Does it all start with a strong vocabulary?

My mom is a retired Speech and Language Pathologist. I grew up in an environment where I learned about the importance of oral language. This thinking was further reinforced when I started teaching, and my mom has spoken to me about this a lot over the years. Yet somehow, even with all I knew, or all I thought I knew, I forgot about something important until this year.

It all started with an inservice that I went to over the summer. The inservice was on early literacy, and many of the ideas were a review of phonemic awareness skills and the alphabetic principle. During this inservice though, a Speech and Language Pathologist for our Board spoke about vocabulary development, and she reinforced the importance of introducing new words, and using these words, repetitively, in meaningful contexts. She said that it was with this repetition that the words would stick, and the students would start to develop their vocabulary. Oral language, vocabulary development, reading, and writing are all connected, so this increase in vocabulary could lead to improvement in other areas. 

While I realize that this idea may not be new to many of you — and it was something that I’ve also heard numerous times before — this year, I approached things differently. My teaching partner, Paula, and I purposely worked on developing our students’ vocabulary. Some children came to us with a strong vocabulary already, but for all children, we introduced new words.

  • We spoke about their meaning.
  • We used these words, repeatedly, in different contexts.
  • We incorporated them into play.
  • And we listened excitedly as so many children started to use these words correctly.

We had experiences like these ones.

While I’m thrilled with the success that we’ve noticed this year, I can’t help but think about my experience last year. I was at a different school last year with a different teaching partner, and many of our students did not come to school with as strong a vocabulary and as many diverse experiences. While we tried to change this by focusing on oral language and introducing our students to new experiences, I’m left wondering if we did enough.

  • How could we have developed stronger vocabulary skills?
  • What impact might this have had on our students’ reading, writing, and oral language skills?

I may not be able to change the past, but I hope that my new learning makes me approach the present differently. What do you think?


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