How Vocabulary Interventions Affect Young Children at Risk: A Meta-Analytic Review

Loren Marie Marulis, Susan B. Neuman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This meta-analytic review examines how word-learning interventions affect young children, at risk for reading difficulties, on vocabulary outcomes. We quantitatively reviewed 51 studies with 138 effect sizes (N = 7,403) to assess the association between vocabulary training and word learning. Using a random-effects model, we found a mean effect size of nearly 1 standard deviation indicating a strong training effect overall. Moderator analyses indicated that children from low-socioeconomic-status (SES) families experienced significantly lower word-learning gains than those from middle- and upper-SES families who had one or more risk factor (e.g., English Language Learner, language delays). This was true regardless of the total number of risk factors present. However, risk factors in addition to poverty did compound this SES disadvantage. Further, multivariate meta-regression analyses indicated that the sole risk factor associated with lower effect sizes was poverty controlling for all other risk factors. Subgroup moderator analyses indicated a number of instructional and pedagogical factors associated with greater effect sizes. Taken together, these results highlight the importance of creating interventions powerful enough to accelerate children's vocabulary development if we are to narrow the reading achievement gap.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)223-262
Number of pages40
JournalJournal of Research on Educational Effectiveness
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2013


  • Meta-analysis
  • cumulative risk
  • early childhood
  • multivariate meta-regression
  • oral word learning
  • poverty
  • vocabulary

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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