The Magic of Words

Teaching Vocabulary in the Early Childhood Classroom

It seems almost intuitive that developing a large and rich vocabulary is central to learning to read. Logically, children must know the words that make up written texts in order to understand them, especially as the vocabulary demands of content-related materials increase in the upper grades. Numerous studies have documented that the size of a person's vocabulary is strongly related to how well that person understands what he or she reads, not only in the primary grades, but in high school as well.1

Yet here's the practical problem. Right from the beginning of schooling, there are profound differences in vocabulary knowledge among young learners from different socioeconomic groups. Just consider the following statistics: by age 4, a child's interaction with his or her family has already produced significant vocabulary differences across socioeconomic lines, differences so dramatic that they represent a 30 million word "catastrophe" (i.e., children from high-income families experience, on average, 30 million more words than children from low-income families).* Recent analyses indicate that environmental factors associated with vocabulary development and emergent literacy skills are already present among children as early as 15 months of age.2 By first grade, unfortunately, the repercussions become all too clear: children from high-income families are likely to know about twice as many words as children from low-income families, putting these children at a significantly higher risk for school failure.3

Even more disturbing, however, is that these statistics are often treated as inevitable, more or less a byproduct of poverty or low-income status. Think of the consequences! This would mean that these children could be designated as reading failures before they ever enter through the schoolhouse doors.

Luckily, there is now a rich and accumulated new knowledge base that suggests a far different scenario. Consider these points:

  • The highest rate of vocabulary development occurs during the preschool years; therefore, it represents a crucial time when we can intervene.4
  • Effective vocabulary intervention can ameliorate reading difficulties later on. Children with resolved vocabulary delays can go on to achieve grade-level expectations in fourth grade and beyond.5
  • The quantity, quality, and responsiveness of teacher and parent talk can effectively mediate socioeconomic status, thereby ensuring children's growth in receptive and expressive vocabulary.6
  • Gains in oral vocabulary development can predict growth in comprehension and later reading performance.7

This means that, in contrast to dire prognostications, there is much we can do to enable children to read and read well. Although we certainly have more to learn, the good news is that we now have an accumulated body of evidence on the characteristics of effective vocabulary instruction. And it turns out that this news couldn't come at a better time.

Oral Vocabulary Development and the Common Core State Standards

You might say that we are entering into a new age of educational reform: the age of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In the distant past, education was a local issue; districts acted on their own to adopt instructional guidelines and curriculum. In recent years, however, education has increasingly become more of a state and even a federal concern. The No Child Left Behind Act, the Bush administration's reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, increased the role of states in enacting standards, assessments, and accountability. In 2010, state governments took their turn, becoming more proactive in educational reform. The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, working with the organization Achieve, set out to develop world-class standards that would essentially create a shared vision of what all students should know and be able to do in all grades, kindergarten through high school.

The reason that this is relevant for those in early education on up is that 46 states and the District of Columbia have adopted these Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics. The standards don't define how teachers should teach, but they do tell them what students need to know and be able to do. Further, starting in 2014–2015, state tests will be geared toward measuring whether or not students are achieving these standards. In essence, education is moving toward a more unitary system with a shared vision of expectations for student learning.

These CCSS represent a sea change in how we think about early literacy and reading, in particular, even before children enter kindergarten and throughout the early grades. Here, in a nutshell, are some of the design features:

  • A cumulative model of expectations: It used to be called "spiraling," but the principle is the same. From grade to grade, similar standards will increase in complexity. For example, in kindergarten, children will be expected to "ask and answer questions about key details in a text, with prompting and support." Grade 1 has the same exact standard, although the children will now be required to do it on their own.
  • Informational texts: Right from the start, the standards place greater emphasis on listening to and eventually reading informational books. In this respect, the standards focus on the integration of knowledge and ideas through text. Further, there is the expectation that children will be able to cross traditional genre boundaries and compare and contrast text features; for example, children might listen to an informational book about insects one day and a story about insects the next day, and then be asked about the connections between the two. Children will be expected to learn about key subject areas, particularly science and history, through texts.
    Certainly, this does not mean that we are going to abandon the children's literature or stories that we all have come to know and love. Rather, it simply means a greater balance between literary storybooks and informational texts.
  • Challenging materials: There is greater emphasis on stretching students to meet the demands of reading harder text than before. In the past, we used to try to meet children's needs by selecting reading materials according to their instructional level; in some cases, when they have difficulty comprehending text, we'll even choose an easier text and have them gradually build up speed for more challenging materials. The CCSS use a very different model: children are required to read grade-level text. A teacher's job will be to help them learn through these more challenging texts without telling them what the texts say. For example, a teacher might focus on the organizational features of the text, the headings and subheadings, or the use of the glossary to unlock the meaning of words in context.
  • An integrated model of literacy: Although the standards are divided into reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language, there is an expectation that all of these skills work together. Even kindergartners are expected to engage in rich conversations that place a greater emphasis on their abilities to build arguments from evidence in the text, whether it is read to them or they read it themselves.
  • An integrated media environment: There is a greater recognition that today's "texts" don't come through only one medium—print. As all of us know, a high volume of information comes through print and nonprint media forms, both old and new. The CCSS encourage teachers to make use of multimedia, as it's embedded into every aspect of today's curriculum. Children will need to be able to gather, comprehend, evaluate, and synthesize information and ideas through different forms of media.

In short, these standards focus on results rather than on means. They establish clear goals and expectations that are designed to help children succeed in a world in which the development of information capital is increasingly important. And whether they are ultimately successful in achieving these lofty goals depends on teachers and how well they are supported in implementing these new standards in the classroom.

So how do the CCSS relate to oral vocabulary development? And, for those who work with preschoolers or even younger children, how do K–12 standards affect what they teach? Here's why teachers need to be informed about these standards: it is impossible for children to read, and to understand what they read, without a strong foundation in oral vocabulary development. Without vocabulary knowledge, words are just words—without much meaning. If we are to help children take on seriously challenging texts, then we need to give them word and world knowledge to bring to these texts. Given that most oral vocabulary development grows from a massive immersion in the world of language, there is not a moment to waste.

The purpose of this article is to explain our rationale for content-rich oral vocabulary instruction in the age of the CCSS, and how to effectively build children's vocabulary. But first, we dispel some of the common myths about oral vocabulary development, which have often led to a lack of attention for this important topic in school instruction. We then move to a set of instructional principles that should guide teachers' work.

Common Myths

Like many myths, these notions may contain some partial truths, almost like folk wisdom. For example, some authorities once claimed that learning was based on the "neural ripening" of the brain; applied to reading, this reflected a philosophy of "wait and see" until the child appeared "ready" for instruction. Research and writings in the 1950s and 1960s by cognitive psychologists provided powerful evidence that early childhood was crucial in the cognitive development of an individual.8 This conclusion led to designing new opportunities to engage children in early learning.

Similarly, a number of myths have been perpetuated about oral vocabulary development, and in many ways they have stymied efforts to promote quality teaching early on. Recent evidence has called into question these notions, and it suggests that we not only can improve children's vocabulary—we can accelerate it with instruction. These new findings have powerful implications for further reading development and content learning.

Myth 1: Children Are Word Sponges
Children seem to pick up words prodigiously and quite effortlessly. It looks natural. In one classic study, for example, researchers taught preschoolers a new color word simply by requesting, "You see those trays over there? Bring me the chromium tray. Not the red one, the chromium one."9 When their memory for the new word was assessed one week later, the majority of children (63 percent) were able to correctly identify which color was chromium. Since this experiment, the term fast mapping—the notion that words can be learned based on a single exposure—has become common parlance to explain the extraordinary rate at which children seem to pick up words early on.

Today, however, there is ample evidence to suggest that children do not learn words through fast mapping.10 Rather, they learn words by predicting relationships between objects and sounds, which become more accurate over time. Word learning is incremental.11 Evidence for this comes from children's struggles to understand color words. Although infants can distinguish between basic color categories, it is not until about age 4 that they can accurately apply these individual color terms.12 Typically, words such as red or yellow may appear in their vocabulary; however, their application of these words to their referents may be haphazard and interchangeable.

Children, then, may have knowledge of these words, but this knowledge will be far from complete. Rather, word learning in most cases requires many exposures over an extended period of time.13 With each additional exposure, the word may become incrementally closer to being fully learned.

Myth 2: There Is a Vocabulary Explosion
It is often said that word learning starts rather slowly, then at about 16 months or when a child learns about 50 words, all of a sudden things begin to happen.14 Word learning begins in earnest. Variously called the "vocabulary explosion" or "word spurt," it reflects the apparent dramatic ability of young children to acquire new words—on the scale of learning 10 or more new objects and names within a two- or three-week period. This notion of a vocabulary explosion may suggest that the optimal time for oral vocabulary development is in these toddler years.

Recent evidence, however, suggests that the "spurt" in word learning does not correspond to any change in the rate of word learning, but to a change in the rate of children's integrating new vocabulary.15 In other words, it suggests that the vocabulary explosion is a byproduct of the variation in the time it takes to learn to actually use words. Although children are accumulating words at a constant rate, the written and verbal use of the words accelerates. We see, for example, a similar pattern with receptive and expressive language, with children demonstrating far greater capacity to understand meaning before they are able to effectively express ideas in words.
The course of word learning, therefore, has little to do with vocabulary explosions, bursts, or spurts. To the contrary, word learning is cumulative.16 The high-performing student who knows many thousands of words has learned them not by having received a jolt of oral language early on, but by accruing bits of word knowledge for each of the thousands of words encountered every day. By the end of high school, one estimate is that college-ready students will need to acquire about 80,000 words.17 This means that we should immerse students for extended periods in oral and written vocabulary experiences throughout their instructional years.

Myth 3: Storybook Reading Is Sufficient for Oral Vocabulary Development
Reading books aloud to children is a powerful and motivating source for vocabulary development.18 We now have a large corpus of research showing that children learn words through listening to and interacting with storybooks. Nevertheless, recent studies have begun to question whether incidental instruction through book reading may be substantial enough to significantly boost children's oral vocabulary development.19 Several meta-analyses, for example, have reported only small to moderate effects of book reading on vocabulary development.20 One group of researchers examined the added benefits of dialogic reading, an interactive reading strategy, on children's vocabulary growth and reported only modest gains for 2- to 3-year-olds.21 Further, these effects were reduced to negligible levels when children were 4 to 5 years old or when they were at risk for language and literacy impairments.

This means that exposure to words through storybooks is not likely to be potent enough to narrow the substantial gap for children who may be at risk for reading difficulties. Rather, to improve children's oral vocabulary development, teachers will need to augment the read-aloud experience with more intentional strategies that require children to process words at deeper levels of understanding.

Myth 4: We Do It All the Time
Most teachers try to consciously engage children in active experiences that involve lots of conversation throughout the day. In the course of a science activity, for example, a teacher may explain a word to help children understand the context. She might pause during the lesson and say, "That's the predator. That means he wants to eat the frog," providing a brief explanation that fits the context of the story. Or during a classroom discussion, a teacher might use the word celebrate when describing a birthday activity and then explain, "Celebrate means to do something fun." These events represent important teachable moments—informal opportunities to engage in word learning, somewhat parallel to the types of language exchanges between parents and their children.

However, over the course of the 20,000 hours parents and children spend together in the home before entering school, vocabulary words are likely to be repeated frequently. The problem is, teachers do not have that luxury. In our study of 55 kindergarten classrooms, for example, we found that although teachers provided more than eight of these word explanations per day, they were rarely, if ever, repeated more than once.22 Further, words selected for teachable moments were different across classroom settings. Far too predictably, our study reported that children who attended schools in the most severely low-income neighborhoods were likely to hear far fewer explanations, with those explanations offered at lower difficulty levels, than children in middle- and upper-income areas.

With the implementation of the CCSS, children will be expected to understand content-related words in science and history. This means that we cannot rely on teachable moments alone to help children develop word meanings. Rather, we will need to be proactive in selecting words that have greater application to academic texts with increasingly complex concepts.

Myth 5: Just Follow the Vocabulary Scope and Sequence in a Core Reading Program
Several years ago, researchers examined the prevalence of oral vocabulary instruction in core reading programs at the pre-K level.23 We found a dearth of instructional guidance for teachers, despite some "mentioning" of words. Since then, we have turned our attention to kindergarten and first-grade materials, focusing on the four most commonly used core curricula, to examine the breadth and depth of oral vocabulary instruction—the pedagogical features of instruction and how these features might align with research-based evidence on vocabulary development.

Despite greater attention to words in elementary curricula, our results indicated tremendous disparity across curricula.24 For example, one curriculum listed an average of 20 target vocabulary words per week to be taught, whereas another listed, on average, only two. Further, the criteria used to select words to teach remained a mystery. In one curriculum, words were selected based on the weekly stories. In other curricula, we could find no organizing principle for the selection of words at all. Finally, using three different criteria, we found that many of the vocabulary words selected for instruction were far too easy to warrant school-based instruction.

This means that until such materials are developed, teachers are going to have to rely on a set of research-based principles to ensure that all students receive the quality of oral vocabulary instruction they need. In the age of the CCSS, students will need a specialized language—some describe it as academic language—to convey their ideas, which will facilitate the development of more complex concepts in multiple disciplines. And our efforts to enhance the ability of all children to communicate in academic language and academic thinking through oral vocabulary development must begin early.

Principles of Effective Oral Vocabulary Instruction

Although there is certainly more to learn, we now have a growing research consensus about the characteristics of effective vocabulary instruction. Using evidence from our two recent meta-analyses synthesizing research from 75 vocabulary studies,25 as well as our own studies examining some of the mechanisms for word learning,26 five principles emerge to enhance oral vocabulary development, as described below.

Principle 1: Children Need Both Explicit and Implicit Instruction
Children benefit from explicit instruction. That is, children who are given child-friendly definitions of words or other attributes of the words to be learned are more likely to remember them. Prior to the beginning of a story, for example, a teacher might begin by introducing several words that are integral to the story. The teacher might encourage children to listen for each of the "magic words" during the story reading and to raise their hands whenever they hear one.27 Then the teacher might say to students, "Oh, good. Some of you raised your hands! What word did you hear? Yes, the word peculiar. When Anansi said the word seven, a peculiar thing happened. Peculiar means strange or different."

Our syntheses of research reported that vocabulary gains were significantly higher when words were identified explicitly rather than implicitly (e.g., learning words by listening to a story). However, here's something to keep in mind: the largest gains were made when teachers provided both explicit and implicit instruction. One study, for example, found that engaging children in acting out words after explicitly defining them enhanced word learning as measured by standardized assessments later on.28 In other words, when teachers made children aware of the meaning of the words and then engaged them in using those words in a meaningful context, children achieved greater gains than from explicit instruction alone.

Principle 2: Be Intentional in Word Selection
Given that there are only so many words we can teach—for example, one estimate is a total of about 400 words in a year—we must carefully select the words that we plan to teach. Some have argued that words for vocabulary instruction should be selected from high-utility sophisticated words (known as Tier 2 words) that are characteristic of written language.29 For example, instead of using the words keep going, you can use a Tier 2 word such as maintain; instead of the word lucky, you might use the word fortunate. These words are domain general and are likely to relate to more refined labels for concepts that may enhance children's verbal functioning. Studies of "Text Talk," a strategy used to engage children in rich language instruction, have shown impressive results with kindergarten and first-grade children, demonstrating vocabulary gains about twice as large as those resulting from read-aloud studies.30 Given this research-based evidence, the CCSS have adopted this heuristic for selecting words to teach.

However, our research suggests that it's also important to consider content-related words very early on. These are words that will be critical for developing knowledge in key subject areas. For example, vocabulary related to living things, such as habitat, organism, and protection, can help children talk about and learn about key science-related concepts; moreover, science vocabulary words such as compare, contrast, observe, and predict are fundamental inquiry words used not only in science but in all subject areas. In our research, we found that Head Start preschoolers are highly capable of learning and retaining these and similar words over time. Introducing students to content-related vocabulary, therefore, helps them to build word knowledge and concepts essential for developing knowledge systematically from texts.

Principle 3: Build Word Meaning through Knowledge Networks
It's fair to say that words represent the tip of the iceberg; underlying them is a set of emerging interconnections and concepts that these words represent. It is the rich network of concepts and facts accompanying these words that drives children's comprehension.31 Thus, helping children to learn about words in clusters that represent knowledge networks has been shown to strongly support children's inferential reasoning and comprehension. For example, if you know the word oar, you probably also know something about rowboats and paddling. Teaching words in categories, such as "healthy foods" (e.g., fruit, vegetable, protein), also aids in the retention of these words.

Recent evidence for the support of teaching words in knowledge networks comes from two large-scale studies of vocabulary interventions for low-income preschoolers. One study, for example, used a number of useful strategies to help children share semantic similarities between words.32 Strategies such as encouraging children to look at two picture cards with words on them and make inferences about how these words work together helped them make comparisons of concepts. In our World of Words curriculum, we teach words related to a semantic category. For example, children learn words associated with "parts of the body," such as abdomen, lungs, heart, and brain, while focusing on the common features of the category (e.g., "parts of the body" means these are attached to the body).33 We then engage children in playful activities called "time for a challenge" and ask them questions such as, "Are eyeglasses part of the body?" or "Is hair part of the body?" (Some children argue that hair is not part of the body because their daddies are bald!)

We found that clustering words within categories facilitated children's comprehension and provided promising evidence of accelerating word learning. For example, we showed a picture of a word not taught—in this case, ankle—and asked, "Is an ankle a part of the body?" Children who received instruction reported, "Yes, because it helps you walk," whereas a comparison child not receiving instruction just said, "Yes, 'cause." Similarly, children who received our vocabulary curriculum were able to apply their categorical information to new words, suggesting that they were using the semantic information about categories to make inferences and generalizations. Finally, helping children understand how words build knowledge networks facilitates our ability to make teaching them more meaningful. This represents a far cry from our analysis of vocabulary in core curricula in which a teacher might be guided to teach the words platypus and around on the same day.34 Rather, children learn best when words are presented in integrated contexts that make sense to them. A set of words connected to a category such as "energy" can help children remember not only the words themselves but the linkages in meaning between them.

Principle 4: Children Need Repeated Exposure to Gain Vocabulary
Children are most likely to learn the words they hear the most. Findings from a large number of correlational studies on language have shown that frequency of exposure strongly predicts word learning and seems to have long-range consequences for later language and reading levels.35 Although this finding is often mentioned in the literature, what is new is that we may have underestimated the frequency required to learn words. For example, in attempting to better understand how many repetitions might be needed to learn a novel word, researchers studied 60 4-year-olds during a word-learning task.36 First, the researchers identified a pseudo-word (e.g., toma) for the children, and then they engaged in playing a game involving the word, followed by a brief assessment. For each word, 12 children heard the new word repeated three times; another 12 children heard the word repeated six times; and so forth, for nine, 18, and 24 repetitions. Only 20 percent of the children who heard a new word three times remembered it; in fact, it wasn't until after 24 repetitions that the majority of children (80 percent) successfully remembered the word.

The point, of course, is not that all words need 24 repetitions. However, this research does suggest that children need many more encounters with new words than we may have previously suspected. Strategies such as repeated reading have been shown to be effective in helping children acquire new words. In addition, children may benefit from rich explanations of newly encountered words. Rich explanations often include as much information as possible about the new word, including information conveyed through defining, providing synonyms, pointing to illustrations, and using the words in other contexts. These explanations can also give teachers further opportunities to repeat new words, thereby providing children with additional exposures. Another way to build repetition actually goes back to our previous point of teaching knowledge networks. Categories and semantic clusters provide a built-in mechanism for repeating words in meaningful contexts.

At the same time, it is also important for teachers to expose children to additional contexts in which the word might be used. Two researchers, in their work with second language learners, suggest that multimedia can be highly effective for enhancing the meanings of words.37 Their research showed that multimedia-enhanced instruction significantly narrowed the gap between English language learners and non-ELL children in knowledge of targeted words. They found that video could help children learn by representing words in more than one media format, clarifying the instructional dialogue and adding more information to make sense of words that they are learning. Our research, as well, has shown that the addition of dynamic visuals and sounds in video accompanied by informational books provides children with multiple strategies for acquiring word knowledge. Together, this research highlights that frequency of exposure in a variety of meaningful contexts over an extended period of time enhances word learning. Further, children may continue to benefit from additional exposures to a word and its meaning even if they appear to already understand the word.

Principle 5: Ongoing Professional Development Is Essential
The results of our meta-analyses suggest that children's oral vocabulary development is highly malleable and can be significantly improved through intervention. However, these analyses also showed that teachers who have not received adequate preparation and teachers with limited educational backgrounds were not as effective in helping children make significant gains in vocabulary. Similar findings have been reported in other meta-analyses.38 This research highlights the importance of ongoing professional development for teachers and other school staff who regularly work with children who might need additional instruction.

*  *  *

Very recently, we have drawn from our work with young children the notion of an instructional regime as part of a teacher's ongoing work in the classroom. This pattern of instruction involves several key steps:

  • Identifying words that need to be taught;
  • Defining these words in a child-friendly way;
  • Contextualizing words into varied and meaningful formats;
  • Reviewing words to ensure sustainability over time; and
  • Monitoring children's progress and reteaching if necessary.

This instructional regime, applied at any grade level, promotes greater attention to the depth of processing words and their meanings, and can provide a critical road map for the future planning of instruction.

Taken collectively, the five principles of oral vocabulary development, in effect, highlight an approach that is designed to help children unlock the complexities of texts that we see throughout the CCSS. Given that these standards place greater emphasis on students' abilities to build arguments from evidence in texts, these instructional principles will give them the tools to engage in academically enriching conversations that can be fulfilling and highly rewarding.

Common myths are often based on some partial truths that have since been debunked or at least shown to have serious flaws in their logic. This is the case with oral vocabulary development. In the past, we have often described young children as "word wizards," "word sponges," "lexical vacuum cleaners"—all denoting the supposedly easy process of vocabulary development. Too often, it has been assumed that word learning is natural and that the conditions in classrooms provide spontaneous opportunities for vocabulary development.

Teachable moments are important; however, they will not be sufficient for students to engage in complex texts. Rather, we will have to be much more strategic about word learning than our previous standards or instructional guidelines have acknowledged. Recent evidence indicates that children need planned, sequenced, and systematic vocabulary instruction. This means selecting words, concepts, and ideas that matter most to children right from the very beginning of schooling. Many children from high-poverty circumstances will have had fewer experiences with the academic language that the standards require. Children who enter school in these situations will need skillfully developed instruction that not only improves their word knowledge and concepts, but actually accelerates their vocabulary development, maximizing the limited time they have in school.

Susan B. Neuman is a professor and chair of the Teaching and Learning department at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University. Previously, she was a professor of educational studies at the University of Michigan, where she directed the Ready to Learn Project. She has authored numerous books on early childhood, including Giving Our Children a Fighting Chance: Poverty, Literacy, and the Development of Information Capital. Tanya S. Wright is an assistant professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University. This article is adapted, with permission of Teachers College Press, from Susan B. Neuman and Tanya S. Wright, All About Words: Increasing Vocabulary in the Common Core Classroom, PreK–2. New York: Teachers College Press. Copyright 2013 by Teachers College, Columbia University. All rights reserved.

*For more on this vocabulary gap, see "The Early Catastrophe" in the Spring 2003 issue of American Educator. (back to the article)

For more on how the Common Core State Standards will transform English language arts instruction, see "Letting the Text Take Center Stage" in the Fall 2013 issue of American Educator. (back to the article)

For more on why teachers need proper training and support to implement the Common Core State Standards, and why these standards should be delinked from high-stakes testing, see "Common Core: Do What It Takes Before High Stakes," by Randi Weingarten. (back to the article)


1. See, for example, Isabel L. Beck and Margaret G. McKeown, "Increasing Young Low-Income Children's Oral Vocabulary Repertoires through Rich and Focused Instruction," Elementary School Journal 107 (2007): 251–271; and Keith E. Stanovich and Anne E. Cunningham, "Studying the Consequences of Literacy within a Literate Society: The Cognitive Correlates of Print Exposure," Memory & Cognition 20 (1992): 51–68.

2. Eileen T. Rodriguez and Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda, "Trajectories of the Home Learning Environment across the First 5 Years: Associations with Children's Vocabulary and Literacy Skills at Prekindergarten," Child Development 82 (2011): 1058–1075.

3. Michael F. Graves, The Vocabulary Book: Teaching and Instruction (New York: Teachers College Press, 2006).

4. George Farkas and Kurt Beron, "The Detailed Age Trajectory of Oral Vocabulary Knowledge: Differences by Class and Race," Social Science Research 33 (2004): 464–497.

5. Dorothy V. M. Bishop and Catherine Adams, "A Prospective Study of the Relationship between Specific Language Impairment, Phonological Disorders and Reading Retardation," Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 31 (1990): 1027–1050.

6. Suzanne E. Mol and Susan B. Neuman, "Sharing Information Books with Kindergartners: The Role of Parents' Extra-textual Talk and Socioeconomic Status," Early Childhood Research Quarterly (forthcoming), published electronically April 30, 2014, doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2014.04.001.

7. Amy M. Elleman, Endia J. Lindo, Paul Morphy, and Donald L. Compton, "The Impact of Vocabulary Instruction on Passage-Level Comprehension of School-Age Children: A Meta-Analysis," Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness 2 (2009): 1–44.

8. Jerome S. Bruner, Rose Olver, and Patricia Greenfield, Studies in Cognitive Growth (New York: Wiley, 1966).

9. Susan Carey and Elsa Bartlett, "Acquiring a Single New Word," Papers and Reports on Child Language Development 15 (1978): 17–29.

10. Paul Bloom, How Children Learn the Meanings of Words (Cambirdge, MA: MIT Press, 2000).

11. William E. Nagy, Richard C. Anderson, and Patricia A. Herman, "Learning Word Meanings from Context during Normal Reading," American Educational Research Journal 24 (1987): 237–270.

12. Mabel Rice, Cognition to Language: Categories, Word Meanings, and Training (Baltimore: University Park Press, 1980).

13. Andrew Biemiller and Catherine Boote, "An Effective Method for Building Meaning Vocabulary in Primary Grades," Journal of Educational Psychology 98 (2006): 44–62.

14. Alison Gopnik, Andrew N. Meltzoff, and Patricia K. Kuhl, The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, and How Children Learn (New York: William Morrow, 1999).

15. Bob McMurray, "Defusing the Childhood Vocabulary Explosion," Science 317, no. 5838 (August 3, 2007): 631.

16. William E. Nagy and Judith A. Scott, "Vocabulary Processes," in Handbook of Reaching Research, vol. 3, ed. Michael L. Kamil, Peter B. Mosenthal, P. David Pearson, and Rebecca Barr (Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates, 2000), 269–284.

17. E. D. Hirsch Jr., "Reading Comprehension Requires Knowledge—of Words and the World," American Educator 27, no. 1 (Spring 2003): 10–29, 48.

18. Adriana G. Bus and Marinus H. van Ijzendoorn, "Mothers Reading to Their 3-Year-Olds: The Role of Mother-Child Attachment Security in Becoming Literate," Reading Research Quarterly 30 (1995): 998–1015.

19. Connie Juel, Gina Biancarosa, David Coker, and Rebecca Deffes, "Walking with Rosie: A Cautionary Tale of Early Reading Instruction," Educational Leadership 60, no. 7 (April 2003): 12–18.

20. Suzanne E. Mol, Adriana G. Bus, and Maria T. de Jong, "Interactive Book Reading in Early Education: A Tool to Stimulate Print Knowledge as Well as Oral Language," Review of Educational Research 79 (2009): 979–1007; Suzanne E. Mol, Adriana G. Bus, Maria T. de Jong, and Daisy J. H. Smeets, "Added Value of Dialogic Parent-Child Book Readings: A Meta-Analysis," Early Education and Development 19 (2008): 7–26; and National Early Literacy Panel, Developing Early Literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel (Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy, 2008).

21. Mol et al., "Added Value of Dialogic Parent-Child Book Readings."

22. Tanya S. Wright and Susan B. Neuman, "Paucity and Disparity in Kindergarten Oral Vocabulary Instruction," Journal of Literacy Research (forthcoming).

23. Susan B. Neuman and Julie Dwyer, "Missing in Action: Vocabulary Instruction in Pre-K," Reading Teacher 62 (2009): 384–392.

24. Tanya S. Wright and Susan B. Neuman, "Vocabulary Instruction in Commonly Used Kindergarten Core Reading Curricula," Elementary School Journal 113 (2013): 386–408.

25. Loren M. Marulis and Susan B. Neuman, "The Effects of Vocabulary Intervention on Young Children's Word Learning: A Meta-Analysis," Review of Educational Research 80 (2010): 300–335; and Loren M. Marulis and Susan B. Neuman, "How Vocabulary Interventions Affect Young Children at Risk: A Meta-Analytic Review," Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness 6 (2013): 223–262.

26. Tanya Kaefer and Susan B. Neuman, "A Bi-Directional Relationship between Conceptual Organization and Word Learning" (paper presented at the annual meeting of the Literacy Research Association, Jacksonville, FL, November–December 2011).

27. Michael D. Coyne, D. Betsy McCoach, and Sharon Kapp, "Vocabulary Intervention for Kindergarten Students: Comparing Extended Instruction to Embedded Instruction and Incidental Exposure," Learning Disability Quarterly 30 (2007): 74–88.

28. Rebecca Silverman, "A Comparison of Three Methods of Vocabulary Instruction during Read-Alouds in Kindergarten," Elementary School Journal 108 (2007): 97–113.

29. Beck and McKeown, "Increasing Young Low-Income Children's Oral Vocabulary."

30. Isabel L. Beck, Margaret G. McKeown, and Linda Kucan, Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction (New York: Guilford, 2002).

31. Steven A. Stahl and William E. Nagy, Teaching Word Meanings (Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates, 2006).

32. Sharolyn D. Pollard-Durodola, Jorge E. Gonzalez, Deborah C. Simmons, Matthew J. Davis, Leslie Simmons, and Miranda Nava-Walichowski, "Using Knowledge Networks to Develop Preschoolers' Content Vocabulary," Reading Teacher 65 (2011): 265–274.

33. Susan B. Neuman, Julie Dwyer, Serene Koh, and Tanya S. Wright, The World of Words: A Vocabulary Intervention for Preschool Children (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2007).

34. Wright and Neuman, "Vocabulary Instruction."

35. Justin Harris, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, "Lessons from the Crib for the Classroom: How Children Really Learn Vocabulary," in Handbook of Early Literacy Research, vol. 3, ed. David K. Dickinson and Susan B. Neuman (New York: Guilford, 2011), 49–65.

36. Ashley M. Pinkham, Susan B. Neuman, and Angeline S. Lillard, "You Can Say That Again! Preschoolers Need Repeated Exposures to Gain Expressive Vocabulary" (paper presented at the annual meeting of the Literacy Research Association, Jacksonville, FL, November–December 2011).

37. Rebecca Silverman and Sara Hines, "The Effects of Multimedia-Enhanced Instruction on the Vocabulary of English-Language Learners and Non-English-Language Learners in Pre-Kindergarten through Second Grade," Journal of Educational Psychology 101 (2009): 305–314.

38. Mol et al., "Added Value of Dialogic Parent-Child Book Readings."

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American Educator, Summer 2014