Enhancing Vocabulary in Childhood: Article Summary

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Literature Review Article Summary

This summary is based on the literature review article “Closing the Vocabulary Gap? A Review of Research on Early Childhood Vocabulary Practices” by Christ and Wang (2011). The authors state that they conducted “a qualitative literature review of 31 empirical studies and discovered that there are three major interventions used in supporting children’s vocabulary acquisition” (Christ & Wang, 2011, p. 426). These approaches include using mixed-methods techniques, offering direct-meaning instruction, and introducing advanced words to children. In the article, Christ and Wang (2011) argue that vocabulary knowledge is crucial to enhancing school success as it is among the contributing factors to the future ability of reading comprehension. Unfortunately, there is a knowledge gap between children from higher socioeconomic status (SES) and those from lower SES in terms of vocabulary knowledge. Research has shown that, on average, three-year-old high-SES learners understand 600 more words than their counterparts from low SES. The reviewers wanted to analyze research findings to establish whether investigators have attempted to find ways to bridge the gap.

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The first approach to supporting the development of vocabulary in early childhood is multiple-methods techniques. According to Wang and Christ (2011), these interventions are designed for children who demonstrate less than average knowledge of vocabulary. They include the teaching of word meanings directly, activities that offer opportunities to produce vocabulary and exposing words to children purposefully. The reviewers argue that the use of these techniques is contributed by two key factors. Firstly, the rising awareness about the disparity of vocabulary knowledge between lower- and upper-SES children and its impact on future performance on reading comprehension. Second, the introduction of the meaning-vocabulary subtest in 2009 by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) made vocabulary acquisition a pertinent issue (Christ & Wang, 2011). The effectiveness of the mixed-methods approach is measured based on two key techniques; read-aloud-based approaches and theme-based interventions. These two vocabulary teaching tactics positively impact target and expressive word knowledge in early childhood.

The second method of enhancing vocabulary development in childhood is providing direct-meaning instruction. Christ and Wang (2011) state that studies related to this intervention are categorized into two areas: those that compare direct instructions to word exposure and those that assess one or more direct instruction methods. Early studies have compared three forms of direct instruction to word exposure, which include questioning, recasting, and labeling (Christ & Wang, 2011). Questioning entails using “noneliciting” queries that ask for information concerning the target concept or “eliciting” questions that ask for the target word (Christ & Wang, 2011, p. 437). Recasting is making a slight change to the initial sentence by replacing the target word with a synonym. In addition, labeling/pointing is the act of assigning target words to relevant pictures or other forms of visual illustrations to attract children’s attention. The reviewers equate direct teaching methods to word exposure in terms of improving vocabulary learning in childhood (Christ & Wang, 2011). As a result, applying more than one technique of direct instruction while teaching word meaning is more effective than using a single tactic.

The third approach to improving children’s vocabulary acquisition is exposing them to advanced words. This tactic involves the oral presentation of new words to students without direct instruction on word meaning. Christ and Wang (2011) opine that children learn new vocabulary through exposure in various contexts such as video viewing, storybook read-aloud, and teacher’s daily speech. Typically, this intervention is inspired by the belief that children learn vocabulary naturally. The authors document that studies on this approach aim to establish whether the introduction of advanced words in early childhood classroom settings can improve children’s vocabulary knowledge (Christ & Wang, 2011). Researchers have found that presenting target words to kindergarteners through storybook read-aloud leads to significant gains in word knowledge. Moreover, evidence suggests that introducing advanced words to children through daily teacher speech is more effective than through video viewing and read-aloud. Thus, the teacher’s speech facilitates children’s vocabulary acquisition as it involves presenting advanced words multiple times throughout the day.

The authors give various suggestions to aid researchers in future studies. First, Christ and Wang (2011) insist on the importance of designing ecologically valid studies, claiming that past research has been conducted in experimental settings. As a result, the ecological validity of research findings becomes questionable as investigators have worked with children mainly outside the classroom. Thus, replications in an actual learning environment are highly advisable. Second, the authors propose a systematic word selection comparison, which can be instrumental in helping teachers to choose the most appropriate instructional intervention. Third, the reviewers suggest the creation of a reliable and valid curriculum-based word-learning measurement tool sensitive enough to assess children’s qualitative, quantitative, and incremental growth in word-meaning knowledge. Finally, the authors emphasize the need for considering other outcomes, such as the child’s ability to independently learn new words, instead of only judging the impacts of vocabulary interventions beyond based on target word knowledge. The reviewers conclude by stating that bridging the vocabulary gap is key to children’s academic and social participation in the world.

Empirical Article Summary

This summary is based on the empirical article “Effectiveness of A Small-Group Vocabulary Intervention Programme: Evidence from A Regression Discontinuity Design” by Dyson et al. (2018). The investigators assessed the vocabulary knowledge of 199 children between the ages of 6 and 9 years in six classes (Dyson et al., 2018). Out of these children, 43 (who scored low vocabulary grades on the initial test) were placed in an intervention group, and the remaining 156 represented a control group (Dyson et al., 2018). Participants in the intervention group received 2-3 small-group teaching sessions weekly for a 10-week duration (Dyson et al., 2018). The investigators gave a post-intervention test to all children and assessed their vocabulary knowledge using similar measures. The researchers wanted to find out whether regression discontinuity design (RDD) can be used to assess the efficacy of a vocabulary intervention approach on a small group of children with inadequate word-meaning knowledge.

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Children acquire words naturally through their linguistic environment regardless of whether they receive explicit instruction. However, Dyson et al. (2018) assert that depending on incidental learning as the sole foundation of children’s word-meaning development can be problematic given that they are exposed to differing linguistic settings. Such disparities in environmental learning and input abilities cause vast variations in the understanding of vocabulary among children. According to the researchers, poor word-meaning knowledge has been associated with adverse effects on literacy, educational, and language outcomes (Dyson et al., 2018). For instance, evidence shows that the speed of recognition of spoken word and the size of vocabulary at 24 months is predictive of cognitive and linguistic skills such as pattern matching and spatial reasoning at eight years (Dyson et al., 2018). Moreover, vocabulary knowledge acts as a strong predictor of literacy development among children. Early knowledge of word-meaning forecasts later reading comprehension abilities. Dyson et al. (2018) argue that children from financially disadvantaged backgrounds demonstrate a poorer understanding of vocabulary. This problem justifies the need to advocate for instructional interventions in educational contexts.

Vocabulary instruction plays a critical role in improving children’s word acquisition. Dyson et al. (2018) assert that this intervention can either be explicit or implicit. As Christ and Wang (2011) explain, explicit instruction is the direct teaching of the meaning of words by offering definitions. On the other hand, implicit instruction entails embedding new word exposure within a certain activity, such as storybook reading. Research indicates that children learn the meaning of 12% of main words from repetitive story readings and an extra 10% of words whenever explanations are added to the readings (Dyson et al., 2018). According to Dyson et al. (2018), the appropriate way to guarantee learning and understanding of new words is by combining the two forms of vocabulary instruction. Thus, the investigators used both explicit and implicit techniques in their teaching program to ensure the reliability of their study findings.

The researchers used RDD to assess the usefulness of the study’s vocabulary teaching plan. Dyson et al. (2018) state that RDD is a quasi-experimental measurement tool that assesses “pre- against post-intervention scores in the context of a known cut-off point for intervention group assessment” (p. 949). Typically, a treatment effect is indicated whenever a discontinuity occurs in the regression line within the cut-off point for group assignment (Dyson et al., 2018). If the intervention group’s regression function is higher than that of the control group, such an occurrence provides evidence that an intervention can improve post-test scores (Dyson et al., 2018). Practically, RDD is used to conduct a comparison of children with low achievement levels on a certain measure with their peers who are more able before and after a strategic plan has been assigned to the intervention group.

The research findings provided evidence of the usefulness of the study’s intervention strategy in teaching target words to the intervention group. Children in this group demonstrated significant outcomes in their understanding of taught words at the post-intervention assignment. Dyson et al. (2018) report that 3.95 additional words were acquired by those in the intervention group compared to those in the control group. The teaching plan’s success is attributed to the integration of both direct and implicit instruction methods. Moreover, the investigators established that RDD was instrumental in detecting improvements in vocabulary understating of taught words throughout the small-group program (Dyson et al., 2018). Thus, RDD can be used to evaluate different types of learning enhancement techniques, especially when such interventions are designed for students with low academic performance.

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The investigators concluded by highlighting the limitations of their research and gave suggestions for future studies. First, they contended that there was a possibility of bias pre-and post-assessments were delivered by the same individuals who gave the interventions. In addition, the duration of the teaching program was short, raising concerns over the conclusiveness of the study’s results. Dyson et al. (2018) suggested that future research should examine the impacts of longer-duration plans on the acquisition of vocabulary. Moreover, the researchers suggested intensified exploration of ways in which to achieve gains in untaught words beyond assessment (Dyson et al., 2018). They proposed that one of the most promising interventions is combining direct teaching with morphological training as such a strategy can make children better learn novel words and understand their meanings.


Christ, T., & Wang, X. C. (2011). Closing the vocabulary gap? A review of research on early childhood vocabulary practices. Reading Psychology, 32(5), 426–458. Web.

Dyson, H., Solity, J., Best, W., & Hulme, C. (2018). Effectiveness of a small-group vocabulary intervention programme: Evidence from a regression discontinuity design. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 53(5), 947–958. Web.

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"Enhancing Vocabulary in Childhood: Article Summary." ChalkyPapers, 29 Aug. 2022, chalkypapers.com/enhancing-vocabulary-in-childhood-article-summary/.


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1. ChalkyPapers. "Enhancing Vocabulary in Childhood: Article Summary." August 29, 2022. https://chalkypapers.com/enhancing-vocabulary-in-childhood-article-summary/.


ChalkyPapers. "Enhancing Vocabulary in Childhood: Article Summary." August 29, 2022. https://chalkypapers.com/enhancing-vocabulary-in-childhood-article-summary/.