Contextual diversity facilitates learning new words in the classroom
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In the field of word recognition and reading, it is commonly assumed that frequently repeated words create more accessible memory traces than infrequently repeated words, thus capturing the word-frequency effect. Nevertheless, recent research has shown that a seemingly related factor, contextual diversity (defined as the number of different contexts [e.g., films] in which a word appears), is a better predictor than word-frequency in word recognition and sentence reading experiments. Recent research has shown that contextual diversity plays an important role when learning new words in a laboratory setting with adult readers. In the current experiment, we directly manipulated contextual diversity in a very ecological scenario: at school, when Grade 3 children were learning words in the classroom. The new words appeared in different contexts/topics (high-contextual diversity) or only in one of them (low-contextual diversity). Results showed that words encountered in different contexts were learned and remembered more effectively than those presented in redundant contexts. We discuss the practical (educational [e.g., curriculum design]) and theoretical (models of word recognition) implications of these findings.