Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Vocabulary Intervention for Kindergarten Students: Comparing Extended Instruction to Embedded Instruction and Incidental Exposure

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Vocabulary Intervention for Kindergarten Students: Comparing Extended Instruction to Embedded Instruction and Incidental Exposure

Article excerpt

Abstract. The purpose of the two studies reported in this article was to evaluate the effectiveness of extended vocabulary instruction during storybook reading with kindergarten students within a small-group intervention setting. Extended vocabulary instruction is characterized by explicit teaching that includes both contextual and definitional information, multiple exposures to target words in varied contexts, and experiences that promote deep processing of word meanings. In Study One, we compared extended instruction of target words to incidental exposure. In Study Two, we compared extended instruction to embedded instruction (i.e., providing simple definitions within the context of the story). Our findings indicated that extended instruction resulted in greater word learning than either incidental exposure or embedded instruction. Moreover, students maintained much of their understanding of word meanings six to eight weeks after instruction. Implications are discussed in relation to a tri-level approach to vocabulary instruction and intervention for kindergarten students at risk for language and reading disabilities.


Children begin kindergarten with important differences in vocabulary knowledge. While some children enter school with thousands of hours of exposure to books and a wealth of rich and supportive oral language experiences, others begin school with very limited knowledge of language and word meanings (Hart & Risley, 1995; National Research Council, 1998). This vocabulary gap grows larger in the early grades as children with limited vocabulary knowledge grow much more discrepant over time from their peers who have rich vocabulary knowledge (Becker, 1977; Stanovich, 1986). Biemiller and Slonim (2001) estimated that most of the vocabulary differences among children emerge before grade two, at which point children with high vocabularies know approximately 4,000 more root word meanings than children who are experiencing delays in vocabulary development. Compounding this situation, children who have difficulty learning word identification skills are also less able to develop their vocabulary knowledge through independent reading (Cunninghan & Stanovich, 1998).

Young children who fall behind their peers in developing vocabulary knowledge are at significant risk for experiencing serious reading and learning difficulties and, ultimately, being identified as having a language or reading disability. Although vocabulary knowledge is less related to the acquisition of beginning code-based reading skills such as phonemic awareness and word identification skills, it becomes increasingly more predictive of overall reading proficiency as students progress through the elementary grades (Scarborough, 2005; Storch & Whitehurst, 2002). As the vocabulary gap among students widens and texts become more complex, vocabulary knowledge becomes a critical determinant of successful comprehension (Becket, 1977; Stahl, 1991). Similarly, longitudinal research suggests that early language and vocabulary deficits are predictive of later learning disabilities related specifically to reading comprehension (Catts, Hogan, & Adlof 2005).

Similar to the research on preventing word identification difficulties, there is mounting evidence of a corresponding need to target vocabulary development efforts on prevention and early intervention, before an insurmountable vocabulary gap arises between students at risk for reading disability and their peers who are not at risk (Biemiller, 2001; Rand Reading Study Group, 2002). Currently, however, very little intentional, teacher-directed vocabulary instruction or intervention takes place in schools, particularly before third grade (Baumann, Kame'enui, & Ash, 2003).

An extensive and growing literature suggests that structured and supported oral language activities, such as listening to and discussing storybooks, is a promising way to promote language and vocabulary development in young children (Bus, van Ijzendoorn, & Pellegrini, 1995; Van Kleck, & Stahl, & Bauer, 2003; Whitehurst et al. …

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