Vocabulary Learning and Instruction in the Pre-K Classroom

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Return to: ETAP 623 Fall 2019 (Zhang) | Michelle DeLace


Overview and Purpose

"The highest rate of vocabulary development occurs during the preschool years; therefore, it represents a crucial time when we can intervene" (Neuman & Wright, 2014, p.4).

“If building a vocabulary is a prerequisite for learning to read, it is useful to ask where children’s vocabularies come from and how best to foster this vocabulary growth” (Mayer, 2007). It is estimated that children in the early school years should add at least 2,000 new words to their vocabulary each year. This is a tall order as a Pre-K teacher, and the question remains: How is this done and what does it look like in a pre-k classroom setting?

This mini-course will help assist you with planning vocabulary instruction for a unit topic of your choice. Overall, this is is a step-by-step tutorial on how to assess, monitor, and apply vocabulary instruction within a pre-k classroom based upon New York State's units.

Teachers are given specific unit topics and standards to teach their students in Pre-K. Within these units are an extensive amount of vocabulary words that must be introduced and explained to the students. This course will help participants organize vocabulary instruction within their own classroom by planning and executing effective strategies and resources.

Needs Assessment

Instructional Problems: The environment within a Pre-K classroom includes an abundance of literacy which not only flows through the air, but can be found on all walls, doors, and windows. This literate filled classroom is the center, and beginning, of authentic learning found in school. Vocabulary development has a strong influence on literacy skills found within students’, seen within the later grades, as well as academic success, seen across academic disciplines. Mayer (2007) suggests that “if building a vocabulary is a prerequisite for learning to read, it is useful to ask where children’s vocabularies come from and how best to foster this vocabulary growth” (p. 63).

Teaching vocabulary is supposed to be less "drill" and more learning through reading and exploring environments. In the younger grades specifically, it is important to introduce many vocabulary words, but teachers are left wondering how to do so when provided with minimal resources. The intent of this course is to help teachers, specifically special educators or pre-k teachers, learn strategies in teaching vocabulary to their students. Vocabulary instruction cannot rely solely on children's books recommended by the curriculum. Teachers will have to introduce and engage students in vocabulary learning using different approaches. The intent of this course is to help assist teachers in teaching specific vocabulary words to their students. The benefits of teaching vocabulary as well as language development benefits will also be reviewed.

Performance Objectives

Participants will be able to:

  • Identify the curriculum standards of vocabulary related to Pre-K by matching them to classroom based activities.
  • Structure activities and chunk these tasks to guide student learning regarding vocabulary development with the assistance of a rubric.
  • Reflect on and compare the strategies used for vocabulary development as well as the impact it takes on student learning.

Course Units

This mini-course includes the following units. Click the title of a unit to go to its page.

Unit 1: Choosing, Dissecting and Assessing Vocabulary for your Pre-K Unit

Participants will choose a unit from the Pre-K curriculum and will be shown a way to assess their learners. Participants will identify standard based objectives for Pre-K vocabulary instruction.

Unit 2: Creating Effective Learning Environments for Vocabulary Instruction in Pre-K

Participants will learn about effective strategies to teach vocabulary and will create lessons based upon the unit they chose. Participants will execute lessons within the classroom.

Unit 3: Reflecting Upon Vocabulary Instruction in the Pre-K Classroom

Participants will perform a post-assessment with their learners and will analyze the results. Participants will reflect on their teaching as well as the students performance.

Extended Resources



Mayer, Richard E. (2007). Learning and Instruction, Second edition. Merrill Prentice Hall. ISBN: 9780131707719.