How to teach and develop vocabulary in young children

What is vocabulary and why is it important?

Vocabulary is the knowledge of words and word meanings, is based on a clear understanding of language itself, and must be appropriate to the situation. Vocabulary acquisition is an essential component of oral language development, and also plays an important role in the early literacy stage (Hill, 2012). This is because vocabulary is central to English language teaching, and without sufficient vocabulary, students cannot understand others or express their own ideas (TESOL, 2014). The knowledge of various words and their appropriate use is imperative, as it affects student's comprehension of spoken and written language, therefore promoting the ability to read and later success in school.

Teaching Vocabulary

When it comes to teaching vocabulary, there are a number of approaches to successfully developing this vital aspect of literacy. The three-tier model (see image below), is an excellent notion developed by Beck, McKeown & Kucan (2002, as cited in Hill, 2012) that explores the categorising of words into their appropriate tier, helping to decide what words "will be useful in the texts to be read and activities or topics to be explored" (Hill, 2012, p.218). The three-tier model is also useful to teachers in selecting words depending on what the students already know, which encourages children's curiosity about words and enables them to become active learners (Hill, 2012).
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Developing Vocabulary

The process of developing vocabulary will begin with Tier 1 words, which are known, common words from their oral language. The next stages of successful and effective vocabulary pedagogy stems from:

  • Vocabulary in books read aloud
  • Vocabulary in everyday conversations
  • Vocabulary in picture talk
  • Vocabulary meanings

The list above are examples of how vocabulary can be introduced to students, and as they develop as readers, the Tier 2 words will occur more regularly. "Word definitions can be explored and used in games and activities" (Hill, 2012, p.220). The definition of words is an extremely powerful tool when learning vocabulary, as context is of the highest importance. Other classroom ideas include having a "Word of the Day" activity set in place, which is a fun and interesting means of learning more Tier 3 words.