8 Ways to Grow Your Preschoolerâ€™s Vocabulary
New words are the building blocks of language.
You donâ€™t need flash cards, technology or any special equipment to teach new vocabulary. You just need some determination and things that you already have at home.
You may be using some of these techniques already but this article will help add structure to what you are already doing.
1. Read and Re-Read your Childâ€™s Favourite Books
Introduce new topics through picture books. Put aside quiet time and read the book together, looking carefully at the new pictures and explaining any words your child is not familiar with. Model these words for your child by making up new sentences with them.
According to the Again! Project at the University of Sussex, toddlers and pre-schoolers learn more words, and at a faster rate when they re-read the same book (Horst et al 2011).
Another important approach to reading to your child is to ad-lib. Just talk about what is happening in the pictures. You donâ€™t need to read word-for-word. Point to the pictures and name them. Let your child ask questions about the story as you read, and then answer those questions. Ask them questions about the book. This approach will expose your child to a wider range of words and grammar. It is also great if the text is somewhat inappropriate for your childâ€™s age (i.e. too hard or too easy).
2. Teach New Words in a Multi-Sensory Approach and Make it Real
This approach engages as many of the five senses as possible. Connecting words to real meaning or actions rather than an abstract definition will also help the words become a part of the childâ€™s vocabulary. When children physically get in and out of a cardboard box, they will learn the spatial concepts of in and out a lot quicker than if they are simply told about them.
Example: Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Apple
Show the real object if possible to the child so he/she can use all of his/her senses to see, hear, feel, touch, taste or smell the item.
Then discuss the following:
Ã¼Â Visual: â€œWhat does it look like?â€ â€œRound, shinyâ€¦â€
Ã¼Â Parts: â€œSkin (peel), flesh, pip, coreâ€¦â€
Ã¼Â Colour: â€œRed, green, yellow, white inside, brown pipsâ€¦â€
Ã¼Â Taste: â€œFresh, sweet, bitter…â€
Ã¼Â Texture:Â â€œWhat does it feel like?â€ â€œCrisp, hard, smoothâ€
Ã¼Â Smell: â€œWhat does it smell like?â€ â€œNice smell?â€
Ã¼Â Sound: â€œDoes it make a noise?â€
Show the object a few minutes later and ask; â€œWhatâ€™s this again?â€
3. Expand, Extend and Recast
Stay on conversation topics for longer periods of time. When your child initiates a topic and shows interest, stay on that topic and really get into it. Deepen conversations so that he/she has more time to talk about the preferred subject matter or interest. Aim for multiple exchanges between you and your child (Scanlon 2015).
Example Exchange from Paul and Norbury (2012): Child says â€œbagâ€
- Expand: Add the rest of the words required to make a correct grammatical sentence – â€œThatâ€™s your bag.
- Extend: Add more information: â€œThe bag is full of toys.â€ Or: â€œThe bag is on the table.â€
- Recast: Recast the childâ€™s remark:
- Recast as a question: â€œIs that your bag on the table?â€Â
- Recast as a negative sentence: â€œThatâ€™s not your bag on the table.â€
- Recast as a negative question: â€œIsnâ€™t that your bag on the table?â€
4. Get Better at Turn-Taking in Conversation
Turn-taking is related to expanding, extending and recasting (Scanlon 2015). Avoid saying â€œyeahâ€, â€œohâ€, or â€œmmmâ€ to acknowledge your childâ€™s comments. These filler phrases add little to the conversation. Add value to your childâ€™s observations or comments by mindfully responding to what they say. If they says â€œThatâ€™s a big house.â€ You could say â€œYes, itâ€™s enormousâ€. Or, â€œYes, itâ€™s a mansion.â€ In this way youâ€™re acknowledging your childâ€™s comment, rewarding them for communicating, and adding new information, all at the same time. Repetition of the target word is key.
Example Exchange of Effective Conversational Modelling (Bowen 2011):
Child: I like his punny pace.
Adult: I like his funny face too. Itâ€™s a really funny face. A funny face. Do you know what that guy with the funny face is called?
5. Link Things to Your Childâ€™s World
Relate or associate new vocabulary words to words your child already knows (Ruston and Schwanenflugel 2010). If your child knows â€œbigâ€ (and overuses it), try using the words â€œenormousâ€ or â€œhugeâ€.
6. Have Your Child Finish Your Sentences
In this technique, the adult provides part of a sentence or phrase and the child completes it with the desired word (Scanlon 2015). If the new vocabulary word is â€œdoorâ€, you could say, â€œWeâ€™ve made our house. We put in a ________.â€ Wait expectantly for him or her to finish the sentence. If needed, you can give your child the first sound of the desired word.
7. Ask Challenging Questions
If your preschool has already is beyond the emerging language stage, itâ€™s a great time to ask more challenging questions (Ruston and Schwanenflugel 2010). Try the following:
- Predicting:â€œWhat do you think is going to happen next?â€
- Analysis:â€œWhy do you think X felt that way?â€
- Summarizing:â€œCan you tell me what happened in the story?â€
Categorizing is an essential skill for many young children. Teaching children to categorize things expands not only their vocabulary, but also their ability to organize their world.Â Itâ€™s also important groundwork for processing and remembering new information.
Here are some ideas for teaching categorizing:
Teaching categorizing while unloading the shoppingâ€¦
- Hold two items from the shopping (one food item, one non-food item) in each hand and ask questions to allow your child to distinguish between the two (e.g. â€œWhich one can you eat?â€ â€œWhich one can you wear?â€)
- Hold two items from the shopping that are visually different (e.g. colours, sizes) and ask questions to allow your child to distinguish between the two (e.g. â€œWhich one is big?â€ â€œWhich one is yellow?â€)
- When your child gets the hang of this, put several items representing groups on a table (e.g. things you eat, things you wear) and ask them to sort things â€œinto the ones that go togetherâ€. Ask them why they go together.
- When your child gets really good at categorizing, try putting a non-food item in a bag of food items and ask questions to help your child to pick it out (â€œWhich oneâ€™s not the same? Which one is different?â€)
Teaching categorizing with toysâ€¦
- Put some toys representing groups on a table (e.g. farm animals, zoo animals, clothes, vehicles). Ask the child to sort them into their various categories (â€œinto the ones that go togetherâ€). Then ask the child about why they go together.
Bowen, C. (2011). Modelling and Recasting. Available at: http://speech-language-therapy.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=71:modelling&catid=11:admin&Itemid=117 [Accessed 4 June 2015].
Horst J. S., Parsons K. L., Bryan N. M. (2011) â€˜Get the story straight: contextual repetition promotes word learning from storybooksâ€™, Frontiers in Psychology, 2 (17), pp. 1-11.
Paul, R. and Norbury, C. (2012) Language disorders from infancy through adolescence: Listening, speaking, reading, writing, and communicating. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Health Sciences.
Ruston, H.P. and Schwanenflugel, P.J. (2010) â€˜Effects of a conversation intervention on the expressive vocabulary development of prekindergarten childrenâ€™, Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 41, pp. 303-313.
Scanlon, K.O. (2015) 7 Ways to Improve Your Preschoolerâ€™s Vocabulary through Conversation. Available at: http://www.scanlonspeech.com/2013/06/24/7-ways-to-improve-your-preschoolers-vocabulary-through-conversation/ [Accessed 5 June 2015].
If you have any questions about any of the above, please donâ€™t hesitate to contact us.