Vocab Word List Debate

When it comes to learning vocabulary, there is some debate around word lists. Should there be a centralised national list of words that children should know at a certain age? Or should target vocabulary be personalised, with schools designing their own list with their own communities in mind?

There are no right answers to these questions. However, having spent a few years developing our vocabulary programme, Vocab, ReadingWise believes that target vocabulary must be tailored to the community in order to best serve the learners.

Therefore we encourage schools to pick their own bespoke word lists when using our Vocab programme, in order to be confident that their learners are working on the best vocabulary for them.

ReadingWise Vocab pilot

ReadingWise ran a four-month pilot of Vocab in 2020, with 32 UK schools taking part. The schools worked with us to devise appropriate word lists for their learners, for example topic specific, or tier-2 lists, to follow their existing plans.

This resulted in a variety of word lists featuring vocabulary on topics such as Ancient Greece and Volcanoes, and from novels such as Of Mice and Men and The House With Chicken Legs, and many more. We also offered tier-2 word lists grouped by school year and Coxhead’s Academic Word List. This flexibility meant that, as much as was possible, ReadingWise Vocab tied in with existing school plans and acted very much as a support.

The Vocab pilot report provides detail on the results and feedback from all schools involved.


Schools that use ReadingWise Vocab can request a new bespoke word list at any time. We publish a new word list every Wednesday, using the hashtag #NewWordsWednesday on social media, and publishing a blogpost with further information.

Alongside the bespoke word list functionality, schools can also select from our bank of word lists using their school’s Dashboard. They can either select a word list per group or per individual learner via a dropdown. Once a word list is selected pupils are automatically assigned a quiz based on 30 words from the word list, matching words to definitions. Once complete pupils go on to work through the word list, mastering words as they go, then complete a final ‘post’ quiz.

Interacting with a word list

ReadingWise Vocab aims to reinforce words from a selected word list over time, embedding them in the learners' long-term memories. The programme includes a revision cycle once a word is mastered.

Here’s how it works. Once a teacher has selected a word list for their learners and they’ve completed the initial quiz, they work with 'definition cards’. These contain the meaning of a word, an example sentence, synonyms, antonyms and an image. The learner matches the correct word with the correct definition card and vice versa. As a learner gains confidence with each word, the definition card becomes more challenging – the image disappears, then the synonyms and antonyms, and lastly the example sentence. If the learner makes a mistake, then the framework returns until they have mastered it. Once learners have grasped a word it flags it as ‘mastered’.

The intelligent technology behind Vocab re-exposes learners to mastered words, and the programme repeats them at key intervals. So we are reinforcing and embedding those words in learners' long-term memories. In this blogpost ReadingWise explains the science of memory and explores the famous work of Ebbinghaus and the forgetting curve.

Which words would you like to see your learners working on in the Vocab programme? What Vocab should we add next? Let us know!

Find out more about our Vocab programme and get in touch for a Vocab trial to see if it is appropriate for your school.


Main photo by Susan Q Lin on Unsplash

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