University of Missouri study suggests children’s vocabularies improve by hearing books while reading
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Children increase their vocabularies when they hear recordings of storybooks being read to them as they read along, a new study from the University of Missouri and the University of South Florida has found.
At MU, the primary author was Beth Kelley, assistant professor in the School of Health Professions. Her collaborator in Florida was Howard Goldstein. Kelley is a speech-language pathologist who works with children.
“Feasible Implementation Strategies for Improving Vocabulary Knowledge of High-Risk Preschoolers: Results from a Cluster-Randomized Trial” was published in the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research.
The study took 10 years, Kelley said. It involved 84 children in the year before they entered kindergarten. They were in 24 preschool classrooms in Missouri and Florida. Children were selected who could benefit from additional language supports.
“We worked with teachers who used assessments of vocabulary knowledge to identify children who would benefit from additional support,” Kelley said.
The two developed what they called “Story Friends” to be used in the study.
The children listened on headphones to recorded storybooks as they read along. The narrator would stop on particular words, and a flap on the page gave the child the opportunity to repeat the words and the definitions.
Vocabulary words included “disappointed,” “enormous,” “brave” and “protect.”
The researchers asked the children about the words and their definitions after reading and hearing the books.
“They learned to define several new words,” Kelley said. “It also fit well into classroom routines.”
Teachers also tracked how often children used the words in the classroom, she said.
While most classrooms had four to six children, it also worked in larger classes, Kelley said.
“We found teachers were using the storybooks and material with lots of kids in the class,” she said.
There’s a gap between the number of words children who live in low-income households hear compared to children in higher-income households, though the number is debated among academics.
These storybooks can help correct the gap, if used beyond preschools, Kelley said.
“I think these storybooks can be part of a broader effort,” Kelley said. “Families can use them at home.”
The effort needs to include teachers and parents, she said.
A new grant for the next five years will examine the vocabularies of children in preschool through kindergarten, she said.
Funding for the current study was from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.