Just like leading a healthy lifestyle, word learning is a matter of habit formation. The key to success is consistency and perseverance, or learning ‘little and often’.
Learning a few words often is more effective than learning more words less frequently. Various research studies have found that learning a few words thoroughly and frequently has been shown to work better than teaching many units in one go, once in a while.,
- Specifically, the little and often method was found to be 90% more effective than cramming many words in one go.
- Moreover, children who learned words in this way were found to remember 35% more words than those who were taught the same vocabulary in a crammed manner.
A possible explanation for this result is that words learned in this way are more likely to be stored in the long-term memory, whereas in ‘crammed’ teaching, new words don’t make it beyond the working memory. It seems then that just like leading a healthy lifestyle, word learning is a matter of habit formation. The key to success is consistency and perseverance, or learning ‘little and often’.
Interestingly, a factor that helps establishing daily habits like that of learning a new word every day is humour; indeed, according to research, humour activates the brain’s dopamine reward system. Dopamine is the pleasure chemical that's crucial for motivation, long-term memory, but also habit formation in that something that makes us feel good will trigger the desire to do it again . This means that the funny illustrations in our books will not only help children learn new words, they will make them them want to learn.
Whether it’s one word at breakfast every day or a couple on the way home from school, if it’s fun, kids will want to keep it up. Just remember, little and often is the key to success!
- Marulis, L. & Neuman, S. 2010. ‘The Effects of Vocabulary Intervention on Young Children’s Word Learning: A Meta-Analysis’. Review of Educational Research 80(3):300 - 335.
- Smith, T. (2008). Teaching Vocabulary Expeditiously: Three Keys to Improving Vocabulary Instruction. The English Journal, 97(4), 20-25.
- Kornell, N. (2009), Optimising learning using flashcards: Spacing is more effective than cramming. Appl. Cognit. Psychol., 23, 1297-1317.
- Bloom, K. C., and T. J. Shuell. (1981). “Effects of Massed and Distributed Practice on the Learning and Retention of Second-Language Vocabulary.” Journal of Educational Research 74 (4): 245– 248.
Wise, R. (2004) Dopamine, learning and motivation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 5, 483-494.