Tier I,II

Keys to Literacy is a professional development program designed to train teachers to provide content literacy instruction embedded in classroom instruction using existing reading and curriculum materials.  This professional development program is designed for grades 3-6 elementary teachers, 7-12 content classroom teachers, and educators who provide support to struggling readers.


Similar to The Key Comprehension Routine, this program embeds vocabulary instruction in all content areas, with a focus on teaching academic vocabulary that is found in existing subject-area reading and instruction material.


The Common Core Literacy Standards require students to build the vocabulary they need to access grade level complex texts. The Key Vocabulary Routine provides vocabulary instruction that all teachers can use to teach these skills. The program combines direct and indirect instruction into a routine of five components:

  1. Previewing: identifying difficult vocabulary before reading and providing sufficient background knowledge so students will not stumble over the words while reading
  2. Activities for teaching related words: use of four activities that connect new vocabulary to background knowledge and known words (semantic mapping, semantic feature analysis, categorizing, and scaling)
  3. Selection of content words to teach in-depth: identifying a smaller set of essential academic and content vocabulary to teach in-depth using instructional strategies such as Frayer cards, Concept Definition Map, Two-Column templates.
  4. Using context and word parts: word learning strategies for figuring out the meaning of unfamiliar words
  5. Promoting word consciousness: creating a language-rich classroom with a wide variety of reading options

Note- Research presented here is for the concepts taught in this Keys to Literacy professional development program, not the program itself.

Allen, J. (1999). Words, words, words: Teaching vocabulary in grades 4-12. York, ME: Stenhouse.

Anderson, R. C. (1977). The notion of schemata and the educational enterprise: General discussion of the conference. In R.C.Anderson, R. J. Spiro, and W. E. Montague (Eds.). 1984. Schooling and the acquisition of knowledge. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Anderson, R.C., & Nagy, W.E. (1992). The vocabulary conundrum. American Educator, 16(4); 14-18, 44-47.

Anderson, R.C. & Pearson, P.D. (1984). A schema-theoretic view of basic processes in reading. In P.D. Pearson, R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, & P. Mosenthal (Eds.), Handbook of reading research. New York: Longman

Armbruster, B.B., & Nagy, W.E. (1992). Vocabulary in content area lessons. The Reading Teacher, 45(7), 550-551.

Baumann, J.R., Edwards, E.C., Boland, E.M., Olejnik, S., & Kame’enui, E.J. (2003). Vocabulary tricks: Effects of instruction in morphology and context in fifth-grade students’ ability to derive and infer word meanings. American Educational Research Journal, 40(2), 447-94.

Baldwin, R.S., Ford, J.C. & Readance,J.E. (1981). Teaching word connotations: An alternative strategy. Reading World, 21, 103-108.

Beck, I.L., & McKeown, M.G. (2007). Different ways for different goals, but keep you eye on the higher verbal goals. In R.K. Wagner, A.E. Muse, & K. R. Tannenbaum (Eds.). Vocabulary acquisition: Implications for reading comprehension. New York: The Guilford Press.

Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction. New York: Guilford Press.

Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., & Omanson, R.C. (1987). The effects and uses of diverse vocabulary instructional techniques. In M.G.McKeown & M.E. Curtis (Eds.). The nature of vocabulary acquisition (pp.147-163). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Erlbaum.

Billmeyer, R., & Barton, M.L. (1998). Teaching reading in the content areas: If not me then who? Aurora, CO: Mid-continent Regional Educational Laboratory.

Blachowicz, C.L.Z. & Fisher, P. (2004) Building vocabulary in remedial settings: Focus on word relatedness. Perspectives, 30, 1. The International Dyslexia Association.

Bromley, K. (2002). Stretching students’ vocabulary. New York: Scholastic.
Carlisle, J. F., & Katz, L.A. (2005). Word learning and vocabulary instruction. In J. R. Birsh (Ed.). Multisensory teaching of basic language skills. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Carlisle, J.F. (2007). Fostering morphological processing, vocabulary development, and reading comprehension. In R.K. Wagner, A.E. Muse, & K.R. Tannenbaum (Eds.). Vocabulary acquisition: Implications for reading comprehension. New York: Guilford Press.

Edwards, C.E., Font, G., Baumann, J.F., & Boland, E. (2004). Unlocking word meanings: Strategies and guidelines fro teaching morphemic and contextual analysis. In James F. Baumann & Edward J. Kame’enui (Eds.). Vocabulary instruction: Research to practice. New York: Guilford Press.

Frayer, D.A., Frederick, W.D., & Klausmeier, H.J. (1969). A schema for testing the level of concept mastery (Technical Report No. 16). Madison: University of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Center for Education Research.

Graves, M F. (2000). A vocabulary program to complement and bolster a middle-grade comprehension program. In B. Taylor, M. Graves, & P. van den Broek (Eds.), Reading for meaning: Fostering comprehension in the middle grades. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Graves, M.F. (2006). The vocabulary book. New York: Teachers College Press.
Graves, M.F. (2004). Teaching prefixes: As good as it gets? In James F. Baumann & Edward J. Kame’enui (Eds.). Vocabulary instruction: Research to practice. New York: Guilford Press.

Haggard, M.R. (1982). The vocabulary self-collection strategy: An active approach to word learning. Journal Reading, 26(3), 203-207.

Heimlich, J.E., & Pittelman, S.D. (1986). Semantic mapping: Classroom applications. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Hirsch, E.D. (2003). Reading comprehension requires knowledge – of words and the world: Scientific insights into the fourth-grade slump and the nation’s stagnant comprehension scores. American Educator, Spring, 2003. American Federation of Teachers.

Johnson, D.D., Johnson, B.V.H., & Schlichting, K. (2004). Logology: Word and language play. In James F. Baumann & Edward J. Kame’enui (Eds.). Vocabulary instruction: Research to practice. New York: Guilford Press.

Johnson, D.D., & Pearson, P.D. (1984). Teaching reading vocabulary. (2nd ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Juel, C. & Deffes, R. (2004) Making words stick. What Research Says About Reading, 61, 6. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development: Alexandria, VA.

Kamil, M.L., Borman, G.D., Dole, J., Kral, C.C., Salinger, T., & Torgesen, J. (2008). Improving adolescent literacy: Effective classroom and intervention practices: A Practice Guide (NCEE #2008-4027). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc.

Kuhn, M.R., & Stahl, S. A. (1998). Teaching children to learn word meanings from context: A synthesis and some questions. Journal of Literacy Research, 30, 119-138.

Laflame, J.G. (1997). The effect of the Multiple Exposure Vocabulary Method and the Target Reading/Writing Strategy on test scores. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 40(5), 372-381.

Landauer, T.K., & Dumais, S.T. (1997). A Solution to Plato’s problem: The latent semantic analysis theory of acquisition, induction, and representation of knowledge. Psychological Review 104(2), 211-240.

Lehr, F., Osborn, J., & Hiebert, E.H. (2004). A focus on vocabulary. Honolulu, HI: Pacific Resources for Education and Learning. McKeown, M.G., & Beck. I.L. (2004). Direct and rich vocabulary instruction. In James F. Baumann & Edward J. Kame’enui (Eds.) Vocabulary instruction: Research to practice. New York: Guilford Press.

Moats, L.C., (2005). LETRS: Module 4 The mighty word: Building vocabulary and oral language. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

Nagy, W.E., Anderson, R.C., & Herman, R. (1987). Learning word meanings from context during normal reading. American Educational Research Journal 24, 237-270.

National Reading Panel (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health.

Pearson, P.E., & Gallagher, M.C. (1983). “The instruction of reading comprehension.” Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8, 317-344. Pressley, M., Disney, L., & Anderson, K. (2007). Landmark vocabulary instructional research and the vocabulary instructional research that makes sense now. In Richard K. Schwartz, R.M. (1988). Learning to learn vocabulary in content area textbooks. Journal of Reading, 32, 108-118.

Snow, C.E., & Kim, Y. (2007). Large problem spaces: The challenge of vocabulary for English language learners. In R.K. Wagner, A.E. Muse, & K.R. Tannenbaum (Eds.). Vocabulary Acquisition: Implications for Reading Comprehension. New York: Guilford Press.

Stahl, S.A. (1999). Vocabulary development. Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.

White, T.G., Sowell, J., & Yanagihara, A. (1989). Teaching elementary students to use word-part clues. The Reading Teacher, 42, 302-308.

Research Summary

CAUTION: The following summary was prepared by the program developers and may contain bias

Keys to Literacy Research Report

Related Resources

Webinars & Videos

Worksheets & Templates

Available Training

The Keys to Literacy has four implementation options available: full onsite support, blended online/onsite, licensed level I train the teacher, and self-guided. The professional development programs are organized around four components: initial training, the identification and training of building-based coaches, long-term follow up for teachers, and administrator training.

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