Tips for Using High-Quality Talk to Build Student Vocabulary

Quantity or Quality?

In the article Talk Alone Won't Close the 30-Million Word Gap, the authors discuss "groundbreaking" research on 42 families of varied socioeconomic backgrounds. The research found that by age 3, children of low socioeconomic status had heard only half as many words as children from middle-class families and only one-third as many words as those from high-income families - a difference of around 30 million words over 3 years! The children of lower socioeconomic status also used fewer words and engaged in shorter conversations.

What did this mean for school success? By 3rd grade, these students performed the lowest on different vocabulary, language development, and reading comprehension measures.

The authors present research-based tips for closing the word gap that "fuels" the achievement gap, and highly emphasized that the quantity of language matters, but aspects of quality of that talk matter as well in improving children's word learning?

Here are a few of those tips:

  1. To learn new words, children need repeated exposures to them– sometimes as many as 200 exposures.
  2. Children benefit from connecting a word’s meaning to their own background knowledge and experience.

  3. New words need to be presented in context, rather than in isolation.

  4. Children benefit from using new words themselves and receiving specific feedback from adults on both their understanding and pronunciation.

  5. Children need to engage in high-quality, open-ended conversations with adults.

Wasik, B. A., & Hindman, A. H. (2015, March). Talk alone won’t close the 30-million word gap. Phi Delta Kappan, 96 (6), 50-54.


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Check out the video to see how an elementary school teacher uses TALK on a daily basis to build her students' vocabulary!


In this text - Academic Conversations - you'll find suggestions on how to use TALK to build students' vocabulary, critical thinking skills, and more!
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Created by:

Veronica Blunt