Expanding Vocabulary During Storytime

vocabulary stockWould you like to expand your child’s vocabulary? When I am reading aloud, I will often define a word as I am reading it. Many times, I will provide visual cues to go with unfamiliar words so the child can get a “picture” in their mind of the word.  With regard to vocabulary expansion, I am more spontaneous in my choice of specific words and wanted to find concrete criteria for vocabulary selection.

I found an interesting article titled Selecting Words for Instruction During Primary Read-alouds (2015) by Karen J. Kindle. This article explored how how to identify words that teacher selected for instruction during read-alouds in the classroom and how what the teacher’s rationales were in selecting these words. Why is this topic important? Vocabulary growth during read-alouds is important because learning specific vocabulary is crucial for academic, social and daily communication needs. The more vast our lexicon is, the better we can communicate and express ourselves.

The study by Karen Kindle (2015) was conducted with four elementary school teachers including one kindergarten teacher, one first grade teachers and two second grade teachers. All teachers were different with regard to their age, experiences and philosophies of teaching. They were not given any criteria to follow during the observations. and were motivated to participate in the study.

What should we consider when targeting specific vocabulary in the book?

According to Karen Kindle (2015), “these factors might be framed within the following questions to guide teachers in the decision making process.” Please note that I have modified the questions to be applicable both in the classroom and outside the classroom (such as within the home environment).

  1. Is learning the word important to understanding the story?
  2. Are students able to use problem solving or context to figure out the meaning?
  3. Can learning this word be useful in furthering their knowledge?
  4. How useful is this word outside of the specific context of the book?

Karen Kindle (2015) also defines specific tiers of words. For example, Tier 1 are words that are common (e.g. book, eat, lunch, etc). Tier 2 words are of high frequency and mature and Tier 3 words are words that are more academic and only occur within specific contexts. Karen Kindle (2015) encourages the teaching of Tier 2 words. These are words that can used within many contexts and can stored easily in their lexicon if taught appropriately.

In order to help my readers understand these tiers, I created my own examples below for the book, Scaredy Squirrel has a Birthday Party:

Please note this may vary according to the age of the child (e.g. an older child would be more familiar with more complex vocabulary)

Tier 1: Squirrel, birthday, party, ponies, surprises

Tier 2: Afraid, spoil, celebration, plan

Tier 3: certify, lure, hard-headed, topic

How did the teachers in the study choose the words to define in the story?

  1. They were important to the story and helped comprehension (e.g. teaching the words made understanding the story and topic easier for the child).
  2. Degree of Prior Word Knowledge (if the teacher thought the students knew the word or not)

Karen Kindle (2015) found that the teachers in the study were more spontaneous in their teaching of vocabulary then previously thought by researchers. Although they were intentional in some of their plans to teach specific words during the read-aloud, overall they were more spontaneous in choosing specific words to define.

How can we take a research study such as this one and help our own children at  home learn more vocabulary?

Helpful Tips1. Consider teaching Tier 2 words to your children and be careful to not to over define too many words when reading because this will break down the flow of the story.

2. Before reading the story to your child, choose specific words to define and then try to use these words out of context. For example, the word “celebration” can be used during many other contexts. You can create a holiday celebration or a dinner celebration. For a word like “spoil”, explain what can spoil a party. The word spoil also has multiple definitions and be used in many different ways (e.g. the cheese is spoiled).

3. Ask your child to define the word for you after teaching it. This can help store the word in the child’s lexicon more readily.



Kindle, Karen J. “Selecting Words for Instruction During Primary Read-alouds.” Reading Horizons 54.1 (2015): 52-77. Web.



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