Conceptual coherence, comprehension, and vocabulary acquisition: A knowledge effect?

Abstract

Previous research has documented the role of readers’ existing topic knowledge in supporting students’ comprehension of text; yet, we know less about how to build students’ knowledge in order to support comprehension and vocabulary learning. In the current study, we test the hypothesis that knowledge can be built and leveraged simultaneously in the interest of students’ literacy development through the use of conceptually coherent text sets. Fourth grade students (N = 59) were randomly assigned to read either a set of six informational texts that cohered around a set of concepts related to the topic birds (CC texts) or a set of texts that addressed a range of topics (NCC group texts). After reading, we assessed students’: (1) knowledge of the concepts in the conceptually coherent text set, (2) knowledge of target concept-related words that appeared in their respective text sets, (3) knowledge of general academic words that appeared in both texts sets, (4) comprehension of a novel text on a related topic, and (5) interest in the topic of the conceptually coherent texts. Results revealed that students who read the conceptually coherent texts demonstrated more knowledge of the concepts in their texts, more knowledge of the target words in their texts, and had better recall of the novel text compared to students who read unrelated texts. Findings suggest that there is potential for knowledge and vocabulary to be built during English language arts through a focus on conceptual coherence in the design of reading experiences for students.

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Correspondence to Gina N. Cervetti.

Appendix: Sample instructional script

Appendix: Sample instructional script

Before reading

[Hold up book and say] We’re about to read a book called, “Feathers Not Just for Flying.”

Say: “Have you ever wondered about how birds’ feathers help them survive? This book will help us answer that question. Let’s read to find out.”

[Pass out books and say] After you finish reading, we’ll talk about what we learned about how feathers are helpful for birds.

Allow the student as long as 10 min to read the book. If all students finish before that, you can begin the discussion. However, you will need to stop students at the 10-min mark.

After students have finished reading

[Collect the books]

Artifact-feathers

[Pass out the feathers and say] These are different kinds of feathers from different birds. Notice how they are different.

[Start Discussion] Ask each of the following questions allowing at least a minute for each.

  1. 1.

    What did you learn about birds’ feathers from reading this book?

  2. 2.

    How are feathers helpful for birds? How do feathers help birds survive?

  3. 3.

    Do birds keep the same set of feathers throughout their lives? How do you know?

  4. 4.

    What would happen if birds lost all of their feathers? Why?

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Cervetti, G.N., Wright, T.S. & Hwang, H. Conceptual coherence, comprehension, and vocabulary acquisition: A knowledge effect?. Read Writ 29, 761–779 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-016-9628-x

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Keywords

  • Knowledge
  • Vocabulary
  • Comprehension
  • Elementary