Influence on Successful Writing
ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication
is extensive research indicating that a rich vocabulary is a critical element
of reading ability. Laflamme (1997) states that recent research has identified
vocabulary knowledge as the single most important factor in reading comprehension.
There is, likewise, no shortage of studies documenting a strong link between reading
and writing. "Reading and writing are two analogous and complementary processes
in that both involve generating ideas, organizing ideas into a logical order,
drafting them a number of times to achieve cohesion, and revising the ideas as
is appropriate" (Laflamme, 1997, p. 373). The processes are so closely aligned
that some researchers even advocate teaching reading and writing simultaneously,
rather than as two separate subjects (Laflamme, 1997).
the writing process is inextricably linked to the reading process, and the reading
process is heavily dependent upon vocabulary, it naturally follows that the writing
process is likewise dependent. This digest will explore some of the ways vocabulary
influences writing ability, and how teachers can use vocabulary development specifically
to improve writing skills.
and Writing: Finding the Right Words
some ways, the ability to write effectively hinges upon having an adequate vocabulary
even more than does the ability to read. Once students have learned to decode
words, they may be able to read and pronounce many words that are unfamiliar to
them. They may even be able to determine accurate meanings of unfamiliar words
simply by examining the context in which those words are used. During the writing
process, however, a student does not have the luxury of examining the context
in which a word is used; he or she is creating the context. Therefore, the writer
must be able to spontaneously recall words that are known not only by sight, but
that are understood well enough to use correctly. "Mayher and Brause (1986)
have stated that writing is dependent upon the ability to draw upon words to describe
an event" (Corona, Spangenberger, & Venet, 1989, p. 18).
breadth and depth of a student's vocabulary will have a direct influence upon
the descriptiveness, accuracy, and quality of his or her writing. As Ediger (1999)
notes, "variety in selecting words to convey accurate meanings is necessary
in speaking and writing, the outgoes of the language arts" (p. 1). Corona,
Spangenberger, and Venet (1998) concur: "At any level, written communication
is more effective when a depth of vocabulary and command of language is evident"
of Vocabulary Development
words are the writer's most important tools, vocabulary development must be an
important and ongoing part of classroom learning. Laflamme (1997) offers several
key principles that should guide the creation and implementation of a comprehensive
vocabulary development program.
must offer direct instruction of techniques or procedures for developing a broad
and varied vocabulary. This instruction can be provided both formally through
the language arts program, and informally through various classroom interactions-such
as story time-with students.
vocabulary terms must be connected to students' previous knowledge and experiences.
If students are unable to contextualize new words by attaching them to words and
concepts they already understand, the words will likely have little meaning to
them. And as Ediger (1999) points out, "if meaning is lacking, the chances
are pupils will memorize terms and concepts for testing purposes only or largely"
should be able to contextualize the vocabulary terms they have learned and use
them in society (Ediger, 1999, p. 7). In order for students to do this successfully,
they must first learn to become comfortable using these words in the classroom.
Students should be required or encouraged to incorporate new vocabulary terms
into their oral and written reports and presentations.
and repetition are important methods by which students can become familiar with
new words and under- stand how they may be used correctly (Laflamme, 1997). Students
should be frequently exposed to the same words through practice exercises, classroom
use, and testing.
should model an enthusiasm for and curiosity about new words through their own
behaviors and attitudes. Teachers who are enthusiastic about vocabulary development
will automatically look for "teachable moments" throughout the day,
pointing out interesting words as they crop up in texts, stories, or conversation;
asking students to explore alternative ways of expressing concepts; and helping
identify colorful, descriptive ways of speaking and writing.
teachers, and students must be committed to vocabulary development over the long
term. The teaching of vocabulary must be an interdisciplinary project, integrated
into the curriculum at every level.
Vocabulary to Improve Writing Skills
improved vocabulary can enhance students' writing skills, there is no guarantee
that it will do so automatically. Improvement in vocabulary will result in improved
writing skills only if the teacher is able to create a classroom that takes writing
seriously. "In such a classroom, process and environment are closely intertwined
and interdependent. The process does not come alive unless the environment is
conducive to it" (Corona, Spangenberger, & Venet, 1998, p. 24). The following
are techniques teachers can use to create a writing-centered classroom.
vocabulary-rich literature. Sloan (1996) explains that in her quest to help
her students become better writers, she "went to the best source for teaching
good writing: good books" (p. 268). By having students read (or reading aloud
to them) books, poems, and stories that contain interesting vocabulary, teachers
can both introduce new words and provide a forum for discussing them.
students become aware of and look for interesting words. There are many different
forms this can take. For example, students could pair up and look through books
for words that catch their attention, then write down common words that the author
could have used instead. Other methods include having students: write words they
encounter on an "Interesting Word Wall" (Sloan, 1996. P. 268); create
a word bank through words-of-the day that are taken from classroom literature
(Corona, Spangenberger, & Venet, 1998, p. 25); record or act out energetic
verbs; or write unfamiliar words in "literature-response journals" for
later exploration (Manning, 1999, p. 3).
a variety of writing opportunities.
"A writer-centered classroom emphasizes using written expression to communicate
ideas. Writing is an important part of all areas of the curriculum" (Corona,
Spangenberger, & Venet, 1998, p. 29). The authors go on to note that students
have a greater investment in their writing when they are given choices about their
assignments. Such choices may include journal or diary entries, weekly logs summarizing
journal entries, book reports, outlines, poetry, autobiographies, short stories,
or any number of variations on the above.
ample time for students to fully experience the writing process (Corona, Spangenberger,
& Venet, 1998). The teaching of writing should be approached as a process
that must be studied in depth, and substantial blocks of time should be devoted
students to conference with teachers and fellow students (Corona, Spangenberger,
& Venet, 1998). When writing topics are chosen, students should meet with
their teacher to discuss ideas and answer questions. The teacher's role is to
encourage, build on existing strengths, and help the student expand his or her
abilities. Conferencing with fellow students gives the budding writer the opportunity
to share ideas, brainstorm, and rework his or her project.
Spangenberger, Sandra, & Venet, Iris (1998). Improving Student Writing through
a Language Rich Environment. M.A. Action Research Project, St. Xavier University
and IRI/Skylight, 61 pages.
Marlow. (1999). "Reading and Vocabulary Development." Journal of Instructional
Psychology, 26(1), 7-15.
John G. (1997). "The Effect of Multiple Exposure Vocabulary Method and the
Target Reading/Writing Strategy on Test Scores." Journal of Adolescent &
Adult Literacy, 40(5), 372-384.
Maryann. (1999). "Helping Words Grow." Teaching PreK-8, 29(4), 103-105.
J.S., & Brause, R.S. (1986). "Learning through Teaching: Is Testing Crippling
Integrated Language Education?" Language Arts, 63(4), 390-96.
Megan. (1996). "Encouraging Young Students to Use Interesting Words in Their
Writing." The Reading Teacher, 50(3), 268-69.
publication was prepared (Digest #157, EDO-CS-00-08, December 2000) with funding
from the U.S. Department of Education under contract number ED-99-CO-0028, and
published by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English and Communication.
expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies
of Learn2study, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations
imply endorsement by Learn2study.