Effective Practice Guides

Vocabulary: Know

Goals for Infants and Toddlers

  • IT-LC 7. Child understands an increasing number of words used in communication with others.
  • IT-LC 8. Child uses an increasing number of words in communication and conversation with others.

Teaching Practices

When talking or signing with children, use their home or tribal language if you are able.


Provide the words for objects and other things and repeat them often.
In the young toddler room, Ms. Tanski talks with the children as they sit down for their meal. “Hello, children,” she says. “Today we are having macaroni and cheese. Macaroni is a kind of pasta. Mr. Edwards, our cook, used cheddar cheese. We have broccoli, too. Broccoli is a vegetable. It’s so good for you.” “Roni,” says Luisa. “Yes, Luisa. It’s macaroni today.” “Bro-lee,” says Eli. “Yes, Eli. Our vegetable today is broccoli.”

Build on children’s language using vocabulary the children may not know yet.
“Flowers,” says Jemma, 22 months, pointing to the planters on her family’s apartment balcony. Ms. Keith, Jemma’s mother, responds, “Those flowers are geraniums.” Ms. Emery, their home visitor adds, “You have red geraniums and magenta geraniums. The red ones are my favorite. Which ones do you like best?” “Magena,” says Jemma. “Oh yes, the magenta geraniums are pretty.” Jemma reaches out to touch the flowers. Ms. Keith says to Jemma, “Those are the petals. All flowers have petals. And this is the stem.” She then turns to Ms. Emery and says, “Now I see what you mean about having rich conversations with Jemma. We used a lot of new words today—geranium, magenta, petals, and stem.”


Provide a language-rich environment.
When Mr. Jansen drops off his 30-month-old son, Remy, he comments to the teacher, Ms. Trent, “I like how it sounds here. There’s always a lot of chatter. Not too much so you can’t think, but enough to make me think the children are happy.” “I agree,” says Ms. Trent. “We like to hear the children talking to each other and to us—asking questions, making comments, using their imaginations. We have children who speak English, Spanish, and Urdu. And some of the children are starting to speak words in each other’s languages. Talking and listening are important for young children. It helps them learn.”

Update dramatic play props to reflect children’s current interests and experiences.
Several of the children in the toddler room have recently welcomed new siblings to their families. Ms. Sims creates a prop box so the children’s pretend play can revolve around baby care. She includes several baby dolls, blankets, bottles, newborn disposable diapers, rattles, washable books, and stuffed animals. The toddlers use new words learned at home and at the program as they swaddle, burp, and sing lullabies to the babies.


Tailor requests and directions to the child’s age and stage of development.
At 9 months old, Omar understands quite a few words, particularly those related to routines. He’s been hearing them several times a day for nine months. While changing Omar’s diaper, Ms. Franz hands him a clean one and says, “Omar, please hold this clean diaper.” Omar grasps the diaper, gurgles, and smiles. When she’s ready, Ms. Franz asks, “Can I have the clean diaper now?” Omar hands it to her and gurgles again. “You are a great helper,” Ms. Franz responds.

Help a child learn the words used to express feelings and desires.
Although Tess, 24 months, has a large, expressive vocabulary, she has a hard time expressing her strong feelings. Today, Tess pulls Emily’s hair because Emily crawled through the box tunnel before her. Their family child care provider, Ms. Dion, steps in to help Tess learn the words she needs to express her feelings. “Tess,” she says, “I can’t let you hurt Emily. I think you feel angry because she pushed in front of you. What words could you use to tell Emily how you feel?”

Goals for Preschoolers

  • P-LC 6. Child understands and uses a wide variety of words for a variety of purposes.
  • P-LC 7. Child shows understanding of word categories and relationships among words.

Teaching Practices

When talking or signing with children, use their home or tribal language if you are able. Use labels, signs, and posters in children’s home and tribal languages, as appropriate.


Use multi-syllable and sophisticated words repeatedly so children can master them.
After a field trip to the pizza restaurant, the preschoolers’ pretend play has focused on recreating what they saw and did. Ms. Stone asks the children about their roles. “I’m the money taker,” says Jamie. “So, you are the cashier. How about you, Pearla?” Ms. Stone responds. “I eat the pizza,” says Pearla. “Maybe I can be a customer like you,” Ms. Stone adds. “Can I sit here? Our server can give us a menu. I’m going to have pepperoni. How about you?”

Introduce new words before reading a book or telling a story.
Sharma displays the cover of a new book, The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk, and says, “We are going to read about a vehicle from my homeland, India. It’s like our song, “The Wheels on the Bus,” but it’s about another kind of vehicle—a tuk tuk. A tuk tuk has only three wheels. You’ll hear some other new words, too—a wala, which means a person who sells things, and rupee, which is the kind of money used in India.”


Provide a language-rich setting.
The children in Ms. Moon’s family child care home don’t need much encouragement to talk. But, Ms. Moon stills plans the day to make sure they have plenty of opportunities to share their ideas, feelings, and thoughts. For example, at the breakfast table, they discuss what they are going to play with and what toys they will use. During story time, she comments and asks questions and makes sure all the children have an opportunity to share. At lunch time, the children review the morning’s activities and share their interests. And the lively chatter continues until families arrive to take their talkative children home.

Offer items that encourage children to sort and categorize by characteristic or feature.
Reynolds, mother of 4-year-old Eva, brings her button collection to a group socialization session. Eva enjoys sorting buttons at home, and she, Ms. Reynolds, and their home visitor, Ms. Hall, thought the other preschoolers would like it, too. The children sort the buttons into different categories. First, they sort by color, then by shape, and then by how many holes are in the button. Ms. Reynolds challenges the children by asking, “How else could you sort these buttons?”Marcus, age 4½, says, “Well, some are shiny and some are just a color. We could sort them into plain and fancy.” Ms. Hall comments on the activity, “Children can learn so much by exploring this button collection. You asked a good question and got the children thinking, talking, and using interesting words.”


Notice and respond when a child initiates a conversation.
Carlos, 4 years old, rides the bus to his Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program. Today, he puts his things in his cubby and looks for Mr. Brodsky. He finds him setting up the easels with paints and paper. “Señor Brodsky,” says Carlos. “¿Sabes qué (You know what)?” Mr. Brodsky, who understands Spanish and is the English language model, stops what he is doing and bends to Carlos’ level. “What? Did something happen? I want to hear all about it.” “We almost missed the autobús,” says Carlos. “We had to run and run and run. Corrimos rápido (We ran fast).” Mr. Brodsky says, “You almost missed the bus. You had to run fast to get to the bus stop. And, you got to the bus in time! Were your legs tired?” “No,” says Carlos. “I am muy fuerte (very strong).” Mr. Brodsky smiles and responds, “Yes, you are very strong—and a fast runner!”

Intentionally teach words as they come up in context.
At the morning meeting, the children learn the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” fingerplay. After most of the children scatter to the interest centers, Wesley, 3 years old, tells Ms. Hudson, “There was a spider in our bathroom. Papa said he must have come in through the window.” Ms. Hudson continues their conversation, “Spiders can be scary. Were you scared?” “No, but my sister was,” responds Wesley. “Her feeling is called arachnophobia. It means being afraid of spiders,” says Ms. Hudson.

Topic:School Readiness

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: June 3, 2018