Book title: Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction (Second Edition)
Author: Isabel L. Beck, Margaret G. McKeown and Linda Kucan
Publication date: 2013
1. What is your overall impression of the book?
I was impressed with Bringing Words to Life. The book was packed with gems to help me better understand how vocabulary is developed and easy-to-apply strategies to help me support my students to develop a broader, more mature range of academic vocabulary. This will help their comprehension of the more challenging texts in the new GCSE courses, and supplement their writing pieces where those who can demonstrate a more ‘extensive’ range of vocabulary are rewarded.
2. Who do you think would benefit most from reading the book? What will they learn?
The book would certainly benefit English and literacy teachers at any key stage, as you are presented with a wealth of research and strategies to apply to vocabulary development from early years up to secondary level. Teachers of other subjects who wish to develop how they teach specialist terminology and academic language would also benefit, as it gives insight into how best to support students with these areas.
Those who read the first edition may be intrigued to see how Beck, McKeown and Kucan used this second edition to reflect on and evaluate the strategies and research presented in the first. The key differences and developments are really well covered in the introduction.
3. What did you think about the quality of the writing? Please consider the tone, structure and ideas. Does it suit the audience?
The writing is straightforward and well-structured, making it easy to get to the most relevant points. There are divisions for different areas of vocabulary instruction and clear summaries of research studies to help teachers evaluate different ways of teaching vocabulary.
The book’s structure makes it easy to find key information and strategies for specific key stages because it supports the research findings with step-by-step examples of how to use the approach in the classroom. These are then further developed through the detailed appendices.
That said, even though I am a secondary school teacher, I was too engrossed and interested in how vocabulary is developed before secondary level not to have a look at these sections. This led me to consider how some of those strategies might be adapted for older students.
4. Please discuss the research used to underpin the ideas. What evidence do the authors use? Is it robust and up-to-date?
The authors use a wide range of research to underpin their ideas, including their own research on vocabulary instruction and development. Studies are referenced throughout their discussion of the approaches, and the comprehensive bibliography is a good starting point for any further reading.
As they compare studies and approaches to evaluate the impact and effectiveness, the robust nature of their approach is clear. This is further evident through their reflection on the first edition, as they make use of more recent evidence to further develop the strategies suggested.
5. What did you learn from reading the book? What ideas/approaches/practice will you change or adopt as a result of reading this book?
I first turned to this book as I found that the new approaches I had trialled in the classroom to develop students’ vocabularies for the new GCSE were not working in the way I had hoped.
I’ve now picked up a number of strategies that have been tested through research, ready to trial and evaluate in my own classroom before sharing my research with my department. For example, vocabulary instruction is set to become more embedded in my practice across the coming months – especially the focus on applying words from texts explored as a means of getting students to write using a more extensive vocabulary.
I’m also hoping to use my findings to help those of my students who are ‘word-poor’ to develop a confidence in academic language that will support them in further study.
6. Could you share a quote from the book that particularly resonated with you?
“The teacher who is alert to opportunities for using sophisticated, interesting and precise language is probably the most important element in [a lively verbal environment in classrooms].”