Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Is the IRA allergic to reading?

Sent to Reading Today (International Reading Association), Nov. 26, 2014

The International Reading Association appears to be allergic to reading. "Interrupting the cycle of word poverty" (Nov/Dec 2014) recommends every possible way of boosting vocabulary except the only way that is truly effective and efficient: extensive reading. 

William Nagy and colleagues have published compelling evidence showing that we gradually acquire vocabulary from reading for meaning, evidence that suggests that reading alone can do the job of building a large vocabulary, and that reading for meaning is more efficient than direct instruction for vocabulary development After studying the size of the vocabulary appearing in printed school English, Nagy and Richard Anderson concluded that “our findings indicate that even the most ruthlessly systematic direct vocabulary instruction could neither account for a significant proportion of all the words the children actually learn, nor cover more than a modest proportion of the words they will encounter in school reading materials”.
Certainly these results, many published in IRA journals, are worth mentioning.
Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California
Member, Reading Hall of Fame

Original article: Overturf, B. 2014. Interrupting the cycle of word poverty. Reading Today, 32(3): 22-23.

Some sources:
Nagy, W. & Anderson, R. (1984). How many words are there in school printed English? Reading Research Quarterly, 19(3), 304-330.
Nagy, W., Herman, P., & Anderson, R. (1985). Learning words from context. Reading Research Quarterly, 17, 233-255.
Nagy, W., R. Anderson, and Herman, P. (1987). Learning word meanings from context during normal reading. American Educational Research Journal, 24, 237-270.
Nagy, W., & P. Herman. 1987. Breadth and depth of vocabulary knowledge: Implications for acquisition and instruction. In M. McKeown & M. Curtiss. (Eds.) The nature of vocabulary acquisition (pp. 19-35), Hillsdale, NJ: Erbaum.


  1. When students discover new words while reading something relevant and interesting - especially if they chose the reading - their vocabularies expand. Word lists, even the clever ones, are not as effective.

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