Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Assessment of the Design Efficacy of a Preschool Vocabulary Instruction Technique

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Assessment of the Design Efficacy of a Preschool Vocabulary Instruction Technique

Article excerpt

Broad-stroke approaches to vocabulary teaching in preschool include effective instructional elements, yet may be too ill-structured to affect the vocabulary learning of children experiencing serious delays. Using a formative research approach, this study examines the design potential of a supplemental vocabulary instruction technique that incorporated research-based instructional elements into a highly structured approach. The intervention design was tested for instructional potential and delivery in 12 Early Reading First classrooms over a 3-month period, and compared to a control group of children in like classrooms on effects. Fidelity of implementation was assessed on three levels of teaching staff: coach, teacher, teacher assistant. Pre/postintervention effects were measured using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-III) and a curriculum-based decision measure. Debriefings with teaching staff were content analyzed. Results show good fidelity of implementation across roles and strong learning outcomes; children responded well to the technique and made significant gains in their vocabulary (PPVT-III) and substantive gains in receptive and expressive vocabulary on a target set of words (curriculum-based decision measure). Additionally the technique appeared relatively easy to adopt and use routinely in the preschool setting. Although limited to an Early Reading First program setting, the design shows promise as a supplemental vocabulary instruction technique.

Keywords: early childhood, early literacy, educational intervention, preschool literacy


Vocabulary is the bedrock of language and early literacy, and its size and quality have consequences for school readiness and early literacy development (National Early Literacy Panel, 2008). Nearly every early childhood program places a premium on improving children's vocabulary, although instructional techniques for achieving this goal remain loosely structured in preschool pedagogy. Three broad instructional approaches dominate, each with embedded instructional elements found to contribute to children's vocabulary development, as follows.


Language modeling and conversation during routine activities, such as circle time, book reading, snack time, and play, offer prime opportunities to support children's vocabulary development, but these practices vary widely across preschool settings (Vukelich, Christie, & Enz, 2008) and in some cases may occur only infrequently (Dickinson, McCabe, & Essex, 2006). Research shows that when teachers intentionally model language and encourage conversation during routine activities, children's language knowledge and use increases. For example, in a 9-month study involving teacher training in conversation strategies, teachers' deliberate use of language strategies (e.g., predicting, questioning, recalling, reinforcing) and contingent responses to children's questions before and during book reading significantly improved children's expressive and receptive vocabularies, as compared to a control group (Wasik, Bond, & Hindman, 2006). Asking children to retell following book reading also has been found to boost children's word learning in informational science books (Leung, 2007). Studies like these highlight two important features of extended discourse as a vocabulary instruction approach with young children: (1) the benefit of an instructional framework (e.g., before-during-after [BDA]) for organizing talk and (2) the advantage of intentional (e.g., talk strategies) over incidental teaching for increasing children's language use.


Adult-child storybook reading, the sine qua non of language "teaching" in the early years, is the most researched approach to vocabulary instruction (Bus, van IJzendoorn, & Pellegrini, 1995; Whitehurst & Lonigan, 1998). Studies show (Robbins & Ehri, 1994; Senechal, 1997) that rereading favorite storybooks alone increases the probability of children's word learning. …

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