Developing Vocabulary in Young Children

What Can Early Childhood Teachers do to Develop Vocabulary in Young children?

Young children need to develop an understanding of new vocabulary introduced in conversations, activities, stories or books. In addition, they must also develop and expand their expressive language skills. Adults can help children develop their vocabulary and expressive language skills by primarily talking with them. The effective vocabulary teacher builds a word rich environment in which children are immersed in words for both indirect and intentional learning.

Indirect Vocabulary Learning:

Children learn the meanings of most words indirectly through everyday experiences with oral and written language. They learn these words by:

Engaging in daily oral language with other people, especially adults:

  • Children often hear adults repeat words several times as well as using new and interesting words. The more language experiences children have, the more word meanings they learn.
  • Discussions with adults help children develop a wide, flexible, and usable general vocabulary.
  • Children learn word meanings from listening to adults read to them. However, it is not enough to just read to them. Readers should pause during reading to talk about an unfamiliar word and after reading engage children in a conversation about the book. Conversations about words and books help children to learn new vocabulary and concepts and to relate them to their prior experiences and knowledge.
  • Reading to children also has been shown to have an effect on their ability to use words in their own retelling of the story.
  • Read and retell familiar stories. Children learn many new words through the repetition of familiar stories. The more children repeat and use words they have learned through stories, the more they apply the words in their daily lives and language.

Intentional Vocabulary Learning:

Intentional instruction helps children learn difficult words such as words that represent concepts that are not part of a child’s everyday experiences. Specific word instruction can deepen children’s understanding of what they are hearing. It can also help them use words accurately in speaking and writing. You can help teach vocabulary directly by:

  • Relating words to their own experiences: Ask children what they already know about a word and expand on their answers. Or have them predict what the word might mean by looking at the pictures.
  • Teaching specific, important words before reading. This can help children learn both a new word and better understand the book as you read.
  • Expending interactive experiences with vocabulary: Children learn words best when they actively word with words over an extended period of time. The more opportunities children have to see, hear and play with new words the better they seem to learn and use them.
  • Providing repeated exposure to vocabulary in many different situations: The more children use new words and the more they use them in different situations, the more likely they are to remember them and use them in their natural language.

Information from Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Learning: Emergent Literacy

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