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Florida Center for Reading Research

Building Vocabulary Skills

Building Vocabulary Skills is a supplementary vocabulary program, published in 2003, for students in grades K-6. This program is authored by Dr. Michael Graves and the instructional practices incorporated in the lessons are drawn from his work in vocabulary research. The goal of this program is to explicitly teach students a core set of high-utility vocabulary words appropriate for their grade level using a range of word learning strategies. Building Vocabulary Skills targets reading, writing, listening, and speaking vocabularies. It is designed to be used in a variety of classroom settings: general education, pull-out intervention, summer school, English Language Learners (ELLs), or after school. Instruction may be provided by the individuals involved in instructing the students in the aforementioned settings. A unit is divided into five lessons each containing 10 thematically related words that are introduced and reviewed daily in 10-15 minute lessons. Each themed lesson is divided into four key instructional steps: 1) word meaning, 2) reference skills, 3) build new vocabulary, and 4) word play. At the end of every lesson there is the opportunity for teachers to assess student word knowledge during step five. The sixth lesson in the unit is a review of the entire unit's vocabulary words. Students are taught a total of 50 vocabulary words per unit. A typical lesson begins with an overview of the vocabulary theme (e.g., Country Life) for the lesson. First, teachers are expected to introduce the new vocabulary words, their student-friendly definitions, and allow time for the students to copy the new words into their Word Banks (Word Banks can be a spiral notebook or there is also a section in the back of the student workbook to record the new words). Students are then provided practice using the words with worksheets in the student workbook. These worksheets require students to apply their understanding of word meanings using a variety of activities such as choosing the best meaning of the word from a multiple choice task, matching a synonym of the word to the actual word, or completing a sentence with the correct vocabulary word. Second, reference skills are introduced and practiced with the vocabulary words. Reference skills include alphabet knowledge, dictionary, thesaurus, and spelling work. Third, new concepts are introduced such as categorization, relationships among words (e.g., opposites), compound words, and affixes. Fourth, instructional time is spent on word play. Word play includes but is not limited to figurative language, multiple meanings, and rhyming. Vocabulary words for instruction are selected based on their frequency of occurrence in English and grouped thematically for lessons. The Educator's Word Frequency Guide by Zeno, Ivens, Millard, and Duvvuri (1995) was used to determine whether or not a word was high frequency. This frequency guide is a corpus of printed words that has been indexed by how often a particular word appears in texts encountered by students at a specific grade level. Additionally, words from the Dolch list make up 71% and 40% of the words taught in levels K and 1, respectively, for a total of 33% of the words from the Dolch list taught specifically to students using this program. Themes are revisited throughout the levels (e.g., "Describing People" is a lesson theme in level 3 and 6, but ©Florida Center for Reading Research 227 N. Bronough St., Suite 7250 Tallahassee, FL 32301 850-644-9352

What is Building Vocabulary Skills?


the vocabulary words selected for instruction are more advanced in level 6 to build on previous word knowledge). Materials include one teacher's edition and one student workbook for each student per level. The materials needed to implement this program are included within these two books, with the exception of student dictionaries and other reference tools, and are organized by units and lessons. Reference matter, strategy explanations and tools appropriate to each grade level, are listed in the back of each book as a reference. Each lesson contains a pretest and a post test of the week's vocabulary terms. Cumulative review lessons appear at the end of every unit. These review lessons present the new vocabulary in short stories to identify if students can work with the words in context. End of unit tests, designed to mimic the format of standardized assessments, are offered to assess student mastery of new vocabulary terms.

Building Vocabulary Skills is designed to provide students with multiple exposures to high frequency vocabulary words utilizing a four part vocabulary program outlined by Graves (2006) and based on a convergence of vocabulary research (Hiebert & Kamil, 2005; Baumann & Kame'enui, 2004). The first and second parts of the vocabulary program are designed to provide students multiple opportunities to be immersed in rich vocabulary and effectively use reference tools. It includes `rules of thumb' for categorizing vocabulary terms (e.g., people, places, parts of speech) in addition to effectively making use of the dictionary and other reference tools. The third part makes connections among concepts teaching the use of strategies such as context, parts of speech, student-friendly definitions, and knowledge of word parts. The focus of the fourth part of the program is to build `word consciousness' (Graves, 2006; Baumann & Kame'enui, 2004) and enjoyment of words through activities such as rhyming, breaking larger words into smaller parts, and riddles. Additional activities that could be used to extend practice with the new vocabulary terms are incorporated with each lesson. There are word challenges, famous quotes to stir discussion, prompts for journal writing, and word games to play with the whole class or in small groups. Many of these additional activities can be utilized throughout the school day, especially during transition times when students may need to wait (e.g., lining up for lunch or going to other classrooms for other subjects). This program is systematic in that the four steps outlined above occur in the same order for every lesson with a cumulative review every five lessons. The same word learning strategies and reference tools are used at every level of the program, with the appropriate level of difficulty, to allow for continuity across the grades. This will be helpful to students who may struggle with effectively using graphic organizers or other tools to aid in their learning. Often students are introduced to multiple strategies without the opportunity to practice applying them in learning situations that in turn impacts their success in using them independently. General directions and program guidelines are provided for the teacher, but explicit directions on how to move through a lesson with scaffolding for the teacher and students are not incorporated. New teachers or teachers who feel they need more support in teaching vocabulary may require additional information to effectively implement this program. Background knowledge to help the teachers would be a helpful addition to Building Vocabulary Skills.

How is Building Vocabulary Skills aligned with Current Research?

©Florida Center for Reading Research 227 N. Bronough St., Suite 7250 Tallahassee, FL 32301 850-644-9352


Professional development is not included with the purchase of Building Vocabulary Skills. There are no training or coaching materials with the program, but the publishers will provide face-to-face implementation consultation if requested. There are no implementation requirements with Building Vocabulary Skills.

Research Support for Building Vocabulary Skills

At the time of this report research has not been conducted on the efficacy of Building Vocabulary Skills.


In sum, the Building Vocabulary Skills program provides supplementary instruction and practice using high frequency vocabulary words for students in grades K-6. However, we were not able to locate any studies meeting the FCRR research standards that evaluated the impact of the program on reading growth. Thus, empirical evidence of the effectiveness of Building Vocabulary Skill's specific program components is not yet available.

Strengths of Building Vocabulary Skills: · Vocabulary words are grouped semantically for instruction. · Students are repeatedly exposed to and use the same 10 words in multiple contexts across each lesson. Weaknesses of Building Vocabulary Skills: · Instructional routines for introducing the vocabulary words and specific directions with scaffolding for each lesson are not provided. A general expectation of what should be conveyed to the students is included, but this lack of scaffolding may make the program difficult to use effectively without sufficient background knowledge.

Strengths & Weaknesses

Which Florida districts have schools that implement Building Vocabulary Skills?

Bay Broward Citrus Collier Dade Escambia Hamilton Hardee Lafayette 850-872-7700 754-321-2600 352-726-1931 239-377-0212 305-995-1430 850-469-6130 386-792-1228 863-773-9058 386-294-4107 Lee Leon Orange Pinellas Polk Santa Rosa Sarasota Washington 239-337-8301 850-487-7147 407-317-3202 727-588-6011 863-534-0521 850-983-5010 941-927-9000 850-638-6222

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©Florida Center for Reading Research 227 N. Bronough St., Suite 7250 Tallahassee, FL 32301 850-644-9352

4 References

Baumann, J. F., & Kame'enui, E. J. (Eds.). (2004). Vocabulary instruction: Research to practice. New York: Guilford. Graves, M. F. (2006). The vocabulary book: Learning and instruction. New York: Teachers College Press. Hiebert, E. H., & Kamil, M. L. (Eds.). (2005). Teaching and learning vocabulary: Bringing research to practice. Mahweh, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Zeno, S. M., Ivens, S. H., Millard, R. T., & Duvvuri, R. (1995). The educator's word frequency guide. Brewster, NY: Touchstone Applied Science Associates. Lead Reviewer: Date Posted: Elissa J. Arndt, M.S., CCC-SLP May, 2008

Important Note: FCRR Reports are prepared in response to requests from Florida school districts for review of specific reading programs. The reports are intended to be a source of information about programs that will help teachers, principals, and district personnel in their choice of materials that can be used by skilled teachers to provide effective instruction. Whether or not a program has been reviewed does not constitute endorsement or lack of endorsement by the FCRR. For more information about FCRR go to:

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