Vocabulary: Teaching vocab look like (part 5)
Vocabulary: Teaching vocab look like (part 5)

Vocabulary: Teaching vocab look like (part 5)

Hours invested, reading and watching, to learn that the Simple View of Reading is not simple, and that “Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science.” Here is what Louisa Moats would have us know and do. And if Pamela Snow references her work – I need little encouragement to take note.

  1. direct teaching of decoding, comprehension, and literature appreciation;
  2. phoneme awareness instruction;
  3. systematic and explicit instruction in the code system of written English;
  4. daily exposure to a variety of texts, as well as incentives for children to read independently;
  5. vocabulary instruction that includes a variety of complementary methods designed to explore the relationships among words and the relationships among word structure, origin, and meaning; (RememberMore)
  6. comprehension strategies that include prediction of outcomes, summarising, clarification, questioning, and visualisation; (teaching) and
  7. frequent writing of prose to enable deeper understanding of what is read. (reading)

What I later discovered is that Louisa Moats revisit her paper in 2020. Essential reading for all teachers. I have bookmarked Dr. Pam Kastner’s interview with Dr. Louisa Moats where she discusses the 2020 update, previewing the essential knowledge base and pedagogical skills pre-service and practicing teacher must master if they are to be successful in teaching all children to read well.

I should add the Dr Rickett noted that quite a lot has changed, “much more research on comprehensions and reading comprehension difficulties, for example.” And Pamela Snow was equally generous and responded to my question also.

It’s still a great paper 21 yrs on. I think what’s changed is the extent of the ground-up impetus among teachers around doing things differently and better. ITE is starting to respond but still too slow to abandon approaches that have no evidence to back them, eg three cueing.

Pamela Snow

Our aim, with RememberMore, is to help with points 2 and 6, and deliver point 5 part. The investment in this topic area has been all about understanding how to best present and introduce vocabulary within RememberMore. Of course, the classes I teach have been feeding back.

How would you present vocabulary?

Initially, vocabulary was presented in RememberMore as a pair in four modes available:


Additional flexibility comes from being able to select the number of prompts, select or combine tags (including Vocab 1 and 2, and Power Vocab) and show/hide tags and the Reorder, Refresh routines. More here: RRRR.

Before starting the edventure, I had drafted a series of questions. Should we include the word class and phonemes with the word / definition? Should we create a category and separate tags for word class? How to include morphology? Having discussed antonyms and synonyms – we looked to see whether these could be used in Notes or by creating a second Note feature.

Updated content

Feedback from my classes:

  • Explicitly pre-teaching the vocabulary 👍
  • Word class and phonemes 👍
  • Using A/Q for spelling checks 👍👎 – helpful, but the students were not keen on spellings. From a teachers point of view, I thought that this was very powerful.
  • Exemplified sentences 👍
  • Antonyms and synonyms 👍
  • Additional ways to explore the explicit meaning of words in context? 👍 (Verbal Workout made this possible)

Synonyms are often part of the definition. How to add antonyms?

At present we have tagged prompts the Vocab 1 and 2. With wider use of the app, we will have the data to inform that classification.

Further ideas and question designs

_______  (Ant) BRAVE  _______  (Syn)confident, heroic, gallant BRAVE afraid, nervy, meekShe was a brave referee to make that call. 
Q She was __________. (ANT) afraid, meek or nervy.She was BRAVE. (ANT) ________ _________Synonyms confident, heroic, gallant 
Prompt paired design continues to evolve.

I am still incubating a few ideas… With your help, I’d like to curate a set of routines / approaches, and retrieval prompt designs that take advantage of RememberMore’s fast and flexible design. A full guide to writing for RememberMore here – but essentially it is Q/A and an open field for notes.

Ideas for the future

Making use of audio and text to speech. Use of a second Notes/pop out.

Not one to see the glass as half empty, 20 years after “Teaching reading is rocket science,” was originally published Moats republished and updated the post. The executive summary states:

Unfortunately, much of this research is not yet included in teacher preparation programs, widely used curricula, or professional development, so it should come as no surprise that typical classroom practices often deviate substantially from what is recommended by our most credible sources. As a result, reading achievement is not
as strong as it should be for most students, and the consequences are particularly dire for students from the least advantaged families and communities.

Moats (2020)

Further on in the summary:

For best results, the teacher must instruct the majority of students directly, systematically, and explicitly to decipher words in print, all the while keeping in mind the ultimate purpose of reading, which is to learn, enjoy, and understand.

Moats (2020)

Onward – time to come up for a breather… before updating a deck design guide and 2000 definitions to find.

So that breather didn’t happen. I remind myself that:

What drives the mind of the reader is neither self-evident nor easy to grasp. Consequently, many years of interdisciplinary scientific inquiry have been necessary to expose the mechanisms of reading acquisition. On the surface, reading appears to be a visually based learning activity, when in fact it is primarily a language-based learning activity. Proficient reading requires unconscious and rapid association of spoken language with written alphabetic symbols. For adults who are skilled readers and who learned to read long ago, relying on introspection, intuition, or logic to understand how reading is taking place can be misleading.

Moats (2020)

My thanks to the giants in their field: Dr Jessie Ricketts, Dr Averil Coxhead, Dr Pamela Snow, Dr Isabel Beck, Joanna Tiplady, Kathrine Mortimore, Alex Quigley, Greg Ashman, Emily Hanford, Andy Sammons, Doug Lemov and lastly to Geoff Barton. Now adding to that list David Kilpatrick.

Here is a map for all teachers, parents and readers. It is a map I have never seen before and is explained in David’s presentation at Reading in the Rockies (2017).

Part of a series of 33 webinars from the Colorado Department of Education.

17 months since I wrote this post, I would add that teaching vocabulary is also dependent on whether you are teaching new vocab, or vocab where learners have some prior knowledge, or where you are maintaining, reintroducing, or reteaching vocab. Each of these three scenarios require a different strategy.

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Rewordify & Verbalworkout

Since posting this article, a series of papers on retrieval and vocabulary from Goossens et al., has crossed my radar. Also I have published the ‘Dirty Thirty’ Most Common Misspellings.

Goossens, N. A., Camp, G., Verkoeijen, P. P., & Tabbers, H. K. (2014). The effect of retrieval practice in primary school vocabulary learning. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 28(1), 135-142.

Goossens, N. A., Camp, G., Verkoeijen, P. P., Tabbers, H. K., & Zwaan, R. A. (2014). The benefit of retrieval practice over elaborative restudy in primary school vocabulary learning. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 3(3), 177-182. 331

Goossens, N. A., Camp, G., Verkoeijen, P. P., Tabbers, H. K., Bouwmeester, S., & Zwaan, R. A. (2016). Distributed practice and retrieval practice in primary school vocabulary learning: A multi‐ classroom study. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 30(5), 700-712.


Moats, L. C. (1999). Teaching reading is rocket science: What expert teachers of reading should know and be able to do? Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers.

Moats, L. C. (2020). Teaching reading is rocket science. Essential reading.


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