Building a child’s vocabulary in preschool

by Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. on October 24, 2009

in Building Vocabulary, Language Arts, Literacy Beginnings Book Study, Professional Development

Language and literacy are important components of any preschool classroom and building a child’s vocabulary is a key component in facilitating language and literacy.

Building Vocabulary in Preschool


Often times, when one things of the word “vocabulary” one might right away think of the word wall.  A word wall in the preschool classroom can help draw attention to new words and words in print but vocabulary is about building meaning and understanding which comes from putting words into action and making meaningful connections. Promoting vocabulary in the early childhood setting should be a natural and fun part of the classroom experience. Let’s take a look at ways in which you can promote a child’s vocabulary in your preschool classroom.

Building Vocabulary in Preschool

Emphasize new words – the first thing for you to keep in mind is that every new word counts. We are not talking about searching through the dictionary for complex words. What we are talking about is emphasizing words that are part of a child’s natural environment and daily living. For example, if you are helping a child put on his or her jacket, say the words “jacket, zipper, on, and off” and invite the child to use the words through questions or casual conversation.

Zipping up a coat

Weave in new meanings – make new words meaningful and practical to your students. Integrate new words into your student’s play and daily experiences by naturally weaving them in and out of conversations you have with the children about their play.

Building Vocabulary in Preschool

Emphasize feeling words – introduce words that give preschoolers a way to express their feelings and emotions. Words such as happy, sad, mad, aggravated, frustrated, tired, lonely, and enjoyable can be used in everyday conversations with your students.

Building Vocabulary in Preschool

Emphasize the names of objects – Introduce objects that are familiar and not-so-familiar and that will invite interest and promote conversation.


Building Vocabulary in Preschool

Use lots of descriptive words

“You have chosen to use the color green…Your hands are small and my hands are big…Hannah’s hair is long and Juan’s hair is short…the toys in this water table are wet and cold…please place your paper on the round table…you have two hands and two feet.”

Building Vocabulary in Preschool

Emphasize words through books and pictures – read aloud everyday and repeat favorite books often. Reading aloud with young children helps them to draw connection between the printed words and the pictures of the story. As the children hear the story they will draw connections the words you are reading and the meaning they share.

Building Vocabulary in Preschool

Invite the children to explore books on their own time as well.  Books you have read with the children are a wonderful addition to the children’s book area because the children already have a sense of what the book is about and the kinds of words that are in the book. Take time to listen to the children as they read the book to each other or to you.

Building Vocabulary in Preschool

Integrate printed words throughout the classroom – Include words that emphasize the name of familiar objects, concepts, and ideas and have the printed words displayed in strategic places throughout the classroom. As your students show interest in the words, help the children identify the words by using the words in everyday conversations.

Building Vocabulary in Preschool

Keep the children’s names in reach and in view 

One of the first words a child learns and finds most meaningful is his or her name. Keep the children’s names visible and accessible throughout the classroom.

Building Vocabulary in Preschool

Building vocabulary is an ongoing process that should be a balance of intentional and natural learning opportunities.

This article is being shared with you by Deborah Stewart of Teach Preschool - Sharing the wonders of early learning in action!

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