Closing the Gap: Addressing the Vocabulary Needs of English-Language Learners in Bilingual and Mainstream Classrooms

Gaps in reading performance between Anglo and Latino children are associated with gaps in vocabulary knowledge. An intervention was designed to enhance fifth graders' academic vocabulary. The meanings of academically useful words were taught together with strategies for using information from context, from morphology, from knowledge about multiple meanings, and from cognates to infer word meaning. Among the principles underlying the intervention were that new words should be encountered in meaningful text, that native Spanish speakers should have access to the text's meaning through Spanish, that words should be encountered in varying contexts, and that word knowledge involves spelling, pronunciation, morphology, and syntax as well as depth of meaning.

Fifth graders in the intervention group showed greater growth than the comparison group on knowledge of the words taught, on depth of vocabulary knowledge, on understanding multiple meanings, and on reading comprehension. The intervention effects were as large for the English-language learners (ELLs) as for the English-only speakers (EOs), though the ELLs scored lower on all pre- and posttest measures. The results show the feasibility of improving comprehension outcomes for students in mixed ELL-EO classes, by teaching word analysis and vocabulary learning strategies.