Vocabulary Banking

A strategy for boosting vocabulary and reading comprehension at KS3

Bishop Challoner Catholic College, in Birmingham, investigated whether it is possible to accelerate rates of vocabulary development by training pupils in an active reading strategy called “Vocabulary Banking”.

Description of the innovation

Pupil independent reading habits are declining just as changes to GCSE assessment have increased literacy rigour to English and humanities subjects with a premium on extended writing and inferential reading. We were keen to investigate a systematic approach to vocabulary development and inferential comprehension that made the most of the actual non-fiction reading pupils are doing in-text dominated subjects like English, humanities and citizenship.

Summary of the evaluation

Intervention pupils were provided with A5 booklets called Word Banks in which to collect words which they thought they could reuse in other contexts and subjects across the curriculum. Each banked word secured a point, and pupils were able to secure a bonus point for each word that was successfully reused in another context or subject. Pupils used their word banks in English, history, geography, religious studies, and citizenship. Pupils were asked to underline reused words so that teachers could praise and reinforce the effort. English and humanities subjects where the innovation was in place make up 40% of the curriculum, and the innovation ran for the summer and autumn terms.

The school is an urban co- educational Roman Catholic secondary comprehensive. Participating pupils were in Year 7 and 8 at the start of the innovation and Year 8 and 9 at the end, because the project spanned the summer holiday and the new academic year in September. Five high-attaining sets participated in the evaluation, with three in the intervention and two in the control group. Average reading comprehension at pre-test was higher than age-related expectations for both groups. The Hodder Group Reading test was used to provide a measure of reading comprehension. Reading +comprehension progress was compared for pupils in the intervention and control groups. In addition, pupils completed a simple Likert scale survey before and after the innovation to measure attitudinal responses to vocabulary, active reading strategies and word banking.

Summary of findings

On average, the 80 high prior-attaining pupils in the intervention group improved their standardised scores by 7.5 points. In contrast, the 48 control pupils’ scores increased by an average of 2.4 points. The overall effect size was +0.56, +0.76 for boys and +0.40 for girls. The 18 pupils who were deemed ‘High participation’ because they successfully managed to bank and recycle more than 500 words, increased their average score by 13.5 points. The findings suggest that high prior-attaining pupils who successfully develop the self-regulatory impulse to hone in on adjectives and verbs while making evaluative judgements on their transferability make rapid progress in their ability to infer or ‘read between the lines’ of increasingly challenging texts.