Learning New Words Through Read Alouds

One of the delightful ways to engage with young children is through reading books aloud. Reading stories aloud is done in homes, child care settings, libraries, and schools. Infants, toddlers, and preschool-age children love to hear stories read aloud. Older elementary age children may enjoy hearing an adult family member read aloud to them. As families gather to celebrate the winter holidays, story books may be read aloud by parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts. Older siblings and cousins may also enjoy reading stories aloud to the younger children in the family during family gatherings.

Young children particularly enjoy hearing the same story read over and over. Reading the same story over and over (known as repeated readings) is one way young children learn new words. As young dual language learners enrolled in preschool and kindergarten begin to use both their heritage language and English, it is important to help them expand their ability to understand and speak both languages. Families are important teachers of the heritage language.

For young dual language learners (DLLs), hearing stories read aloud in their heritage language may expand their understanding and use of new words. Young children love to “join in” when listening to favorite books being read aloud. When young DLLs have heard a story read to them in their heritage language, they can practice new words they learn through acting out the “scenes” in the story. Getting children to actively participate involves them in telling the story.

One learning strategy that is helpful before reading a story aloud is to introduce a few core words in the heritage language through a picture walk. A picture walk is when an adult goes through a story, showing the child each illustration and introducing a few core words that are important to the story. Teaching a few core words in the heritage language and using them during a picture walk before actually reading a story may help young children learn the meaning of those words. As young children hear the story read aloud, they are encouraged to repeat those core words and then later to use them in daily conversations with family members and friends.

Enjoying stories that are read aloud in the heritage language not only engages young children in learning the meaning of new words but also strengthens family ties. Take some time to create special memories by reading stories aloud to the children. We wish you many warm memories of reading aloud together!

Bernie Laumann

Dr. Bernadette M. Laumann is the coordinator of the Illinois Early Learning Project. She has been a child care teacher, an early childhood special education teacher, director of an inclusive early childhood program, researcher, and university teacher educator. Her research interests include mentoring and induction activities for beginning teachers and the use of technology in connecting evidence-based practice.