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The teaching of vocabulary revolves around two specific method: contextual and non-contextual teaching.

  • Contextual vocabulary learning involves active, deliberate acquisition of a meaning for a word in a text and involves using textual clues to infer meaning.
  • Non-contextual vocabulary instruction means teaching words based on their structure, related word associations, or importance to the context being taught.


The debate between non-contextual and contextual teaching began in earnest in through the seventies mainly through the work of the Goodman (1965) and Singer, Samuels & Spiroff, 1972.

In recent years reading education has foucsed on the explicit teaching of non-contextual vocabualry as a highly effective practice (National Reading Panel, 2000).

We also understand from research (Stahl, 2005) and work in Universal Design for Learning that students require multiple exposures over multiple times to learn their ten words a week.

In the Classroom

Contextual vocabulary usually gets taught as a reading comprehension strategy. Students learn to clarify the meaning of unknown words by using the context around the word, their prior knowledge, and other text features such as images.Other classroom strategies incldue Read Aloud methods and teaching words in context of literature

Noncontextual words often get taught through the use of graphic organizers such as a Frayer models or semantic feature analysis.

When learning vocabulary regardless if through contextual or non-contextual methods we need to:

  • focus on words useful to know in many situations (Beck and McKeown, 1985)
  • provide rich in dpeht exposure (Stahl and Fairbanks 1986)
  • provide clear student approachable meanings (Beck et al., 2002)
  • provide multiple examples
  • have students use the words in context
  • have students create associations to other words.
non-contextual_vs_contextual_vocabulary_instruction.txt · Last modified: 2021/03/01 01:31 by jgmac1106