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From mid-childhood onward, children learn hundreds of new words every year incidentally through reading. Yet little is known about this process and the circumstances in which vocabulary acquisition is maximized. We examined whether encountering novel words in semantically diverse, rather than semantically uniform, contexts led to better learning. Children aged 10 and 11years read sentences containing novel words while their eye movements were monitored. Results showed a reduction in reading times over exposure for all children, but especially for those with good reading comprehension. There was no difference in reading times or in offline post-test performance for words encountered in semantically diverse and uniform contexts, but diversity did interact with reading comprehension skill. Contextual informativeness also affected reading behavior. We conclude that children acquire word knowledge from incidental reading, that children with better comprehension skills are more efficient and competent learners, and that although varying the semantic diversity of the reading episodes did not improve learning per se in our laboratory manipulation of diversity, diversity does affect reading behavior in less direct ways.

Original publication




Journal article


J Exp Child Psychol

Publication Date





190 - 211


Children, Eye movements, Reading, Semantic diversity, Word learning, Child, Comprehension, Eye Movements, Female, Humans, Male, Reading, Semantics, Verbal Learning, Vocabulary