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Reading Interventions:

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Least Intensive Interventions
Moderate/Intensive Interventions

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Vocabulary refers to:

  • the words we must know to communicate effectively.
  • Oral vocabulary refers to words that we use in speaking or recognize in listening.
  • Reading vocabulary refers to words we recognize or use in print.

Vocabulary is important because:

  • beginning readers use their oral vocabulary to make sense of the words they see in print.
  • readers must know what most of the words mean before they can understand what they are reading.

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Least Intensive Interventions

Teaching specific words before reading helps both vocabulary learning and reading comprehension.
Before students read a text, it is helpful to teach them specific words they will see in the text. Teaching important vocabulary before reading can help students both learn new words and comprehend the text.

Extended instruction that promotes active engagement with vocabulary improves word learning.
Children learn words best when they are provided with instruction over an extended period of time and when that instruction has them work actively with the words. The more students use new words and the more they use them in different contexts, the more likely they are to learn the words.

Repeated exposure to vocabulary in many contexts aids word learning.
Students learn new words better when they encounter them often and in various contexts. The more children see, hear, and work with specific words, the better they seem to learn them. When teachers provide extended instruction that promotes active engagement, they give students repeated exposure to new words. When the students read those same words in their texts, they increase their exposure to the new words.

Courtesy of:
http://www.kucrl.org/htmlfiles/simbrochure.pdf - 2004-10-25

An Example of Classroom Instruction Teaching Specific Words

A teacher plans to have his third-grade class read the novel Stone Fox, by John Reynolds Gardiner. In this novel, a young boy enters a dogsled race in hopes of winning prize money to pay the taxes on his grandfather's farm. The teacher knows that understanding the concept of taxes is important to understanding the novel's plot. Therefore, before his students begin reading the novel, the teacher may do several things to make sure that they understand what the concept means and why it is important to the story.


  • engage students in a discussion of the concept of taxes; and/or
  • read a sentence from the book that contains the word taxes and ask students to use context and their prior knowledge to try to figure out what it means.

To solidify their understanding of the word, the teacher might ask students to use taxes in their own sentences.

Courtesy of:
http://www.kucrl.org/htmlfiles/simbrochure.pdf - 2004-10-25

An Example of Classroom Instruction Word Learning Strategies

Of course, it is not possible for teachers to provide specific instruction for all the words their students do not know. Therefore, students also need to be able to determine the meaning of words that are new to them but not taught directly to them. They need to develop effective word-learning strategies. Word-learning strategies include:

  1. how to use dictionaries and other reference aids to learn word meanings and to deepen knowledge of word meanings;
  2. how to use information about word parts to figure out the meanings of words in text; and
  3. how to use context clues to determine word meanings.

Using dictionaries and other reference aids. Students must learn how to use dictionaries, glossaries and thesauruses to help broaden and deepen their knowledge of words, even though these resources can be difficult to use.

Using information about word parts. Breaking words down into prefixes and suffixes will assist the student in determining meanings of words. For example, bi= two, hydro = water, ous = full and re = again.

Using context clues. Searching for clues in the text (i.e., pictures and surrounding words) will assist in deciphering the meaning of unknown words.

Courtesy of:
http://www.kucrl.org/htmlfiles/simbrochure.pdf - 2004-10-25

An Example of Classroom Instruction Extended and Active Engagement With Vocabulary

A first-grade teacher wants to help her students understand the concept of jobs, which is part of her social studies curriculum. Over a period of time, the teacher engages students in exercises in which they work repeatedly with the meaning of the concept of jobs. The students have many opportunities to see and actively use the word in various contexts that reinforce its meaning.

The teacher begins by asking the students what they already know about jobs and by having them give examples of jobs their parents have. The class might have a discussion about the jobs of different people who work at the school.

The teacher then reads the class a simple book about jobs. The book introduces the idea that different jobs help people meet their needs, and that jobs either provide goods or services. The book does not use the words goods and services, rather it uses the verbs makes and helps.

The teacher then asks the students to make up sentences describing their parents' jobs by using the verbs makes and helps (e.g., "My mother is a doctor. She helps sick people get well.")

Next, the teacher asks students to brainstorm other jobs. Together, they decide whether the jobs are "making jobs" or "helping jobs." The job names are placed under the appropriate headings on a bulletin board. They might also suggest jobs that do not fit neatly into either category.

The teacher might then ask the students to share whether they think they would like to have a making or a helping job when they grow up.

The teacher next asks the students to talk with their parents about jobs. She tells them to try to bring to class two new examples of jobs – one making job and one helping job.

As the students come across different jobs throughout the year (for example, through reading books, on field trips, through classroom guests), they can add the jobs to the appropriate categories on the bulletin board.

Repeated exposure to words: A second-grade class is reading a biography of Benjamin Franklin. The biography discusses Franklin's important role as a scientist. The teacher wants to make sure that her students understand the meaning of the words science and scientist, both because the words are important to understanding the biography and because they are obviously very useful words to know in school and in everyday life.

At every opportunity, therefore, the teacher draws her students' attention to the words. She points out the words scientist and science in textbooks and reading selections, particularly in her science curriculum. She has students use the words in their own writing, especially during science instruction.

She also asks them to listen for and find in print the words as they are used outside of the classroom – in newspapers, magazines, at museums, in television shows and movies, or on the Internet.

Then, as they read the biography, she discusses with students in what ways Benjamin Franklin was a scientist and what science meant in his time.

Courtesy of:
http://www.kucrl.org/htmlfiles/simbrochure.pdf - 2004-10-25

An Example of Classroom Instruction Using Word Parts

Knowing some common prefixes and suffixes (affixes), base words, and root words can help students learn the meanings of many new words. For example, if students learn just the four most common prefixes in English (un-, re-, in-, dis-), they will have important clues about the meaning of about two thirds of all English words that have prefixes. Prefixes are relatively easy to learn because they have clear meanings (for example, un- means not and re- means again); they are usually spelled the same way from word to word; and, of course, they always occur at the beginnings of words.

Learning suffixes can be more challenging than learning prefixes. This is because some suffixes have more abstract meanings than do prefixes. For example, learning that the suffix -ness means "the state or quality of" might not help students figure out the meaning of kindness. Other suffixes, however, are more helpful.

For example, -less, which means "without" (hopeless, thoughtless); and -ful, which means "full of" (hopeful, thoughtful). Latin and Greek word roots are found commonly in content-area school subjects, especially in the subjects of science and social studies. As a result, Latin and Greek word parts form a large proportion of the new vocabulary that students encounter in their content-area textbooks. Teachers should teach the word roots as they occur in the texts students read. Furthermore, teachers should teach primarily those root words that students are likely to see often.

Courtesy of:
http://www.kucrl.org/htmlfiles/simbrochure.pdf - 2004-10-25

An Example of Classroom Instruction Using Dictionaries and Other Reference Aids

As his class reads a text, a second-grade teacher discovers that many of his students do not know the meaning of the word board, as in the sentence, "The children were waiting to board the buses." The teacher demonstrates how to find board in the classroom dictionary, showing students that there are four different definitions for the word. He reads the definitions one at a time and the class discusses whether each definition would fit the context of the sentence. The students easily eliminate the inappropriate definitions of board, and settle on the definition, "to get on a train, an airplane, a bus, or a ship."

The teacher next has students substitute the most likely definition for board in the original sentence to verify that it is, "The children were waiting to get on the buses" that makes the best sense.

Courtesy of:
http://www.kucrl.org/htmlfiles/simbrochure.pdf - 2004-10-25

Word Parts

Word parts include affixes (prefixes and suffixes), base words and word roots.

Affixes are word parts that are "fixed to" either the beginnings of words (prefixes) or the ending of words (suffixes). The word disrespectful has two affixes, a prefix (dis-) and a suffix (-ful).

Base words are words from which many other words are formed. For example, many words can be formed from the base word migrate: migration, migrant, immigration, immigrant, migrating, migratory.

Word roots are the words from other languages that are the origin of many English words. About 60% of all English words have Latin or Greek origins.

Examples of Using Word Parts:

    • A second-grade teacher wants to teach her students how to use the base word play as a way to help them think about the meanings of new words they will encounter in reading. To begin, she has students brainstorm all the words or phrases they can think of that are related to play. The teacher records their suggestions: player, playful, playpen, ballplayer, and playing field. Then she has the class discuss the meaning of each of their proposed words and how it relates to play.
    • A third-grade teacher identifies the base word note. He then sets up a "word wall," and writes the word note at the top of the wall. As his students read, the teacher has them look for words that are related to note and add them to the wall. Throughout their reading, they gradually add to the wall the words notebook, notation, noteworthy, and notable.

Courtesy of:
http://www.kucrl.org/htmlfiles/simbrochure.pdf - 2004-10-25

An Example of Classroom Instruction Using Context Clues

Context clues are hints about the meaning of an unknown word that are provided in the words, phrases and sentences that surround the word. Context clues include definitions, restatements, examples or descriptions. Because students learn most word meanings indirectly, or from context, it is important that they learn to use context clues effectively.

Not all contexts are helpful, however. Some contexts give little information about a word's meaning. An example of an unhelpful context is the sentence, "We heard the back door open, and then recognized the buoyant footsteps of Uncle Larry." A number of possible meanings of buoyant could fit this context, including heavy, lively, noisy, familiar, dragging, plodding, and so on. Instruction in using context clues as a word-learning strategy should include the idea that some contexts are more helpful than others.

Courtesy of:
http://www.kucrl.org/htmlfiles/simbrochure.pdf - 2004-10-25


An Example of Classroom Instruction Using Context Clues

In a third-grade class, the teacher models how to use context clues to determine word meanings as follows:

Student (reading the text): When the cat pounced on the dog, the dog jumped up, yelping, and knocked over a lamp, which crashed to the floor. The animals ran past Tonia, tripping her. She fell to the floor and began sobbing. Tonia's brother Felix yelled at the animals to stop. As the noise and confusion mounted, Mother hollered upstairs, "What's all that commotion? "

Teacher: The context of the paragraph helps us determine what commotion means. There's yelping and crashing, sobbing and yelling. And then the last sentence says, "as the noise and confusion mounted." The author's use of the words noise and confusion gives us a very strong clue as to what commotion means. In fact, the author is really giving us a definition there, because commotion means something that's noisy and confusing – a disturbance. Mother was right; there was definitely a commotion!

Courtesy of:
http://www.kucrl.org/htmlfiles/simbrochure.pdf - 2004-10-25

Indirect Learning of Vocabulary

You can encourage indirect learning of vocabulary in two main ways. First, read aloud to your students, no matter what grade you teach. Students of all ages can learn words from hearing texts of various kinds read to them. Reading aloud works best when you discuss the selection before, during and after you read. Talk with students about new vocabulary and concepts and help them relate the words to their prior knowledge and experiences.

The second way to promote indirect learning of vocabulary is to encourage students to read extensively on their own. Rather than allocating instructional time for independent reading in the classroom, however, encourage your students to read more outside of school. Of course, your students also can read on their own during independent work time in the classroom – for example, while you teach another small group or after students have completed one activity and are waiting for a new activity to begin.

Courtesy of:
http://www.kucrl.org/htmlfiles/simbrochure.pdf - 2004-10-25

Words to Teach

You won't be able to directly teach your students all the words in a text that they might not already know. In fact, there are several reasons why you should not directly teach all unknown words.

  • The text may have a great many words that are unknown to students – too many for direct instruction.
  • Direct vocabulary instruction can take a lot of class time – time that you might better spend on having your students read.
  • Your students can understand most texts without knowing the meaning of every word in the text.
  • Your students need opportunities to use word-learning strategies to learn on their own the meanings of unknown words.

You will probably be able to teach thoroughly only a few new words (perhaps eight or ten) per week, so you need to choose the words you teach carefully.

Focus on teaching three types of words:

Important words. When you teach words before students read a text, directly teach those words that are important for understanding a concept or the text. Your students might not know several other words in the selection, but you will not have time to teach them all. Of course, you should prepare your students to use word-learning strategies to figure out the meanings of other words in the text.

Useful words. Teach words that students are likely to see and use again and again. For example, it is probably more useful for students to learn the word fragment than the word fractal; likewise, the word revolve is more useful than the word gyrate.

Difficult words. Provide some instruction for words that are particularly difficult for your students.

Words with multiple meanings are particularly challenging for students. Students may have a hard time understanding that words with the same spelling and/or pronunciation can have different meanings, depending on their context. Looking up words with multiple meanings in the dictionary can cause confusion for students. They see a number of different definitions listed, and they often have a difficult time deciding which definition fits the context. You will have to help students determine which definition they should choose.

Idiomatic expressions also can be difficult for students, especially for students who are English language learners. Because idiomatic expressions do not mean what the individual words usually mean, you often will need to explain to students expressions such as "hard hearted," "a chip off the old block," "drawing a blank," or "get the picture."

Multiple-meaning words that can be difficult for students:

  • Words that are spelled the same but are pronounced differently
    • sow (a female pig); sow (to plant seeds)
    • bow (a knot with loops); bow (the front of a ship)
  • Words that are spelled and pronounced the same, but have different meanings
    • mail (letters, cards, and packages); mail (a type of armor)
    • ray (a narrow beam of light); ray (a type of fish); ray (part of a line)

Courtesy of:
http://www.kucrl.org/htmlfiles/simbrochure.pdf - 2004-10-25

Mneumonic Vocabulary Instruction

First-Letter Mnemonic Strategy is a strategy for independently approaching large bodies of information that need to be mastered. Specifically, students identify lists of information that are important to learn, generate an appropriate title or label for each set of information, select a mnemonic device for each set of information, create study cards and use the study cards to learn the information. Extracted from Strategic Instruction Model: Learning Strategies and Teaching Routines, The University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, www.kucrl.org, 1999-2001, September, 2001

Courtesy of:
http://www.kucrl.org/htmlfiles/simbrochure.pdf - 2004-10-25

Generative Vocabulary Strategies

Students learn to locate, select and learn words to add to their vocabulary knowledge.

These strategies build word awareness and vocabulary knowledge by requiring students to make a personal construction of meaning. Teachers may select the words for instructional purposes or students may select their own words. Three common generative vocabulary strategies are Possible Sentences (Moore & Moore, 1986), Keyword Strategy (Levin, Levin, Glasman, & Nordwall,1992) and Vocabulary Self-Collection Strategy, or VSS (Haggard,1982). The procedures follow:

Possible Sentences:

  1. Teachers list and pronounce 6-8 new vocabulary words central to the major concepts to be learned that are adequately defined by context within the upcoming text. They also present several related terms from the text that students should already know.
  2. Students, individually or in groups, use at least two words from the list to write "possible sentences" that they think may be in the text. It does not matter at this point if their sentences are incorrect.
  3. Students read and find the targeted vocabulary to verify/correct their predictions.
  4. Students evaluate their sentences for accuracy and amend them to reflect the meaning gained from the text.
  5. Students generate new sentences using the targeted vocabulary and use the text to defend their choices.

Keyword Strategy:
This strategy builds on mnemonic devices and visual images to define new words.

  1. Teachers review students on the meanings of new vocabulary words and ask them to create personal, visual images to help them remember the meaning.
  2. Students create memorable images and discuss them with one another and with teachers.
  3. Words and their images are recorded in a vocabulary notebook.

Vocabulary Self-Collection Strategy (VSS):

  1. Students reading a common text each select a word they consider important that should be shared with the class.
  2. Teacher and students present the words, defining them from context. They may clarify and expand on definitions and a dictionary or thesaurus may be consulted for final clarification. Students also present reasons to support why they believe their word is important for understanding the text.
  3. Once all words are explored, a final list is made of those the group considers to be the most important for understanding. Students record these words in vocabulary journals.
  4. Follow-up activities ensure that words are learned.

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Moderate/Intensive Interventions

PALS (Peer Assisted Learning Strategies)

Peer Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) is a class-wide peer-tutoring program providing supplemental practice and instruction on key reading skills. K-PALS focuses on phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle and sight word reading. First Grade PALS focuses on alphabetic principle, fluency and sight word reading. Second-Eighth Grade PALS focuses on fluency and accuracy in connected text and reading comprehension strategies of summarization, main idea and predication. High School PALS focuses on Fluency and comprehension skills within the context of a career, job oriented structure. Lessons are provided to train students to be “readers and coaches”. Students are taught correction procedures and instructional cues. K-8 PALS can be used in general or special educational classrooms. High School PALS has only been validated in special education and remedial settings.

Program: PALS (Peer Assisted Learning Strategies)
Publisher/Source: Vanderbilt University
Educational level: K, 1, 2-6, 7-12
Author: Lynn and Doug Fuchs


QuickReads is a research-based fluency program that features short, high interest nonfiction texts designed to be read quickly and meaningfully. It is designed for students who read at grade levels 2 – 4. QuickReads can improve fluency, comprehension, background knowledge and vocabulary.

QuickReads has a classroom-validated instructional routine that takes 15 minutes and is done with students daily. QuickReads promotes fluent reading by:

  1. Supporting automaticity through the use of grade level, high frequency words and phonics/syllabic patterns necessary for success at each grade level.
  2. Developing content-rich vocabulary, consistent comprehension strategies and critical background knowledge.
  3. Helping students learn more about critical curriculum areas with a focus on social studies and science.
  4. Helping students build background knowledge by reading five connected text passages around one topic.
  5. Modeling fluent reading by teacher model.

Evidence of Positive Effects on Reading Achievement: Field-testing in classrooms demonstrated significant fluency gains for both native English speakers as well as English language learners. For additional information see website: www.textproject.org

Local evidence of positive effects: Local School districts within Heartland have data available on fluency gains of students.

Program: QuickReads
Source/Publisher: Pearson Learning
Educational Level: 2nd – 4th grade and remedial 5th – 7th
Author: Alfrieda Hiebart

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