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Vocabulary Development is Essential to Literacy Achievement

There is a direct link between early vocabulary development (at home, in preschool classrooms, and Kindergarten classrooms) and full literacy acquisition for children who are DHH.

Vocabulary Development InfoWhy do vocabulary delays show up around fourth grade? Fourth grade reading is usually the transition from learning to read --> reading to learn. There are higher demands on children not just to decode what they're reading, but to also understand what they're reading and extract information. While children with lower vocabulary may be quite good at decoding words in the earlier grades, their impoverished vocabulary will sneak up on them when they are asked to comprehend what they are reading. To become fully literate, children who are DHH have to learn how to read (decoding) as well as understand what they are reading (reading comprehension). Early vocabulary development is essential for reading comprehension. The vocabulary instruction teachers do now will make a difference in a child’s ability to read later!

What do these facts mean in practice for the DHH classroom teacher? Vocabulary development occurs by creating a vocabulary-rich classroom environment where children are exposed to abundant opportunities to hear/see new vocabulary and multiple opportunities to use new vocabulary.


Kyle, F.E. & Harris, M. (2011). Longitudinal patterns of emerging literacy in beginning deaf and hearing readers. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 16(3), 289-304.  The emerging reading and spelling abilities of 24 deaf and 23 hearing beginning readers were followed over two years. The deaf children varied in their language backgrounds and preferred mode of communication. All children were given a range of literacy, cognitive and language-based tasks every 12 months. Deaf and hearing children made similar progress in literacy in the beginning stages of reading development and then their trajectories began to diverge. The longitudinal correlates of beginning reading in the deaf children were earlier vocabulary, letter-sound knowledge, and speechreading. Earlier phonological awareness was not a longitudinal correlate of reading ability once earlier reading levels were controlled. Only letter name knowledge was longitudinally related to spelling ability. Speechreading was also a strong longitudinal correlate of reading and spelling in the hearing children. The findings suggested that deaf and hearing children utilize slightly different reading strategies over the first two years of schooling.

Senechal, M., Ouellette, G., & Rodney, D. (2006).  The misunderstood giant:  On the predictive role of early vocabulary to future reading.  In Dickinson & Neuman (Eds.), Handbook of early literacy research. Vol. 2.  Guilford.  An analysis of the contribution of oral vocabulary skills to phonological awareness, listening comprehension, and reading comprehension in children from kindergarten through third grade.

Storch, S.A., & Whitehurst, G.J. (2002).  Oral language  and code-related precursors to reading: Evidence from a longitudinal structural model. Developmental Psychology, 38, 934-947.  This study examined code-related and oral language precursors to reading in a longitudinal study of 626 children from preschool through 4th grade. Code-related precursors, including print concepts and phonological awareness, and oral language were assessed in preschool and kindergarten. Reading accuracy and reading comprehension skills were examined in 1st through 4th grades. Results demonstrated that (a) the relationship between code-related precursors and oral language is strong during preschool; (b) there is a high degree of continuity over time of both code-related and oral language abilities; (c) during early elementary school, reading ability is predominantly determined by the level of print knowledge and phonological awareness a child brings from kindergarten; and (d) in later elementary school, reading accuracy and reading comprehension appear to be two separate abilities that are influenced by different sets of skills.