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). 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.

Vocabulary instruction.jpg

It was found if a preschool teacher taught vocabulary in the context of a theme, mentioning words in storybooks and then in a variety of theme-related activities children were more likely to learn the vocabulary (Wasik & Iannone-Campbell, 2013).

So, can we only rely on Children's Books during vocabulary instruction?

In order to answer this question and better understand the need for this course, I assessed the curriculums recommendations for books regarding specific themes. I recommend you do the same for your chosen unit in order to analyze which books support the vocabulary involved within your theme.

For this specific example, I used the Transportation theme (i.e., one out of the nine units provided in the pre-k curriculum) in order to demonstrate that vocabulary instruction cannot be relied on with read alouds. Four foundational texts were examined and analyzed in order to see how much vocabulary is being portrayed in children's books. As stated earlier, this course is using the unit "Transportation" as an example. Within this unit, 74 vocabulary words are included in the curriculum. The following results show how many vocabulary words are within the following foundational texts for this unit:

Book 1: Go! Go! Go! Stop! by Charise Mericle Harper = 3 vocabulary words found within the text + 8 vocabulary words found within illustrations

Book 2: The Bus For Us by Suzanne Bloom = 5 vocabulary words found within the text + 3 vocabulary words found within illustrations

Book 3: Whose Vehicle is This? by Sharon Katz Cooper = 19 vocabulary words found within the text + 1 vocabulary word found within illustrations

Book 4: What Do Wheels Do All Day? by April Jones Prince = 1 vocabulary word found within the text + 15 vocabulary words found within illustration

By analyzing children's books individually, it can be shown that all vocabulary words within the unit are not being covered solely through books. Although these are well-known and excellent children's books to used within the curriculum, other strategies and techniques will need to be used in order for vocabulary exposure and instruction.

Course Units & Objectives

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

Extended Resources Vocabulary.png


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