It's easy to use the picture word inductive model for vocabulary development because it emphasizes building a large sight vocabulary and using inductive and explicit instruction to teach phonetic and structural analysis. Of course, every teacher has language arts components that are major emphases and we can cite various sources of support. Vocabulary development is one of my emphases across all grade levels and subject areas, and here are some of the reasons and sources of support.
Words are used to communicate ideas. The more words you own, the better you can communicate; the better you are at acquiring words, the more control you have over your own educational progress. Thus, ideas that shape the teaching and learning strategy for vocabulary development address building vocabulary size and acquiring and increasing efficient use of word recognition skills.
In terms of general academic success, vocabulary knowledge is one of the best predictors of overall verbal intelligence, yielding correlations of .80 (Anderson & Freebody, 1981; Sternberg & Powell, 1983). Each word a student can comprehend and use appropriately adds to personal cognitive processing abilities. Plus, “one of the most consistent findings of educational research is that having a small vocabulary portends poor school performance” (Anderson & Nagy, 1992, p. 14).
Expanding Vocabulary. Language arts scholars agree that vocabulary building is important in developing literacy no matter what the age of students; there is some agreement in the knowledge base about the efficiency of vocabulary development through reading—simply get students reading and they will build their vocabularies. Sternberg's (1987) essay presents a persuasive argument that “most vocabulary is learned from context.” And, Nagy, Herman, and Anderson (1985) argue that accumulating vocabulary through reading is about 10 times more efficient than the common methods of vocabulary instruction.
What best accompanies extensive reading (and a language-rich environment) in expanding vocabulary is surrounded by debate. Some sources indicate that direct instruction in vocabulary is so inefficient as to be useless (Krashen, 1993), that vocabulary instruction is rare (Durkin, 1978–79), that the instruction incorporated in the textbooks recommends weak teaching procedures (Jenkins, Stein, & Wysocki, 1984; Durkin, 1986), and that the most common classroom vocabulary program uses approaches that do not work well, such as word lists from which students study the definitions, compose sentences, and are tested (Anderson & Nagy, 1992). On top of this, for the last 12 to 15 years, there have been two competing lines of inquiry about what works in building vocabulary: reading widely versus systematic instruction (Graves, 1992).
Results from the research on systematic instruction indicate that the more effective methods of vocabulary instruction use both definitional and contextual information, involve students in deeper processing (thinking of similar material, of similar classes of words, analogies, associations), and provide multiple exposures to the words (Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986; Stahl, 1999). These approaches include the mnemonic keyword method (Levin, McCormick, Miller, Berry, & Pressley, 1982; Pressley, Levin, & McDaniel, 1987) and classification accompanied by defining and sentence production tasks. The more effective approaches to expanding vocabulary through instruction require more active involvement by the teacher in planning and delivering instruction and more cognitive engagement by the students than commonly found.
Skill and speed in phonetic, structural, and contextual analysis help us to identify and confirm words. These skills and language principles can be learned through combinations of analyses, where sight vocabulary words are classified until the phonetic and structural principles are developed (the approach dominant in the inductive phases of PWIM), or synthetically, where letters and combinations of letters are studied in relation to the sounds and meanings that are attached to them (Ehri, 1994; Graves, 1992; Nagy et al., 1994).
Along with expanding vocabulary size, another reason for teaching a base of sight words is that until a student has a sight word vocabulary of at least 50 words there is “no meaningful context within which phonics instruction could take place” (Graves, Watts, & Graves, 1994, p. 92).
What about high-frequency words? Should students engage in rapid mastery of the 10 words (the, of, and, a, to, in, is, you, that, it) that make up 20 percent of the words they will see in continuous print, or the 200 high-frequency sight words that make up about 60 percent of text they are likely to read (Gunning, 1996), or the 50 highest frequency words (Peregoy & Boyle, 1997, from Mason & Au, 1990)? Teaching a list of sight words is not a popular idea in the current mood of engaging students in authentic tasks. Imagine how difficult it would be to read even the simplest materials if we did not own the 10 high-frequency words as automatic sight words? Imagine trying to analyze or decode them through a synthetic phonics approach.
Preferably in 1st grade, but at least by the end of 2nd grade, we want students to achieve automaticity in reading the 200 most common words in English text because they occur so often. Many of these words are irregularly spelled or phonetically irregular (one, of, are, were, where, there); instant recognition of these words allows the brain to focus on comprehending more content-laden words (e.g., smoke, house, jeans) and executing higher-level comprehension processes.
Developing Word Identification Skills. Skilled reading depends not just on knowing a large number of words, but on being able to deal effectively with new words. What happens when one cannot read a word automatically?
Skilled readers have at least three sources of information or three word identification strategies to use when dealing with new words: phonics to determine the word's pronunciation, structural analysis to determine and confirm a word's meaning and its pronunciation, and context to infer and confirm the word's meaning (Nagy et al., 1994). Skilled readers see all the letters in words, focus on patterns (groups of letters they are used to seeing together in terms of either word order or word meaning), then use context to confirm their recognition of the word or to redirect their efforts if the word spoken internally does not fit the meaning of the text.
The PWIM units can support instruction in all three aspects of word identification skills: phonetic analysis, structural analysis, and contextual analysis. The units can include formal and informal assessment of current skills; inductive lessons in phonetic analysis, structural analysis, and contextual analysis in areas of identified need; explicit instruction in these same forms of analysis; and extensive reading and writing for practice and consolidation of the skills (both new and current skills).
For all students, but especially for students whose first language is not English and for students with limited speaking vocabularies, the American Heritage Dictionary on CD-ROM is very useful: words are pronounced, used in context, and defined. If you have several students who speak English poorly or not at all, a talking dictionary and a translator program would be ideal—for students and teacher.
To acquire fluency in reading, students need to acquire a large sight vocabulary, to learn to use the most common phonetic and structural principles, and to use context to help them determine word meaning. The PWIM helps us help students build these reading competencies.