Reading and Vocabulary


Successful reading is determined by many factors including automaticity of lexical access and the ability to store vocabulary knowledge in semantically related networks (schema theory.) These theoretical postulates have many interesting implications for the teaching of both reading and vocabulary.

Automacity in reading

Reading relies so much on the knowledge of vocabulary and the ability of the reader to automatically recognize the vocabulary items.  In fact the facility with which a reader can access the known vocabulary and their meanings represented in memory determines the success of reading .

Schema theory

The schema theory contends that Knowledge is stored in schemata of related events in the human mind. For instance our knowledge of the events that happen in a ship-christening ceromony will be stored in our memories in semantically related events that will include:

  • The ship-christening ceremony involoves new ships
  • done just before the launching
  • there is a lways a bottle, champagne, broken on bow
  • blessing the ship
  • done by celebrity…

This theory also applies to our knowledge of vocabulary.  Words too are stored in semantically related networks. The activation of a word in a network will automatically activate other words in the same network.

The ability of storing vocabulary items in semantically related networks has also positive consequences on long term memory. In fact, while people tend to forget systematically the words that they put  in totally disconnected lists, they are able to memorize quickly and efficiently the words that are related to semantic networks.

Pedagogical implications

Automaticity and the ablility to store information in semantically related networks have prdagogical implications in ESL and EFL classes.

  • Activation of learners knowledge before reading activities boosts  comprehension and facilitates predictions of content.
  • Automatic recognition of vocabulary items is essential to reading comprehesion.
  • The teacher shouldn’t resort to merely increasing the size of the learners’ vocabulary through such activities as explaining and memorizing from a mono or bilingual vocabulary list.
  • Teachers should devise activities that will foster and recycle vocabulary to facilitate automatic lexical access.
  • Vocabulary is stored as concepts in a sort of schemata that include semantic networks of interrelated words.
  • Vocabulary building is related to concept building and teachers should help students organize information or vocabulary according to concepts or topics.
  • Activities in the classroom should help learners build up new networks or maintain, refine or expand existing networks
  • Since prior knowledge is essential for the comprehension of new reading material, teachers either need to help students build the prerequisite knowledge, or activate the concepts they already know before introducing any new material.
  • Building on prior knowledge to understand new reading materials will facilitate fluency in lexical access, leading to automaticity in vocabulary recognition and improved comprehension.

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