Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Vocabulary and Oral Story Reading

Question: What is the effect of teachers’ oral story reading on vocabulary acquisition?

Answer: “Found that oral story reading is a significant source of vocabulary learning, even when the reading does not include teacher’s explanation of word meaning.” WB Elley. 1989. P. 441.

Comment: I always assumed that reading aloud to children increased vocabulary knowledge. Here’s some research that suggests that reading aloud to children does increase vocabulary knowledge.

A personal experience: In my first year of teaching in eleventh grade, I assigned students to read Poe’s short story, “The Pit and the Pendulum.” I didn’t know much about directed reading assignments or preparing students for reading assignments at that time, so, I simply assigned them to read it in class.  I had absorbed that story when I was in high school and I expected the students to enjoy it as much as I did. They didn’t. Their body language was lifeless.  Bored. They closed their books with their eyes glazed.

I was upset. When I asked them if they liked the story, there was no response. I changed my question. “Why didn’t you like it?” One brave student raised his hand and said, “The words were too big.”

“Ok, I said, let’s try another way. I decided to read the story aloud to them. They read along with me. This time their body language changed, from slump to alert. They followed along greedily, taking each successive threat to the protagonist’s life with rapt attention. The class was ending, so I had to postpone the conclusion until the next day. They left the classroom buzzing and asking, “How’s this going to end?”

I didn’t know enough at that time to tell them to read it themselves that night, which would have been a perfect assignment. The next day, when I finished the story, the students collectively breathed a sigh of relief. “That was great,” they agreed.

The words were too big for them to read the story silently themselves, but when I read it aloud, they concentrated on the story and applied the context to understand the flow of the story. I’m not surprised that the teachers’ oral reading increases vocabulary. RayS.

Title: “Annotated Bibliography of Research in the Teaching of English.” Russel K Durst and James D Marshall, eds. Research in the Teaching of English (December 1989), 424-442.

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