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How do reading ability and practice influence vocabulary?

Researchers: Dr Laura Shapiro | Dr Jessie Ricketts ...

By Nuffield Foundation

Project overview

This study will extend the Aston Literacy Project, a large longitudinal study of reading, to investigate alternative hypotheses of whether pupils’ vocabulary growth is directly influenced by reading ability or whether, and how much, the relationship is mediated by reading practice. The study will also experimentally test if short-message-service (SMS)-feedback can increase Year 7 pupils’ reading practice.

Vocabulary knowledge is crucial for accessing the school curriculum and for performance on school assessments. It is strongly influenced by a child’s exposure to language in the home and disadvantages in knowledge are apparent at school-entry. Furthermore, a child’s vocabulary has a lasting influence on academic achievement that persists into secondary school and disadvantages are only partially ameliorated by teacher-directed instruction.

Once children develop fluency in reading, their independent reading practice provides opportunities for building vocabulary. By clarifying the relationship between reading ability, reading practice and vocabulary growth, the research team hopes to identify where potential interventions could focus to support vocabulary growth as children transition from primary to secondary school.

The study has three objectives:

  1. Using statistical modelling of longitudinal data, the project team will use compare alternative hypotheses on the influence of reading on vocabulary growth.
  2. The project team will test if a mobile phone SMS-feedback intervention, used successfully to change health-related behaviour, can increase reading practice, and examine how the amount of reading practice influences vocabulary acquisition.
  3. The project team will use longitudinal models to test how reading ability, reading practice and socio-economic status influence vocabulary growth as children move from primary to secondary school.


  • Dr Laura Shapiro
    Primary researcher
    Aston University
  • Dr Jessie Ricketts
    Royal Holloway
  • Professor Adrian Burgess
    Aston University

  • Eleanor Ireland
    Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

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