Season 8, Episode 3

Knowledge and vocabulary: Two sides of the same coin, with Gina Cervetti

In this episode, Susan Lambert talks to Gina Cervetti, Ph.D., about literacy development, knowledge building, vocabulary expansion—and the deep connections among all three. Gina explains why she sees knowledge and vocabulary as two sides of the same coin. She also attempts to expand the listener’s understanding of what knowledge really is, it’s not just subject-area knowledge; It’s also cultural knowledge. In this process, she introduces the idea of conceptual coherence and the benefits of this approach to knowledge building, as well as avenues for implementing it in the classroom. Lastly, Gina offers strategies for how teachers can effectively build students’ vocabulary without relying on a vocabulary list, the usefulness of which has not been shown by the research.

Meet our guest(s):

Gina Cervetti

Gina Cervetti is a professor of education in the Marsal Family School of Education at University of Michigan. She studies and teaches classes related to elementary reading and language instruction and curriculum development. Gina earned her doctorate in educational psychology at the Michigan State University and spent several years at University of California, Berkeley, as a designer and researcher on projects related to the integration of literacy and science instruction. That work inspired an interest in the significance of knowledge-enriching and participatory contexts, like that of science, in literacy development. She has written about this work in a number of journal articles and a book with Jacqueline Barber, titled, No More Science Kits or Texts in Isolation: Teaching Science and Literacy Together.

Meet our host, Susan Lambert

Susan Lambert is the Chief Academic Officer of Elementary Humanities at Amplify, and the host of Science of Reading: The Podcast. Her career has been focused on creating high-quality learning environments using evidence-based practices. Susan is a mom of four, a grandma of four, a world traveler, and a collector of stories.

As the host of Science of Reading: The Podcast, Susan explores the increasing body of scientific research around how reading is best taught. As a former classroom teacher, administrator, and curriculum developer, Susan is dedicated to turning theory into best practices that educators can put right to use in the classroom, and to showcasing national models of reading instruction excellence.


“Above all other things in education, literacy is a gateway to so many of the things that are essential for human flourishing and human choice.” —Gina Cervetti, Ph.D.
“Knowledge is so complex that it actually offers a number of different benefits. And different kinds of knowledge actually benefit literacy development in different ways.” —Gina Cervetti, Ph.D.
“It makes sense to capitalize on the knowledge that students bring, both as a platform for their literacy learning, [and] also to further develop it so that they're also understanding the context of their lives and their communities and their families.” —Gina Cervetti, Ph.D.