Language Foundations Continuum for Reading and Writing

Grades 1–4: Overall Expectation B2




The process of developing vocabulary involves acquiring new words and understanding their meanings when reading and listening and writing and speaking. In learning new words, students learn the meaning, usage, form, and relationship to other words, and build the breadth and depth of their vocabulary. 

Some words have different meanings in different contexts. In learning words, students should link the meanings and features of the words, such as their semantic features. The semantic features identify similarities and differences between words, which helps link new words to students’ existing word schemas.

Words have different roles and utilities in spoken and written language. Tier 2 words are found in written language as well as in oral language in the classroom and are useful across many different content areas. These words have high utility for students and should be the focus of explicit vocabulary instruction. Tier 1 words are those that frequently occur in spoken language, while Tier 3 words are generally specific to a particular content area and have less broad utility for students.

Knowledge and Skills

Kindergarten to Grade 4

  • Networks and features of words: Linking the meanings and features of new words, such as linking semantic features to their existing word schemas

  • Independent word- learning strategies: Developing strategies to determine the meaning of words in oral language and text

  • Tier 2 words: Developing and integrating their understanding of Tier 2 words (those used in written language as well as in oral language) in the classroom across different content areas

  • Applying morphological knowledge to vocabulary: Applying an understanding that words are composed of morphemes, which are units of meaning within a word, and using knowledge of morphemes to support learning of the meaning of words


The process of developing vocabulary involves acquiring new words and understanding their meanings. We learn new words incidentally (e.g., through rich oral language experiences, such as read-alouds) and through explicit and intentional vocabulary instruction of words in text. When students learn new words, they learn their meaning, use, form (word family), and relationships to other words. 

Initially, students’ oral vocabulary is more extensive than print vocabulary; however, as students become more skilled readers, reading print plays a larger role in vocabulary acquisition. The words we see in print tend to be more complex than those in spoken vocabulary or social conversation. 

New words are not learned instantly. They enter into long-term memory through a series of stages and through multiple exposures, for later retrieval.

Why is this important?

Vocabulary plays an essential role in language comprehension (Biemiller, 2015).  It is crucial for understanding spoken language and text, and for learning to read. Once students decode a word, they must connect it to a word in their oral vocabulary. When words are part of a student’s oral vocabulary, they can more quickly and easily decode and understand them (Honig et al., 2018) 

Some students will enter school with smaller vocabularies than their peers. Early intervention to support oral vocabulary growth is essential for these students, as low early vocabulary is a risk factor for future academic outcomes (Dale et al., 2023).

 Vocabulary development is also important for English Language Learners. Students might require explicit teaching of words that might be considered Tier 1, in addition to robust, class-wide instruction of Tier 2 words.


New vocabulary must be taught using an explicit instructional routine. This is characterized by direct modelling, guided practice, and purposeful individual practice. Steps might include the following: 

  1. Introduce the word. Write the word for students to read. Encourage students to pronounce it. Discuss its features, including its spelling, part of speech, morphemes, etymology, and cognates.
  2. Provide a student-friendly definition. Consider showing an image.
  3. Use the word in different examples.
  4. Check students’ understanding by asking examples and non-example questions.
  5. Have the students use the word. 

 (Archer & Hughes, 2011; Tolman, 2019)

How do we know which words to teach?

Tier 1: Words that are typically found in spoken language. These are common and likely familiar words.

Tier 2: Words that are high utility (useful across many subjects), and not likely to be encountered in spoken language. These words are the most important to teach in greater detail.

Tier 3: Words that are specific to particular subject areas. We would want to define these briefly.

(Beck et al., 2013; Tolman et al., 2019)

After explicitly teaching new vocabulary, it is important to provide multiple exposures to these new words to increase the likelihood that they will enter into long-term memory. Researchers agree that students can be directly taught about two root words or word families a day, or about ten a week (Honig, 2018).

Many of the most common words in the English language, such as bat, jam, and run, have multiple meanings. These words will be encountered early in reading instruction, which will provide opportunities to explore these words.

There are more words to be learned than we can directly teach. Teaching students about word families and word roots can help them to make connections between familiar words and new, related words. Understanding prefixes, suffixes, and root words helps students determine the meaning of unfamiliar words they encounter when reading or in conversation.

Assessment for Learning

“The primary purpose of assessment is to improve student learning.”

Growing Success, 2010, p. 28

Multiple assessment methods should be used to gain a comprehensive understanding of students’ vocabulary knowledge, understanding, and application.

Some commonly used methods of vocabulary assessment include:

  • reading comprehension measures
  • analyzing writing samples
  • vocabulary tests
  • conversation and oral speaking tasks (e.g., following a set of instructions)
  • word lists



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