vocabulary knowledge in English was a positive predictor for their academic vocabulary growth during the intervention. However, participants’ growth during the control period had the greatest predictive utility for their growth during the intervention. Furthermore, this relationship was negative, suggesting that the intervention had the greatest benefits for students who made the least progress in English vocabulary in the absence of the intervention. Implications for instruction, policy, and future research are presented.
This is a preview of subscription content,to check access.
Access this article
Adolphs, S., & Schmitt, N. (2003). Lexical coverage of spoken discourse. Applied Linguistics, 24, 425–438.
Anderson, V., & Roit, M. (1996). Linking reading comprehension instruction to language development for language-minority students. The Elementary School Journal, 96, 295–309.
August, D., Carlo, M., Dressler, C., & Snow, C. (2005). The critical role of vocabulary development for English language learners. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 20, 50–57.
Bailey, A. L. (2007). Introduction: Teaching and assessing students learning English in school. In A. L. Bailey (Ed.), The language demands of school: Putting academic English to the test. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Bailey, A. L., & Butler, F. A. (2007). A conceptual framework of academic English language for broad application to education. In A. L. Bailey (Ed.), The language demands of school: Putting academic English to the test. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Baumann, J. F., Edwards, E. C., Boland, E. M., Olejnik, S., & Kame’enui, E. J. (2003). Vocabulary tricks: Effects of instruction in morphology and context on fifth-grade students’ ability to derive and infer word meanings. American Educational Research Journal, 40, 447–494.
Beck, I. L., & McKeown, M. G. (2007). Increasing young low-income children’s oral vocabulary repertoires through rich and focused instruction. The Elementary School Journal, 107, 251–271.
Beck, I. L., McKeown, M. G., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing words to life. New York: The Guilford Press.
Beck, I. L., Perfetti, C. A., & McKeown, M. G. (1982). Effects of long-term vocabulary instruction on lexical access and reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 74, 506–521.
Bessai, F. (2001). Peabody picture vocabulary test – III. In B. S. Plake & J. C. Impara (Eds.), The fourteenth mental measurements yearbook (pp. 908–911). Lincoln, NE: The Buros Institute of Mental Measurement.
Bialystok, E., Luk, G., & Kwan, E. (2005). Bilingualism, biliteracy, and learning to read: Interactions among languages and writing systems. Scientific Studies of Reading, 9, 43–61.
Biancarosa, G., & Snow, C. (2004). Reading next: A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy. New York: Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Biemiller, A. (1999). Language and reading success. Newton Upper Falls, MA: Brookline Books.
Biemiller, A., & Slonim, N. (2001). Estimating root word vocabulary growth in normative and advantaged populations: Evidence for a common sequence of vocabulary acquisition. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, 498–520.
Blachowicz, C. L. Z., & Fisher, P. (2000). Vocabulary instruction. In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, P. D. Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. 3, pp. 503–523). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Bos, C. S., & Anders, P. L. (1990). Effects of interactive vocabulary instruction on the vocabulary learning and reading comprehension of junior-high learning disabled students. Learning Disability Quarterly, 13, 31–42.
Bruna, K. R., Vann, R., & Escudero, M. P. (2007). What’s language go to do with it? A case study of academic language instruction in a high school “English Learner Science” class. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 6, 36–54.
Calderon, M., August, D., Slavin, R., Duran, D., Madden, N., & Cheung, A. (2005). Bringing words to life in classrooms with English-Language Learners. In E. H. Hiebert & M. L. Kamil (Eds.), Teaching and learning vocabulary: Bringing research to practice (pp. 115–136). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
California Department of Education. (2007). California English Language Development Test (CELDT). San Francisco, CA: California Department of Education.
California State Board of Education Standards and Frameworks. (2004). Retrieved March 1, 2005, from http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/.
Carlo, M. S., August, D., McLaughlin, B., Snow, C., Dressler, C., Lippman, D., et al. (2004). Closing the gap: Addressing the vocabulary needs of English language learners in bilingual and mainstream classrooms. Reading Research Quarterly, 40, 188–215.
Carlo, M. S., August, D., & Snow, C. E. (2005). Sustained vocabulary-learning strategy instruction for English-language learners. In E. H. Hiebert & M. L. Kamil (Eds.), Teaching and learning vocabulary: Bringing research to practice (pp. 137–153). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Chiappe, P., Siegel, L. S., & Wade-Woolley, L. (2002). Linguistic diversity and the development of reading skills: A longitudinal study. Scientific Studies of Reading, 6(4), 369–400.
Coady, J. (1997). L2 vocabulary acquisition through extensive reading. In J. Coady & T. Huckin (Eds.), Second language vocabulary acquisition: A Rationale for Pedagogy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Corson, D. (1997). The learning and use of academic English words. Language Learning, 47, 671–718.
Coxhead, A. (2000). A new academic word list. TESOL Quarterly, 34, 213–238.
Coxhead, A., & Byrd, P. (2007). Preparing writing teachers to teach the vocabulary and grammar of academic prose. Journal of Second Language Writing, 16, 129–147.
Coxhead, A., & Nation, I. S. P. (2001). The specialised vocabulary of English for academic purposes. In J. Flowerdew & M. Peacock (Eds.), Research perspectives on English for academic purposes. New York: Cambridge University Press.
CTB/McGraw-Hill. (2005). California English Language Development Test. Monterey, CA: CTB/McGraw-Hill.
Cummins, J. (1981). Age on arrival and immigrant second language learning in Canada. A reassessment. Applied Linguistics, 2, 132–149.
Cunningham, J. W., & Moore, D. W. (1993). The contribution of understanding academic vocabulary to answering comprehension questions. Journal of Reading Behavior, 25, 171–180.
Dale, E. (1965). Vocabulary measurement: Techniques and major findings. Elementary English, 42, 82–88.
D’Angiulli, A., Siegel, L. S., & Maggi, S. (2004). Literacy instruction, SES, and word-reading achievement in English-language learners and children with English as a first language: A longitudinal study. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 19, 202–213.
Droop, M., & Verhoeven, L. (2003). Language proficiency and reading ability in first- and second-language learners. Reading Research Quarterly, 38, 78–103.
Dunn, L., & Dunn, M. (1997). Peabody picture vocabulary test – III. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Services.
Geva, E., Yaghoub-Zadeh, Z., & Schuster, B. (2000). Understanding individual differences in word recognition skills of ESL children. Annals of Dyslexia, 50, 123–154.
Graves, M. F. (1986). Vocabulary learning and instruction. Review of Research in Education, 13, 49–89.
Guerrero, M. D. (2004). Acquiring academic English in one year: An unlikely proposition for English language learners. Urban Education, 39, 172–199.
Hakuta, K., Butler, Y. G., & Witt, D. (2000). How long does it take English learners to attain proficiency? Santa Barbara, CA: The University of California Linguistic Minority Research Institute.
Houk, F. A. (2005). Supporting English language learners: A guide for teachers and administrators. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Institute of Education Sciences. (2007). NAEP data explorer. Washington, DC: National Center for Educational Statistics.
Jimenez, R. T., Garcia, G. E., & Pearson, P. D. (1996). The reading strategies of bilingual Latina/o students who are successful English readers: Opportunities and obstacles. Reading Research Quarterly, 31, 90–112.
Kame’enui, E. J., Dixon, R. C., & Carnine, D. W. (1987). Issues in the design of vocabulary instruction. In M. G. McKeown & M. E. Curtis (Eds.), The nature of vocabulary acquisition (pp. 129–145). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Klinger, J. K., & Vaughn, S. (2004). Strategies for struggling second-language readers. In T. L. Jetton & J. A. Dole (Eds.), Adolescent literacy research and practice. New York: The Guilford Press.
Levy, D. H. (2003). Stars and planets. New York: Barnes & Noble Books.
Lipka, O., Siegel, L. S., & Vukovic, R. (2005). The literacy skills of English language learners in Canada. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 20, 39–49.
Margosein, C. M., Pascarella, E. T., & Pflaum, S. W. (1982). The effects of instruction using semantic mapping on vocabulary and comprehension. Journal of Early Adolescence, 2, 185–194.
McKeown, M. G., & Beck, I. L. (2004). Direct and rich vocabulary instruction. In J. F. Baumann & E. J. Kame’enui (Eds.), Vocabulary instruction: Research to practice (pp. 13–27). New York: The Guilford Press.
McKeown, M. G., Beck, I. L., Omanson, R. C., & Perfetti, C. A. (1983). The effects of long-term vocabulary instruction on reading comprehension: A replication. Journal of Reading Behavior, 15, 3–18.
McKeown, M. G., Beck, I. L., Omanson, R. C., & Pople, M. T. (1985). Some effects of the nature and frequency of vocabulary instruction on the knowledge and use of words. Reading Research Quarterly, 20, 522–535.
Mohan, B., & Slater, T. (2006). Examining the theory/practice relation in a high school science register: A functional linguistic perspective. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 5, 302–316.
Nagy, W. (2005). Why vocabulary instruction needs to be long-term and comprehensive. In E. H. Hiebert & M. L. Kamil (Eds.), Teaching and learning vocabulary: Bringing research to practice. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Nagy, W., & Scott, J. A. (2000). Vocabulary processes. In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, P. D. Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. III, pp. 269–284). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Nash, H., & Snowling, M. (2006). Teaching new words to children with poor existing vocabulary knowledge: A controlled evaluation of the definition and context methods. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 41, 335–354.
Nation, I. S. P., & Kyongho, H. (1995). Where would general service vocabulary stop and special purposes vocabulary begin? System, 23, 35–41.
NICHD. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Ouellette, G. P. (2006). What’s meaning got to do with it: The role of vocabulary in word reading and reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 554–566.
Paribakht, T. S., & Wesche, M. (1997). Vocabulary enhancement activities and reading for meaning in second language vocabulary acquisition. In J. Coady & T. Huckin (Eds.), Second language vocabulary acquisition: A rationale for pedagogy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Pressley, M., Disney, L., & Anderson, K. (2007). Landmark vocabulary instructional research and the vocabulary instructional research that makes sense now. In R. K. Wagner, A. E. Muse, & K. R. Tannenbaum (Eds.), Vocabulary acquisition: Implications for reading comprehension (pp. 205–248). New York: The Guilford Press.
Ramirez, S. Z. (1986). The effects of Suggestopedia in teaching English vocabulary to Spanish-dominant Chicano third graders. Elementary School Journal, 86, 325–333.
Read, J. (2000). Assessing vocabulary. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Sachar, L. (2003). Wayside school is falling down. New York: Harper Trophy.
Scarcella, R. C. (2003). Accelerating academic English: A focus on English language learners. Regents of University of California.
Schleppegrell, M. J., & Go, A. L. (2007). Analyzing the writing of English learners: A functional approach. Language Arts, 84, 529–538.
Schmitt, N., Schmitt, D., & Clapham, C. (2001). Developing and exploring the behavior of two new versions of the Vocabulary Levels Test. Language Testing, 18, 55–88.
Scott, J. A., Jamieson-Noel, D., & Asselin, M. (2003). Vocabulary instruction throughout the day in twenty-three Canadian upper-elementary classrooms. The Elementary School Journal, 103, 269–312.
Scott, J. A., & Nagy, W. (1997). Understanding the definitions of unfamiliar verbs. Reading Research Quarterly, 32, 184–200.
Shanahan, T., & Beck, I. L. (2006). Effective literacy teaching for English-language learners. In D. August & T. Shanahan (Eds.), Developing literacy in second-language learners. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Snicket, L. (1999). The bad beginning. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Snow, C. (2006). Cross-cutting themes and future research directions. In D. August & T. Shanahan (Eds.), Developing literacy in second-language learners (pp. 631–651). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Snow, C., & Biancarosa, G. (2003). Adolescent literacy and the achievement gap: What do we know and where do we go from here? New York: Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Spycher, P. (2007). Academic writing of adolescent English learners: Learning to use “although”. Journal of Second Language Writing, 16, 238–254.
Stahl, S., & Fairbanks, M. M. (1986). The effects of vocabulary instruction: A model-based meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 56, 72–110.
Stahl, S., & Nagy, W. (2006). Teaching word meanings. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Stahl, S., Richek, M. A., & Vandevier, R. J. (1990). Learning meaning vocabulary through listening: A sixth-grade replication. Paper presented at the National Reading Conference, Miami, FL.
Stanovich, K. E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 21, 360–407.
Wesche, M. B., & Paribakht, T. S. (2000). Reading-based exercises in second language vocabulary learning: An introspective study. The Modern Language Journal, 84, 196–213.
West, M. (1953). A general service list of English words. London: Longman.
Wood, R. (1995). Great inventions. New York: Barnes & Noble Books.
Zwiers, J. (2006). Integrating academic language, thinking, and content: Learning scaffolds for non-native speakers in the middle grades. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 5, 317–332.
We are grateful to the thoughtful and constructive feedback provided by the first author’s doctoral committee members, Alison Bailey, Eric Knowles, Michael Martinez and Robin Scarcella. We would like to thank the principal, teachers, and students at Vista View Middle School. We are also indebted to Edmund Lee, Maritza Oregon, Jessica Briley, Charlene Lau, Shanehi Shah, and Karen Douglas who helped with running the study and collecting data. Finally, we wish to thank Cleb Maddux for his guidance with data analyses and the anonymous reviewers for their generous and constructive feedback.
About this article
Cite this article
Townsend, D., Collins, P. Academic vocabulary and middle school English learners: an intervention study. Read Writ 22, 993–1019 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-008-9141-y