How teaching vocabulary can narrow the word gap and improve literacy

Dedicated vocabulary teaching should be a core part of every school’s literacy curriculum

Teaching vocabulary - why every school needs a plan

Stanovich’s Matthew Effect in reading says that the ‘word rich’ get richer and the ‘word poor’ get poorer. However, dedicated vocabulary teaching can help to overcome this – here, we explain how.

Improve vocabulary and literacy in your school

“When we talk of closing the gap… We mean welcoming a child into a world of new ideas, insights and emotions, into a world that we take for granted, and which we will routinely guarantee for our own children. That empowerment that comes through vocabulary should be the birth right of every child, whatever their background.”
(Barton, 2018)

Teachers need a coherent strategy for vocabulary improvement. Vocabulary is a central aspect of literacy and shouldn’t be left to chance, or be seen as solely the responsibility of the English department.

Ensuring vocabulary T&L is data driven and research based is essential. At Bedrock, we use synthesised research by the Educational Endowment Foundation and other reputable institutions such as the US’ National Reading Technical Assistance Center as a springboard to our own tailored approach to vocabulary pedagogy.



1. Provide direct instruction of vocabulary words for a specific text.
Quigley and Coleman (2019): “Disciplinary literacy makes clear that every teacher communicates their subject through academic language, and that reading, writing, speaking and listening are at the heart of knowing and doing every subject.”
Specialist Tier 2 vocabulary, essential for cross-curricular knowledge, is taught across Bedrock.
Bedrock knowledge organisers and word trends equip teachers to reinforce disciplinary literacy in the classroom.
Bedrock GCSE English schemes teach academic language in the context of literary passages. Vocabulary is taught as part of an in-depth study of a text.
2. Multiple exposures to vocabulary items are important.
EEF (2017): “Repeated exposure to new vocabulary is necessary across spoken language, reading and writing”
EEF (2019): “Effective approaches, including those related to etymology and morphology, will help students remember new words and make connections between words.”
With Bedrock, learners interact with new vocabulary in many different contexts.  Each word is explored through images, semantic webs and scaffolded writing activities. Students write their own sentences using each term.
Bedrock’s automatically-generated recap activities and memory check quizzes provide further opportunity for students to consolidate their learning.
3. Words taught should be those the learner will find useful in many contexts.
Barton (2020): “Academic vocabulary builds young people’s confidence, their ability to communicate effectively and ensures their voices are heard.”
Bedrock teaches over 2,000 sophisticated Tier 2 words. These include all of Marzano’s most frequently-used academic verbs, thematic vocabulary found in literature – spanning KS2-5!
4. Vocabulary tasks should be restructured as necessary.
Kamil, 2004: “once students know what is expected of them in a vocabulary task, they often learn rapidly.”
Each Bedrock lesson follows a predictable structure that is easy to follow independently. Our research-based activity sequence follows Marzano’s six-step process for vocabulary teaching and Rosenshine’s principles of instruction.
5. Technology can be used effectively to help teach vocabulary.
There are relatively few specific diagnostic and instructional applications.
EEF (2017): digital technology can be used to help develop and teach vocabulary.
OUP (2020): “Online interactive activities were flagged as a tool teachers would value in order to better support vocabulary teaching.”
Bedrock is an online curriculum that adapts to learners’ unique abilities.
All learning is driven by a deep learning algorithm that ensures spaced learning and avoids cognitive overload.
Students learn independently and at their own pace.
Both teachers and parents have access to usage and progress data (and teachers can access cohort-wide reports to identify trends and address any weaknesses).

With research suggesting the distance between the language rich and language poor grows daily, it’s imperative that we bridge that gap. Planning to improve students’ literacy – and life chances – by teaching new vocabulary is a good place to start.

Develop strong literacy and confident voices in your school

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