Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

All About Words: Increasing Vocabulary in the Common Core Classroom, Pre K-2 (Common Core State Standards in Literacy)

reviewed by Peter Fisher - July 02, 2014

coverTitle: All About Words: Increasing Vocabulary in the Common Core Classroom, Pre K-2 (Common Core State Standards in Literacy)
Author(s): Susan B. Neuman & Tanya S. Wright
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807754447, Pages: 176, Year: 2013
Search for book at Amazon.com

As a foremost scholar in early childhood and literacy education, Susan Neumann has conducted an impressive body of research. She and her coauthor, Tanya Wright, draw extensively on this research, and on their experiences with teachers in classrooms, in a book that melds theory, practice, and scholarship to provide a brief but useful guide to teaching vocabulary in the primary grades. Teachers will find it to be a useful resource that they can turn to again and again for practical ideas to teach vocabulary, to address Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and to structure their classrooms for effective word learning. In the preface the authors draw attention to three key shifts in literacy instruction that have occurred as a result of the CCSS—a focus on complexity, the insistence on evidence for thinking in relation to text, and knowledge-building through content-rich texts. They argue that these shifts make it necessary to address the teaching of vocabulary, including academic vocabulary, in the early grades, especially given that our classrooms are increasingly diverse and contain many ELL students.

In the first chapter the authors begin by drawing attention to the “30-million word gap” (Hart & Risley, 1995), and argue that the consequence of reading failure is not inevitable, and that there is growing evidence that we can accelerate students learning when they receive the appropriate instruction. Before addressing key principles of instruction, they seek to dispel what they term “common myths about oral vocabulary development.” (p. 5). The myths are indeed ideas that are frequently expressed, but they may be “straw men” in the sense that few, if any, educators would express them in quite the way in which they are argued against. In fact, one wonders at the point of this section when it is followed by excellent key principles for vocabulary instruction. Over the years, many scholars have developed key principles in this way, and the lists have much in common, with some coming and going to and from the top five depending on the educational climate. The authors’ five principles are that: children need both explicit and implicit instruction; word selection should be intentional; word meaning is best built through knowledge networks; students need repeated exposures to words; and teachers need ongoing professional development to accelerate word learning. These have all been said before, but match the current educational emphasis of the CCSS on the use of informational texts—that is, they are more important that other principles when the focus is vocabulary instruction in the content areas.

In their second chapter, the authors write about creating a vocabulary rich environment. This research-based idea has been around for decades. The term was probably first used by Beck & McKeown (1983). On this occasion, and on other occasions throughout the book, the authors often use such ideas without citations. Perhaps some ideas have become so commonplace that we have forgotten their origins. The suggestions put forward by the authors are exemplary. They address the physical environment (including the use of technology), and enriching the verbal environment through the various forms of talk. As in other chapters, a reader is provided with wonderful practical examples, resources, and ideas for building home-school connections. The last of these is particularly welcome and somewhat unusual in a book like this, and yet we know how important such connections are in developing students’ learning.

The third and fourth chapters are the most relevant for teachers in terms of actual vocabulary teaching. They provide detailed examples of how to build children’s vocabulary, and of how to build it through book reading. The nature of content-rich vocabulary instruction is argued for and described, with detailed examples of how it can be transferred directly into classroom use. Somewhat surprisingly the authors eschew the CCSS classification general academic and domain-specific vocabulary, preferring to use the terms topic words, challenge words (both being somewhat equivalent to domain-specific), and supportive words (general academic). While a reader can understand the reasons for this classification, it is a little strange when the title of the book refers specifically to the “Common Core Classroom.” Sections in the third chapter address identifying words to teach, providing child-friendly definitions, guided practice, distributed review, and monitoring progress. A major section talks about a self-teaching approach. We know students cannot be taught all the words they need to know to be successful in school, so this section is particularly important and introduces some ideas which may be unfamiliar to many readers.

In the fourth chapter the authors talk about supporting word learning through book reading. They argue for the importance of different types of texts within and across genre, and for the importance of using text sets. Such sets should include books where students experience topic words in different contexts so that their meanings can be explored and emphasized. Once again, great examples are provided. In addition an appendix details specific sets, with the concepts addressed, particular books, and the important vocabulary. A second appendix lists words students should know in grades K—2.

The fifth chapter at first seems out of place in the book, insofar as it addresses grouping for vocabulary instruction. It has principles and ideas for whole group, small group, and individual instruction. As such it is a wonderful resource for a teacher who wants to know how to put it all together in her classroom. Although none of the ideas is particularly original, they are so well described that teachers will find them helpful, whatever their level of expertise and experience. The sixth chapter looks at assessing students. Several ways of measuring progress are outlined, all of which will be helpful to teachers. Several pages are devoted to describing the research the authors have conducted which provides the evidence for the efficacy of their approach, and a reader might wonder why this section appears here, rather than in the initial chapter. At the end of the chapter the content of the previous chapters is summarized around eight principles.

Two areas seemed lacking in the book. The first was relatively few suggestions for teaching vocabulary in the English language arts. While there is a strong argument for content-rich vocabulary instruction, more might have been said about this particular content area. Second, there was no connection made between learning print skills (decoding and encoding) in the primary grades and vocabulary learning. At a time when students are learning to read, and exploring how the English orthography works, it would have been helpful for teachers to see some ways in which word identification and recognition could be linked with learning meanings.

In the preface the authors write “this book is designed to be a highly practical guide to teacher content-rich vocabulary to young children.” (p. xi) Despite a few quibbles, they have achieved their goal, and many teachers will be thankful for it.


Beck, I. L., & McKeown, M. G. (1983). Learning words well—a program to enhance vocabulary and comprehension. The Reading Teacher, 36, 622–625.

Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experiences of young American children. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 02, 2014
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17587, Date Accessed: 11/27/2021 6:00:34 PM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Article Tools
Related Articles

Related Discussion
Post a Comment | Read All

About the Author
  • Peter Fisher
    National College of Education of National Louis University
    E-mail Author
    PETER FISHER is a professor of education at National College of Education of National Louis University where he teaches graduate classes in literacy education. He has published numerous articles and chapters on vocabulary instruction and is a coauthor of the books Teaching Vocabulary in All Classrooms, Teaching Academic Vocabulary K-8 and The Complete Guide to Tutoring Struggling Readers - Mapping Interventions to Purpose and the CCSS.
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue