Season 8, Episode 5

No perfect set of words: Building vocabulary, with Margaret McKeown

This episode’s guest is Margaret McKeown, Ph.D., a retired professor from the University of Pittsburgh, decades-long researcher, and former elementary school teacher. In it, McKeown and Susan Lambert address why vocabulary is so important, particularly for knowledge building; talk about the various elements of effective vocabulary instruction; discuss the key role of informal instruction in vocabulary building; and share best practices for assessing vocabulary. Listeners will come away from this episode with a deeper understanding of the how and why of vocabulary instruction, as well as tips for bolstering vocabulary instruction in their own communities.

Meet our guest(s):

Margaret McKeown

Margaret G. McKeown, Ph.D., is clinical professor emerita of the School of Education and senior scientist of the Learning Research and Development Center at University of Pittsburgh. McKeown’s work covers the areas of learning, instruction, and teacher professional development in reading comprehension and vocabulary. McKeown and Isabel Beck were co-developers of an approach called Questioning and Author. They also co-authored Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction.
Before her career in research, McKeown taught reading and language arts in elementary school. Although now retired, she likes to keep in contact with teachers and the literacy field, and is also a grandmother to two grandsons.

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. Lambert 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, Lambert explores the increasing body of scientific research around how reading is best taught. As a former classroom teacher, administrator, and curriculum developer, Lambert 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.


“Good instruction needs to be interactive. We're using words. Vocabulary pervades the day.” —Margaret McKeown
“Having mastery of your language is part of your self image.” —Margaret McKeown
“The more you know, the more you can laugh.” —Margaret McKeown
“We're always encountering something new with language. We can't just learn it by sitting down and being told a bunch of rules.” —Margaret McKeown