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Word Learning Strategies: A Program for Upper-Elementary Readers

Given the link between vocabulary and reading development, learning to effectively use word learning strategies is important for all students, especially English learner (EL) students and students from low-income families.

This study focuses on the Word Learning Strategies (WLS) program, a supplementary curriculum for developing upper-elementary students’ vocabulary acquisition skills and reading comprehension. WestEd researchers investigated whether the WLS program was effective in increasing vocabulary knowledge and reading proficiency for various categories of students: all students, students of different abilities (e.g., high academic achievers, average academic achievers), EL students, and students from low-income families.

The WLS program provides 15 weeks of whole-class instruction for fourth grade classes and is typically delivered three days a week for about 30 minutes per day. The program includes four main instructional sections about how to derive the meaning of unknown words: Word Parts; Context; Dictionary; and Combined Strategy (combining word parts, context, and dictionary strategies).

The project involves a randomized controlled trial with fourth grade teachers from 96 elementary schools, and their students. Participating teachers were randomly assigned to either a treatment condition (i.e., using the WLS program) or a control condition (i.e., using the school’s business-as-usual curriculum).

The WLS program is intended to develop students’ vocabularies with the depth and breadth needed to succeed in reading, which could result in improved performance in language arts and other content area classes, as well as improved attitudes toward reading and school.