How can book reading close the word gap?

Many parents firmly believe that reading aloud to young children develops their vocabulary.
Yet, not many parents are aware that simple reading aloud without any additional strategies and elaborated opportunities promoting vocabulary development is actually not very effective for word learning.

I have just read an interesting article substantiating this claim.  The authors (Snell, Hindman and Wasik, 2015) suggested that book reading to young children (3-6) needs to be enhanced with additional instructional strategies to improve its effectiveness in developing vocabulary.

They posited that:

Simply reading the text of books aloud to children appears to be a necessary but
insufficient strategy for building vocabulary.

They added that:

Book reading needs to include certain ‘active ingredients’to promote vocabulary learning.

The authors suggested several practices which should be implemented in reading aloud to boost word learning.

1. Providing child-friendly definitions for
unfamiliar words: e.g. ‘Hibernate is sleeping through the winter’

2. Asking questions and having conversations with
children about new words and their definitions: e.g ‘
Which animals are sneaking
into the bear’s lair?’

3. Rereading books several times to provide multiple exposures to words in meaningful contexts. The authors stressed that ‘Children at risk may need even more intentional exposure, instruction, and interaction with new words to truly incorporate them into their vocabularies.’

4. Engaging children in retelling activities and encourage them to use new vocabulary. In the authors’s eyes follow-up activities incorporating  novel vocabulary further improve vocabulary knowledge.

5. Integrating new words from book readings into other activities during the day.  Vocabulary taught to children during book reading should be linked with the world beyond the books.

Worryingly the authors also noticed that:

Teachers may not know what strategies best promote word learning in children.


Snell, E. K., Hindman, A. H., & Wasik, B. A. (2015). How can book reading close the word gap? Five key practices from research. The Reading Teacher68(7), 560-571.