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Supporting Young Children’s Vocabulary Growth: The Challenges, the Benefits, and Evidence-Based Strategies

Abstract

The complexity of words makes vocabulary development a multi-faceted process that presents challenges to early childhood educators, offers benefits to young learners, and must be supported through evidence-based strategies. All students, regardless of socio-economic status or background, need to make significant gains in receptive and expressive vocabulary at home and at school each year in order to support their growth in literacy. Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and those students who speak English as a second language are particularly at risk of failing to make proficient vocabulary gains. The most effective way for early childhood educators to enhance the vocabulary development of all students is to implement evidence-based strategies for teaching vocabulary. A key finding in the research is that young children need to be actively engaged in vocabulary development if they are to remember new words and begin to grasp the multiple, nuanced meanings of words. Other effective vocabulary instruction practices include meaningful repetition; combining the enactive, iconic, and symbolic modes; and reading aloud in a dialogic style. In light of the trend in the research data that links the child’s vocabulary level to gains in reading comprehension, early childhood educators have a special obligation to teach vocabulary more effectively.

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Correspondence to Michelle J. Sobolak.

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Jalongo, M.R., Sobolak, M.J. Supporting Young Children’s Vocabulary Growth: The Challenges, the Benefits, and Evidence-Based Strategies. Early Childhood Educ J 38, 421–429 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-010-0433-x

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Keywords

  • Vocabulary
  • Vocabulary instruction
  • Receptive vocabulary
  • Expressive vocabulary
  • Early literacy
  • Research-based strategies
  • Diverse learners