Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Literacy Beginnings: Chapter 7

Today in our book study blog party, we're talking about chapter 7 - Developing Strong Oral Vocabularies in Prekindergarten.

Often I forget (and I'm sure others do, too) that strong oral skills build stronger reading skills. This chapter builds on chapter 6; read Vanessa's take on that chapter for more information about developing oral language skills. This chapter focuses on helping kids build stronger vocabularies.

This chapter can be summed up with this quotation: Vocabulary is more than just knowing words. It involves understanding concepts, connecting networks of information, and developing categories and bodies of knowledge. It drives reading and oral language comprehension.... The more words we know, the easier it is to make connections that help us learn more.

To build vocabulary, teachers should be intentional in using new words and descriptive phrases. Words should be learned within context, used in sentences and conversations, and revisited from time to time to help children "own" the words.

Build vocabularies by--

  1. Reading books aloud and talking about the stories.
  2. Reading and reciting poetry and nursery rhymes.
  3. Talking and encouraging conversation. 

What's your favorite way to build vocabulary with your kids? Conversation is my favorite. As we talk about stories, kids recall new words and use them in context. Often a word or phrase will cause children to jump to another topic.

Last year we talked about the story of the Good Samaritan and the word neighbor. The conversation went something like this:

Me: What does the word neighbor mean?
Child 1: A person who lives near you.
Child 2: My neighbors are my grandparents.
Me: Your grandparents live next to you?
Child 2: Yes.
Child 3: We had some neighbors but they moved.
Me: Sometimes neighbors move. My neighbors moved. Now I have new neighbors.
Child 4: We are moving. While we were packing, a dog came up. He had been sprayed by a skunk. He smelled bad.
Child 1: Did you pour tomato juice on him?
Child 4: No.
Child 1: If you pour tomato juice on him, the smell will go away. I saw that on a movie.
Me: Ch1 says that tomato juice will help take away the smell from a skunk. But I think you must give the dog a bath with the tomato juice.
Child 3: We saw a skunk one time. He was in the woods.
Me: Are there woods close to your house?
Child 3: Yes.
Me: There are woods close to my house. I haven't seen a skunk but I have seen a rabbit.
Child 5: Do you know what we saw? We saw a snake.
Child 2: We saw a snake in the road but he was dead.
Child 4: I don't like snakes.

I try to build "conversation time" into our group learning times. If I allow them to talk about whatever they want at a specific time, then they are ready to focus at other times. If I do not build that into the day, it will erupt somewhere. We talk about whatever they want, but I try to pick up on the topics and introduce words, ideas, and concepts.

Join No More Worksheets! tomorrow for Chapter 8 - Phonemic Awareness and Phonics.

Missed a chapter? Check out the guide at Look at My Happy Rainbow.


  1. Thanks for the great example Scott! I wish more classrooms provided these types of authentic opportunities oral language development.


  2. Hello Scott! I love your practical reason about why "conversation time" is so important--I definitely agree!

  3. I love that you let the conversation just flow, even though it totally went off course! I need to work on that!

  4. We have lunch in our classroom, so that provides a great opportunity for "conversation time" every day. Parents are welcome at lunch time on Fridays. They are usually amazed at how talkative the kids are!
    I usually focus on vocabulary while reading out loud. I either stop to discuss words that come up in the text or sometimes add a synonym to help the kids learn a new word. After reading a book with synonyms added a few times, I will start to drop the extra words.

  5. Pointing out words in the context of a story is helpful. Sometimes I talk about a word before we read and have them listen for it. Sometimes as I read, I repeat the word, then ask what it could mean, and how they knew. Sometimes a word will jump out at them and we talk about it. I try to keep this fun and fast paced, and I always come back to the new words after the story is finished. Next I look for ways to use our newly aquired vocabulary through the day and week. It is important to keep in mind the powerful charge made in this chapter, that "in pre-k the most important goal is to increase oral vocabulary." (p. 82)