Repeated, Interactive Read-Alouds in Early Childhood Education

by Kim Stealey

Early Childhood

Vocabulary is a critical part and key indicator of reading success and success in school (Baker, Simmons, & Kame’enui, 1997, and  Hiebert & Kamil, 2005).  It is our challenge as teachers to search for ways to meaningfully expand our students’ vocabulary in order to develop stronger literacy skills. Research has demonstrated repeated, interactive read-alouds with high-quality storybooks can help young children develop comprehension skills and expand speaking vocabularies (McGee & Schickedanz, 2007).

The 2016 district MAP scores indicate that children who have been in the Early Education program score significantly higher in English Language Arts.  Specifically, among students who have been in the program (PAT and Early Education classes), 64.1%  scored at the Proficient or Advanced level.  Conversely, 36.4% of students who have not been in the program scored at these levels.  It is clear that Early Education can make a significant impact on future success in literacy.

The goal of this action research project was to determine if the strategy of repeated, interactive read-alouds increased the vocabulary set of my pre-kindergarten students. The expectation is that increasing vocabulary will result in future gains in literacy.

This action research project was implemented in a pre-kindergarten class in the Ferguson-Florissant School  District.  The class met three mornings a week, and five children were randomly chosen to participate.  The instructor is a degreed, certified early education teacher with 24 years of experience.

The implementation of the study included repeated, interactive read-alouds and pre/mid/post tests on vocabulary.

Specifically, teaching vocabulary through interactive read-alouds includes the following:

  • pointing to an illustration or part of an illustration that shows the meaning of the word;
  • demonstrating the meaning of words by using facial expressions, movements, and other body language; and
  • giving a brief definition of a word as you read the word in the text.

Repeated readings of quality storybooks provide multiple opportunities for students to interact with and use new vocabulary in a meaningful context.

Three high-quality storybooks from the Creative Curriculum (the curriculum used in the Early Education Program) were chosen:  The Paper Bag Princess, Caps for Sale, and The Three Little Javelinas.  Each storybook was read three times over the course of ten days, as prescribed by guides in The Creative Curriculum.  At least two of the readings of each story were conducted during small group time, meaning the book was read to groups of six or less children.

The five children participated in vocabulary assessments at three specific points of instruction:

  • before hearing the story for the first time,
  • after the second reading, and
  • after the third reading.

The vocabulary assessments were based on the word lists provided in the Creative Curriculum guides.  Children were asked to define vocabulary words, and were scored 0-2 points using a rubric. A score of 2 indicated a correct definition, 1 indicated a partial definition, and 0 indicated an incorrect response or no answer.

The data collected consisted of pre/mid/post vocabulary assessments as well as anecdotal evidence (retelling/acting out the story and journal entries in which children were asked to illustrate a vocabulary word). Separate data were collected for each of the three stories.

Each of the five students showed notable gains in vocabulary.  This held true for each of the three books used. The average percentage score gain from pre- to post-test for all the students was 56%.  Individual gains were as high as 61%, with the lowest gain being 39%.

One of the students is ELL, and showed an average gain of 56% in post scores. Another student with strong vocabulary skills showed gains of 51%.  This suggests that all students can benefit from this strategy. Also worthy to note, on post-tests, all participants except for the one ELL student scored within 10 percentage points of the student with strong vocabulary skills, seeming to indicate that students with low initial scores can make remarkable gains, similar to those of students with higher vocabulary skills.

The data collected suggest that repeated interactive read-alouds can be an effective method of increasing the vocabulary skills of young children of varied abilities.  Each of the five children studied showed significant gains in understanding and ability to provide definitions for new vocabulary words. As a result of this research, I plan to continue repeated, interactive read-alouds and to track data on the vocabulary growth of the rest of the class.

This interesting process helped me focus my teaching towards a specific goal.  Systematically working through the action research process provided me with a solid way to look at what, how, and why we do what we do.  It empowered me to take a risk to see if a new strategy really worked in the classroom instead of assuming it would or would not, and then to think about how I might use that information to help my students succeed.  The research changed as I went through the process, as it was affected by factors such as availability of the curriculum and attendance of the students.

I am excited the study validated that children benefit from repeated interactive read-alouds.  I have enjoyed investigating a new strategy for teaching vocabulary, and am looking forward to implementing this method of instruction as a regular part of my plans.