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Factors Affecting Vocabulary Development

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will learn more about the role that early exposure to language plays in vocabulary acquisition. We will also examine the relationship between language development and student success.

Language Acquisition

Early language acquisition is comprised of a combination of genetic, developmental, and environmental factors. As young children learn to speak, they are not simply acquiring new words, but also engaging in complex cognitive processes. Language development includes the understanding of word structure, sentence structure, and nonverbal factors, such as body language and tone. Research tells us that exposure to language throughout early childhood contributes to the academic achievement. Vocabulary is all of the words that are known by a person. Let's look at some factors related to vocabulary development and their impact on student success.

Experiential Learning

How do young children learn new words? Young children acquire new vocabulary not only through passive exposure to words, but as a result of active engagement. Word consciousness is a primary component of vocabulary development. For example, while helping his mother bake cookies, Jonah becomes actively aware and interested in using words, such as bake, dough, grease, mix, and stir. Engagement in this real world experience enables him to easily add these words to his vocabulary.

When Jonah is repeatedly exposed to words in different contexts, he gains insight that allows him to clarify word meanings at a deeper level. For example, when Jonah helps his father bake bread, he is able to connect the word dough to this new experience in a way that provides him with a better understanding of the word. However, he may make the mistake of making the assumption that all baking mixtures are dough. Jonah learns differently when he has the opportunity to help bake a cake. Through this experience, he is able to contrast dough and batter, giving him a more thorough understanding of both words.

Classroom Strategies

Ideally, students will come to school having been exposed to a large amount of language in the home, a variety of experiences, and a wide range of texts. Regardless of where they begin, building language results in increased opportunities for success. What can teachers do to support vocabulary development in the classroom? Students need opportunities to develop language by listening, speaking, reading, and writing. By providing students with the following classroom experiences, teachers can increase student vocabulary.

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