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Vocabulary: Improve

Infants and Toddlers

Reflecting on and improving your skills and knowledge to help children understand and use an increasing number of words in communication and conversation with others is important work. Here are some ideas you can try with your coach or supervisor to build your teaching practices in this area:

Planning Goals and Action Steps

  • Work with your coach or supervisor to identify the teaching practices you want to build and strengthen. Here are some practices that help infants and toddlers understand and use an increasing number of words in communication and conversation with others.1
    • Use a variety of specific and descriptive words in context, including some challenging (e.g., new or novel) words.
      • Specific and descriptive words include nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs that add richness to language or are words children may not hear every day.
    • Frequently name objects and actions, and sometimes ask children to label them on their own.
    • Use books, songs, poems, and fingerplays to expose children to specific, descriptive, and challenging words. Explain what words mean if children are not familiar with them.
    • For DLLs, learn from children’s families how to sing favorite songs or lullabies. Learn how to pronounce and use important words, such as “milk,” “sleep,” and other comfort words and phrases, in children’s home languages even if you do not speak the language fluently.
    • Use gestures or sign language while speaking.
    • Notice and comment when children show they understand the meaning of a word and use new words or signs to communicate.
  • These practices may also be used to support dual language learners (DLLs) in developing their home language and to expose them to English. For more information, see:
  • In home-based programs, consider identifying and including broader relationship-building practices such as those described in Building Partnerships: Guide to Developing Relationships with Families.
  • Create an action plan with timelines to help you use the practices consistently and effectively.

Focused Observation

  • Revisit the teaching practice that you outlined in your planning goals and action steps with your coach/supervisor. Together, plan for and schedule an observation where they can focus on how you implement the practices you’ve identified.
    • For example, if you chose to focus on the practice, Use varied specific and descriptive words in context, including some challenging (e.g., new or novel) words, you might ask your coach/supervisor to observe your interactions with children during different times of the day (e.g., indoor/outdoor play, transitions, mealtimes, etc.). Ask your coach/supervisor to listen for the ways you include varied and descriptive vocabulary as you talk with children or narrate their actions or your own. She might note which times of the day you are more likely to use varied and descriptive language. She can also help you strategize about how to increase your use of descriptive language during times when you are less likely to use such language in context for children.
  • In home-based programs, observations may focus on how the home visitor engages with parents to identify, adapt, and use the identified teaching and relationship-building practices. They may also focus on how you model the practices.

Reflection and Feedback

  • What went well? What did you do? How did the child/children react or respond?
    • In home-based settings, how did the parents react or respond? How did their reaction support the relationship with their child? Their child’s emerging ability to understand and use an increasing number of words in communication and conversation with others?
  • Cite specific evidence from the observation.
  • What seemed challenging? What did you do? How did the child/children react or respond?
    • In home-based settings, how did the parents react or respond? Their child?
  • Cite specific evidence from the observation.
  • Did your coach/supervisor offer feedback from the observation that was surprising? What supports do you need from her to refine and strengthen the practice? What else would help you strengthen the practice?
  • What would you do differently if you were to use this practice again? What do you hope the child/children/parents will gain by using this practice? How will you know?

Preschoolers

Reflecting on and improving your skills and knowledge to support children’s ability to understand and use a wide variety of words and show understanding of word categories and relationships among words is important work. Here are some ideas you can try with your coach or supervisor to build your teaching practices in this area:

Planning Goals and Action Steps

  • Work with your coach or supervisor to identify the teaching practices you want to build and strengthen. Here are some practices that support preschoolers’ ability to understand and use a wide variety of words and show understanding of word categories and relationships among words.2,3
    • Use self-talk to expand children’s vocabulary, narrating what you are doing, linking words to actions.
    • Use parallel talk to expand children’s vocabulary, describing what children are doing.
    • Use a variety of nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, prepositions, and other forms of language that are new to children. “Map” new words onto words and concepts children already understand.
    • Use photographs, pictures, graphics, and other visuals to support word labels and signs in English and children’s home languages.
    • Plan and implement activities that help children make the connection between words and broader categories (e.g., word and category games; sorting and classifying activities).
  • These practices may also be used to support DLLs in continuing to develop their home language and to acquire English. For more information, see:
  • In home-based programs, consider identifying and including broader relationship-building practices such as those described in Building Partnerships: Guide to Developing Relationships with Families.
  • Create an action plan with timelines to help you use the practices consistently and effectively.

Focused Observation

  • Revisit the teaching practice that you outlined in your planning goals and action steps with your coach/supervisor. Together, plan for and schedule an observation where they can focus on how you implement the practices you’ve identified.
    • For example, if you chose to focus on the practice, Use parallel talk to expand children’s vocabulary, describing what children are doing, ask your coach/supervisor to observe you during a time when children are actively engaged in play. She can observe your interactions with children and note the number of times you narrate what children are doing in the moment as they are engaged in the activity.
  • In home-based programs, observations may focus on how the home visitor engages with parents to identify, adapt, and use the identified teaching and relationship-building practices. They may also focus on how you model the practices.

Reflection and Feedback

  • What went well? What did you do? How did the child/children react or respond?
    • In home-based settings, how did the parents react or respond? How did their reaction support the relationship with their child? Their child’s ability to understand and use a wide variety of words and show understanding of word categories and relationships among words?
  • Cite specific evidence from the observation.
  • What seemed challenging? What did you do? How did the child/children react or respond?
    • In home-based settings, how did the parents react or respond? Their child?
  • Cite specific evidence from the observation.
  • Did your coach/supervisor offer feedback from the observation that was surprising? What supports do you need from her to refine and strengthen the practice? What else would help you strengthen the practice?
  • What would you do differently if you were to use this practice again?
  • What do you hope the child/children/parents will gain by using this practice? How will you know?

1Sally Atkins-Burnett, et.al., Measuring the Quality of Caregiver-Child Interactions with Infants and Toddlers: The Q-CCIIT Observer Certification Training User’s Guide (Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research, 2016), 34–35, C.1.

2Robert C. Pianta, Karen M. La Paro, and Bridget K. Hamre, Classroom Assessment Scoring System Manual, Pre-K (Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes, 2008), 80, High Language Modeling.

3National Center on Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness (NCCLR), “Creating Environments That Include Children’s Home Languages and Cultures, Planned Language Approach” (Washington, DC: Author, n.d.), https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/dll-creating-environments.pdf.

Topic:School Readiness

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: June 3, 2018