You don’t realize how quickly children pick up on language until you hear your Kindergartners reciting the latest pop lyrics on the playground. While students in early childhood education may be excellent at mimicry, they still need help developing their vocabulary. According to Theresa Roberts’s new book No Limits to Literacy, children must be aware of two components of a word before they can use it correctly: meaning and pronunciation.
Without knowing both the meaning and pronunciation of a word, children (and adults alike) are powerless to use new vocabulary successfully. So we’ve pulled together five tips from Roberts’s book to help your early childhood education students expand — and actually use — their new vocabulary.
- Focus on meaning: If you’re constantly correcting students’ mispronunciation while they’re acquiring new vocabulary, they may stop making mistakes — but more likely, they’ll just stop trying. Instead, celebrate that they knew which word to use, and you can deal with pronunciation later. Explicit vocabulary instruction that includes a clear definition, like the instruction found in Imagine Learning English, will help students gain a strong understanding of their new vocabulary. Learn how Imagine Learning English gives added support to English learners here.
- Repeat pronunciation: We already know children are good at mimicry, so why not use that to your advantage? When a student mispronounces a word, repeat the sentence in the form of a question using the correct pronunciation. This way you’ll reinforce proper pronunciation without stopping the flow of conversation and damaging a student’s self-confidence.
- Embrace big words: Don’t be afraid to branch out from using vocabulary students are already familiar with. Oversimplifying teacher-talk and teacher-student conversations may slow the rate of language acquisition. The more words students hear, the more words they’ll learn. So talk and talk a lot. Respond to students by expanding and elaborating on what they have said. Students will stay more engaged in the conversation, which will, in turn, expose them to more vocabulary.
- Tell, don’t show: While the opposite is true while writing narratives, this rule is perfect for oral language development. Instead of simply demonstrating how to complete a craft or project, explain in detail what you are doing. This combination will reinforce vocabulary with context, taking advantage of an excellent teaching opportunity masked in something more fun.
- Encourage oral language development at home: When it comes to language development, the instruction can’t stop at school. Parents and other caregivers must be engaged in oral language development if children are to progress. Says Roberts, “No matter how high the quality of the classroom experience, more is needed.” Fortunately, parents have to remember only two little steps: Talk and listen.