Review: Closing the Vocabulary Gap

Vocab Gap

I still remember Alex Quigley posing to Twitter the choice of two front covers for this book. After waiting a long time for the book to be released, I jumped at the chance to read it a little bit earlier through downloading the eBook to my Kindle (forgive me father, for I have sinned). Initially, I raced through the book in just two days. However, since then, I’ve read the book again at a much slower pace.

If you take, or want to take, vocabulary seriously, you must buy this book. It’s a steal on Amazon right now: BUY IT HERE. I forbid you to read any more of this review until you’ve bought it.

With this book, Alex has skilfully laid the foundations for all teachers to begin teaching vocabulary, and give it the priority that it deserves. Quigley guides the reader through the range of issues currently surrounding vocabulary, and actively promotes teaching vocabulary directly and explicitly. The crux, for me, of this book is that ‘reading for pleasure’ alone will not be enough to close the gap; words must be taught alongside. This is not to say that Alex plays down the importance of it. In fact, on numerous occasions, he makes it abundantly clear that that is not what he’s advocating.

^^ I don’t want to give too much away, but some interesting reading on James Coady’s ‘Beginner’s Paradox’ can be found here.

Finally on this point, Alex perfectly sums it up with this:

Teaching vocabulary and reading for pleasure should mutually reinforce one another.

The book then moves on to talking in detail about the ‘academic code’. Alex identifies that a ‘structured approach to wider reading, alongside a focus on oracy, with both being wedded to direct instruction of academic vocabulary’ will enable us to start getting nearer to a solution. Quigley calls upon an anecdote where he spends a day following a GCSE student around school (not as sinister as it sounds upon reading). Alex is floored by the sheer amount of different lexicons that the student must process, understand, and apply throughout just a single day at school. Alex puts this down to the student having a solid ‘word consciousness’, which helps every student ‘make the unfamiliar academic vocabulary of school accessible’.

… we must give our students the necessary tools to develop their vocabulary independently.

The book concludes with a host of practical strategies for teachers to begin teaching vocabulary, with inspiration being drawn from a staple book in vocabulary: Bringing Words to Life.

Alex, thank you for this book.

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