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6 Feb 2014

Generative Vocabulary Instruction

Elfrieda H. Hiebert & P. David Pearson

White Paper

Hiebert, E.H., & Pearson, P.D., (2013). Generative vocabulary instruction. ReadyGen, Pearson.


It is hard to put an exact number on the number of words in the English language, but there is agreement that English has more words than most languages.1 In everyday conversations, people, even highly educated adults, use only a small portion of the words available to them. Print is a different matter. Many more words from the English lexicon are used in written language. Even so, a very small group of words continues to account for the majority of the words in texts, but authors also use many rare words to define, describe, elaborate, or add nuance to their ideas. One of the signatures of complex texts is the presence of rare vocabulary.

Not all of the rare words that students will encounter in complex texts, whether in school or in their careers, can be taught. There are simply too many words in written English. To successfully understand complex texts, students need to be able to generate the meanings of new words, based on their knowledge about how words work in English.