It’s time for another Q&A session with the author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease.
In chapter 1, page 15 you cite the famous Hart and Risley study. Vocabulary is extremely critical to future success in school, however, some feel that certain words are “too big” or difficult for young children in preschool and kindergarten. What advice do you have for teachers and parents about using “big words” and how to address them when encountered in a read-aloud?
Answer from Jim Trelease
Good vocabularies are not built overnight, nor are they built primarily of “big words.” We start with common words like “variety” or “dull” and build from there. But children need to hear the words often and in a meaningful context, just like adults do. The adults (and there are millions) who keep using the word “amazing” in daily speech needed to have heard other vocabulary words for the same thing when they were younger; words like: splendid; startling; exciting; enchanting; riveting; mesmerizing; breathtaking; stunning; miraculous; and astounding. Should such words be uttered to the child without explanation? Half and half — sometimes with and sometimes without explanation. “We saw the most astounding – – that’s like amazing – – thing on the way to school this morning.” Sesame Street does an excellent job of teaching vocabulary without preaching it. Sometimes it’s even amazing. Last thought: Few of us can say, read, or write a word we’ve never heard. Listening comprehension comes before everything else and then feeds the speaking, reading, and writing vocabularies.
Reflections on Literacy
I want to highlight Jim’s last comment about listening comprehension. “Listening comprehension comes before everything else and then feeds the speaking, reading, and writing vocabularies.” Wow- that’s some powerful stuff right there! Think about what an important job we have as early childhood educators. Everything we do in the classroom and at home is helping to build the foundation of future success for our students and children. This is why reading aloud high-quality picture books with rich vocabulary is so important. The difference between conversational talk and “book talk” is vast, children need to hear those “big words” or “academic vocabulary” in context before they can internalize the words and incorporate them into their own vocabulary.
Check out the links below for more discussion about The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.