Skip to:

More Effective, Less Expensive, Still Controversial: Maximizing Vocabulary Growth In Early Childhood


I also understand the connection with students who are read to before they enter preschool in kindergarten. I work with students in kindergarten and first grade who have different learning disabilities, but are still in the general ed classroom for the majority of their days. Many of these students come to school not even knowing their letter sounds, but will be able to answer questions about books that have been read to them. This shows me that these students have a disability with learning how to read, but that they have been read to and have had discussions about books that have been read. When students come to me not knowing how to read and also not able to answer even basic questions about a text, I know that this has not been worked on with them prior to coming to school. An article that I read recently talks about the concept of pre-teaching and activating background knowledge about a topic. This would be an excellent time for a teacher to also introduce new vocabulary to students so that they are better able to understand the text when they come across these new words. Teaching students new vocabulary can be done through all books that they read. It is important to find books that are not too easy for the student but also not too difficult. Doing this will allow them to use context clues to help figure out the meanings of words.

Your post expresses the idea of maximizing vocabulary growth in children at an early age. Emphasizing vocabulary growth at an early age will prepare a child to learn to read and write. As shared in your post, a child who is engaged daily in conversation and listens to stories read aloud will be prepared to read and write. I often think about the child who struggles to read, because there may be no one at home capable of helping the child with reading. There are parents or guardians who would like to help their children learn how to read and write; however, some of these adults cannot read or write; therefore, they cannot help their children practice reading and writing. I disagree to the idea that children who grew up in lower-income families tend to hear more negative comments compared to children in higher-income families. I have met children who come from lower-income families who grew up to be successful and productive adults. Some of these individuals grew up in lower-income families, but had a family, relatives and friends that spoke positive words of encouragement in their lives. The fact they grew up in an environment hearing positive thoughts encouraged them to grow up to be successful and productive adults who had strong academic achievement in high school and beyond graduation. Also, some of these individuals had a family, relatives and friends that help them to read and write despite their economic status. I do agree to the idea that children with limited school language are often mistaken for children who have a limited capacity to learn. Many of these children just need someone to encourage them to learn and many need more opportunities to learn school language. Overall, I do agree that children who have limited experiences of maximizing their vocabulary at an early age may have a harder time learning to read and write. While children who have had opportunities to maximize their vocabulary growth at an early age, despite economic status, are prepared for learning to read and write.

I agree that vocabulary and knowledge in early childhood are strong predictors of achievement in high school. I also agree that the more you know, the easier it is to learn. I feel that learners who are able to link several pieces of knowledge together form a better understanding of the topic and are able to store the knowledge in their long term memory banks instead of short term memory. Of course this all falls back upon the “word gap” that begins in early childhood. When children reach Kindergarten without a strong vocabulary and are considered two years behind, they are already starting school behind their peers and will have to work hard to catch up. It must be extremely frustrating for a 6 year old to begin school already feeling as if they are “not as smart” as the other students. This word gap can be prevented by engagement of conversations, questions answered, and being read to on a daily basis. As you sated in the article, parents know a lot more words than they choose to use when conversing with their children. Parents need to be made aware that it is OK to use “higher level” words with their children and explain the meanings to build vocabularies.

Lisa - great post! I agree even with your 'disagreements'. However, I am never satisfied - now that it's nearly 2014 - to read any article about language development, early literacy issues or the word gap with no mention of children who come from home languages other than English. The critical points you make here should be understood and implemented with the knowledge that they must happen in the home languages of the children. For children to deeply learn 'school language' they MUST have support for content and concepts to back up that language. When children are growing up with a non-English language, they need to learn new content in connection with what they already know and that is in their home language. That's why supporting the home language properly and using intentional strategies to bridge between home language and English in the early years will lead to stronger English "school language" later on. Who needs to know this? Blog writers, national speakers, authors, policy makers, initiative builders, cheerleaders, parents and educators. So - I don't feel like we're doing our job if we don't at least mention it in every article or speech about language development. Here's one summary of the latest research on this topic by Dr. Linda Espinosa:

I really appreciated this post. As a teacher of preschool and kindergarten students with special needs, I see firsthand how broad the gap is between those children who are read to and conversed with, and those who are not. Reading about your vision for an education system that doesn’t let children down is inspiring, though maybe slightly depressing when thinking about how far we have to go. I agree that the best strategy for lessening the gap between students is to intervene younger for those children who need it. In this age when kindergarten is getting harder and harder, maybe mandatory pre-k and more widespread preschool programs for younger poverty-stricken children would help to alleviate the gap. Your explanation of the word gap as actually being a concept and knowledge gap is helpful to me as a teacher. I feel the push in my classroom to work on the paper and pencil skills- getting children ready for an elementary career full of worksheets and eventually, standardized tests. However, if I am to bridge the gap and teach my students concepts, I need the time and freedom to expose them to new concepts in hands-on ways. At times, I feel pulled in a couple thousand directions at one time! Having greater parental understanding of ways to eliminate the knowledge gap, and potentially more widespread early intervention programs for younger children, could help reduce this tension for kindergarten teachers such as myself.


This web site and the information contained herein are provided as a service to those who are interested in the work of the Albert Shanker Institute (ASI). ASI makes no warranties, either express or implied, concerning the information contained on or linked from The visitor uses the information provided herein at his/her own risk. ASI, its officers, board members, agents, and employees specifically disclaim any and all liability from damages which may result from the utilization of the information provided herein. The content in the Shanker Blog may not necessarily reflect the views or official policy positions of ASI or any related entity or organization.