Building Vocabulary by Reading Aloud
Vocabulary consists of the words we must know in order to communicate effectively. Oral vocabulary refers to words that we use in speaking or recognize in listening. Reading vocabulary refers to words we recognize or use in print (Armbruster, Lehr, & Osborn, 2003, p. 31).
There is wide agreement that early exposure to literacy through reading aloud has a positive impact on developmental outcomes for children (Manning, 2005; Wood, 2002). Reading aloud to young children increases their literacy behaviors and develops more positive attitudes toward reading (Gregory & Morrison, 1998; Neuman & Roskos, 1994, 1998). Reading aloud also helps children learn about the following:
- Books—How to hold them. How to turn the pages one at a time. How books have words and pictures to help tell the story.
- Print—There is a difference between words and pictures. You read words and look at pictures.
- Words—Every word has a meaning. There are always new words to learn.
- Book language—Sometimes book language sounds different from everyday conversation.
- The world—There are objects, places, events, and situations that they have not heard about before (Armbruster et al., 2003, p. 18).
When the English vocabulary used in the home is very limited, children's receptive and expressive vocabulary is likewise restricted (Naude, Pretorius, & Viljoen, 2003). In order for children to become fluent readers and writers, they need to have an active vocabulary that supports their understanding of the words they encounter. Picture books provide visual as well as verbal information, making them a particularly useful tool for expanding vocabulary for English language learners (Hadaway, Vardell, & Young, 2002; Hickman, Pollard-Durodola, & Vaughn, 2004). Children with limited vocabularies are much more likely to experience difficulties in learning to read and write.
One way of building vocabulary in a meaningful context is reading aloud. Justice, Meier, and Walpole (2005) found that kindergarteners who had been identified as at risk of academic difficulty were able to learn vocabulary effectively while sharing books. Moreover, the most effective way of accelerating vocabulary was for the adult to elaborate on the words in the story. In fact, the children with the lowest vocabulary made the greatest gains when the adult talked about the new words the children encountered in the book. Using books may be particularly effective.
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