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Orthographic facilitation of first graders’ vocabulary learning


Associate Professor Molly Ness, Ph.D., CLAIR doctoral student Susan Chambre, and Linnea Ehri of the CUNY Graduate Center published “Orthographic facilitation of first graders’ vocabulary learning: does directing attention to print enhance the effect?” in Reading and Writing.

Their study has implications for educators looking for vocabulary-learning techniques that can be inexpensively and easily implemented into any form of literacy instruction. Download the article


Orthographic facilitation refers to the boost in vocabulary learning that is provided when spellings are shown during study periods, but not during testing. The current study examined orthographic facilitation in beginning readers and whether directing their attention to print enhances the effect. In an experiment, first graders (N = 45) were randomly assigned to either an attention or no attention condition. They studied two sets of novel spoken words paired with pictures and spoken definitions, one set displaying spellings of the words beneath pictures, and one set with no spellings. Tests with no spellings present revealed that children learned pronunciations of words significantly better when spellings had been seen than not seen, and the benefit was still evident 2 weeks after training ended. Superior ability to spell the words by children who saw them showed that spellings were retained in memory to support learning. More advanced readers gained more benefit from spellings over no spellings in learning the words. However, drawing children’s attention to print did not boost memory for the words, suggesting that simple exposure was sufficient to activate grapheme-phoneme connections automatically and bond spellings to pronunciations of words in memory, even in beginning readers. Memory for the meanings of words was not improved by spelling exposure, possibly because children possessed no grapho-semantic mapping system comparable to the grapho-phonemic system to enhance the formation of connections between spellings and meanings in memory.

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