Bite-size learning or feasting on knowledge?

Bite-size learning or feasting on knowledge?

The best approach to vocabulary teaching: Bite-size learning or feasting on knowledge? 

There are two main approaches to word learning: the first is called distributed practice and involves learning a few words thoroughly every day -- we can call this practice bite-size learning; the second is called massed practice and consists of ‘binging’ on multiple new words on a single day -- we can call this practice ‘cramming’. So which of the two works best?

Several research studies provide support for the effectiveness of the bite-size approach. Specifically, one study found that this practice was 90% more effective than cramming (Kornell, 2009). Another study found that students who learned new vocabulary through the bite-size practice remembered 35% more words in the long run than the students that were taught the same vocabulary through cramming (Bloom & Shuell, 1981).

Overall then, it looks like vocabulary learning is similar to leading a healthy lifestyle: in the same way that if you exercise heavily once a month and only eat healthily for a day you are unlikely to lose weight, in the case of vocabulary too, if you try to teach a child too many new words in one go, these words are unlikely to be retained (Marulis & Neuman, 2010; Smith, 2008). In both healthy lifestyle and learning, the key to success is consistency and perseverance.


"Vocabulary learning is similar to leading a healthy lifestyle: the key to success is consistency and perseverance."


The reason why bite-size practice is more effective seems to be that new words are more likely to enter the long-term memory in that case, whereas in ‘crammed’ teaching, new words don’t make it beyond the working memory.  

Exactly, because taking bite-sized vocabulary lessons every day is more effective than trying to learn as many words as possible in one go, Mrs Wordsmith created the R-r-ready for School Word a Day and the Storyteller’s Word a Day to help you make word learning a part of your everyday routine in the most fun and engaging way.


Bloom, K. C., 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.

Coyne, M., McCoach, D., Loftus, S., Zipoli Jr, R., Ruby, M., Crevecoeur, Y., Kapp, S. (2010). Direct and Extended Vocabulary Instruction in Kindergarten: Investigating Transfer Effects. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 3(2), 93-120.

Kornell, N. (2009), Optimising learning using flashcards: Spacing is more effective than cramming. Appl. Cognit. Psychol., 23, 1297-1317.

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.