Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Curriculum and Instruction (Curriculum Studies)

Department or School/College

Phyllis J. Washington College of Education

Committee Chair

Dr. Jessica Gallo

Commitee Members

Dr. Betsy Bach, Dr. Kate Brayko, Dr. Lucila Rudge


Vocabulary, Instruction, Elementary school, Case study


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Curriculum and Instruction | Elementary Education | Language and Literacy Education


In this qualitative research study, I investigated how vocabulary instruction takes place in two fifth-grade classrooms from both teachers’ and students’ perspectives. Vocabulary knowledge holds key importance in learning to read, academic success in all school subjects, and achievement in life beyond school (Graves, 2016. p.2). Due to the importance of vocabulary, Common Core State Standards (CCSS) also put an increased focus on the process of vocabulary acquisition. Recent vocabulary research has found that vocabulary instruction in classrooms is weak, thin, and not research-based (Carlisle, Kelcey & Berebitsky, 2013; Graves, 2016; Wright & Neuman, 2014). To investigate vocabulary instruction the theoretical framework for this study drew upon the situated learning theory proposed by Lave (1988) and the activity theory developed by Leontiev (1979), both of which are derived from Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory. These theories provide a way to understand vocabulary instruction by focusing on instructional context, vocabulary activities, collaborative peer interaction, interaction of the learner in the classroom with both teacher and students, purpose of instruction, and instructional strategies. In this collective case study, I intended to identify how teachers teach vocabulary, strategies teachers use to teach vocabulary, and students’ perception of vocabulary instruction. Data were collected through classroom observations in both fifth-grade classrooms for 200 hours and interviews with both teachers and students. Teachers in both classrooms were asked to identify six students total with different reading proficiency levels, to take their views of vocabulary. Within-case and cross-case analysis was used to analyze data. Within-case analysis of observational field notes and interviews revealed teachers use a variety of instructional strategies. From analysis, it was also found that vocabulary instruction was influenced by Common Core State Standards. Student interview analysis revealed that students preferred to learn vocabulary through games and engaging activities. Analysis further revealed that difficulty in pronouncing the word was a challenge in understanding words. Cross-case analysis revealed that vocabulary instruction in both classrooms differs based on instructional procedures in the classroom and is similar in terms of using same types of activities.



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