The Effect of Vocabulary Intervention on Text Comprehension: Who Benefits?

Research paper by Dawna D Duff

Indexed on: 16 Feb '21Published on: 11 Oct '19Published in: Language, speech, and hearing services in schools


Purpose Vocabulary intervention can improve comprehension of texts containing taught words, but it is unclear if all middle school readers get this benefit. This study tests 2 hypotheses about variables that predict response to vocabulary treatment on text comprehension: gains in vocabulary knowledge due to treatment and pretreatment reading comprehension scores. Method Students in Grade 6 ( = 23) completed a 5-session intervention based on robust vocabulary instruction (RVI). Knowledge of the semantics of taught words was measured pre- and posttreatment. Participants then read 2 matched texts, 1 containing taught words (treated) and 1 not (untreated). Treated texts and taught word lists were counterbalanced across participants. The difference between text comprehension scores in treated and untreated conditions was taken as a measure of the effect of RVI on text comprehension. Results RVI resulted in significant gains in knowledge of taught words ( = 2.26) and text comprehension ( = 0.31). The extent of gains in vocabulary knowledge after vocabulary treatment did not predict the effect of RVI on comprehension of texts. However, untreated reading comprehension scores moderated the effect of the vocabulary treatment on text comprehension: Lower reading comprehension was associated with greater gains in text comprehension. Readers with comprehension scores below the mean experienced large gains in comprehension, but those with average/above average reading comprehension scores did not. Conclusion Vocabulary instruction had a larger effect on text comprehension for readers in Grade 6 who had lower untreated reading comprehension scores. In contrast, the amount that children learned about taught vocabulary did not predict the effect of vocabulary instruction on text comprehension. This has implications for the identification of 6th-grade students who would benefit from classroom instruction or clinical intervention targeting vocabulary knowledge.