Creative Education
2013. Vol.4, No.7A1, 15-22
Published Online July 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 15
A Small-Scale Study of the Effects of Supplemental Vocabulary
Instruction on Preschoolers with Vocabulary Delays
Kathleen Roskos1*, Karen Burstein2, Shannon Sullivan1
1John Carroll University, University Heights , USA
2Southwest Institute for Families and Children, Scottsdale, USA
Email: *
Received May 7th, 2013; revised June 7th, 2013; accepted June 14th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Kathleen Roskos et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
Research on preschool vocabulary instruction has increased considerably as the need for stronger early
literacy programs has garnered public attention. While research findings show moderately to large effects
of direct, intensive vocabulary instruction on children’s word learning, results are less robust for those
children with vocabulary delays. In general, design specifications of more effective interventions remain
unclear. Using a matched sample design, this study examined whether greater frequency of a direct, in-
tensive vocabulary intervention alone improved gains for children with vocabulary delays, or if a more
complex treatment may be needed. Participants included 24 children with vocabulary delays were drawn
from eight Head Start classrooms in Early Reading First programs. Results of the study indicated that in-
creasing the frequency of an intensive intervention yielded notable gains for children resistant to vocabu-
lary instruction. Implications for early literacy instructional practice are discussed.
Keywords: Preschool Vocabulary Instruction; Word Learning Intervention; Vocabulary Delays;
Intervention Design
Research on preschool vocabulary instruction has increased
considerably in the last decade stimulated by the surge of edu-
cational attention on early literacy development and achieve-
ment (e.g., NELP, 2008). Based on evidence that the volume of
word learning in the early years has a profound impact on fu-
ture reading comprehension (Hart & Risley, 2003), studies have
focused on teaching practices and interventions that support
vocabulary development in young children, especially those
with vocabulary delays. In general, this research shows the
benefits of direct and intensified vocabulary instruction in pro-
moting vocabulary development and growth, although specific
features of implementation vary (e.g., word selection) (Silver-
man & Crandall, 2010). It also consistently shows that children
with stronger vocabularies at the outset gain more from instruc-
tion than those with weaker vocabularies (Ehri, 2005). Studies,
however, also consistently show that those children with weak
vocabularies make gains, but not enough to overcome the drag
of delay on their progress (Margulis & Neuman, 2009). How to
intervene and increase these children’s modest vocabulary
gains more substantively remains an open question. It’s not
clear if heavier doses of existing approaches or new, specially
designed interventions are needed to address the problem. In
this study we investigate whether more of the same can improve
the vocabulary gains of preschoolers with delays, testing the
design strength of an instructional supplement used in prior
Background of the Study
The weak response to intervention for those children with
vocabulary delays has prompted researchers to design more
direct and intensive interventions that might stimulate change in
word volume and rate. Neuman, Newman & Dwyer (2010), for
example, developed a taxonomic approach to word learning,
referred to as World of Words or WOW, grounded in the evi-
dence of a “tight” correlation between the emergence of word
categories (taxonomic structures) and an increase in word learn-
ing (Borovosky & Elman, 2006). The efficacy of the WOW
technique is promising showing significant gains for the treat-
ment group in word knowledge and concept development;
however, the stability of the intervention is unclear since it
appears to work better with some content topics over others. It
was less effective, for instance, on topics with more abstract
mathematical concepts and words.
Exploiting the appeal (and explosion) of technology, other
researchers have examined the potential of educational software
and electronic books for boosting word learning in children
with language delays. In a series of studies, Segers & Verho-
even (2002, 2003, 2008) tested the potential of Treasure Chest
with the Mouse (TCM), an interactive vocabulary book, to
improve the literacy skills of kindergarteners, namely print
awareness, vocabulary and sound-symbol matching. Significant
effects for word learning were found among children partici-
pating in TCM as compared to a control, although no effect
showed up on a standardized vocabulary test. While this may
be accounted for as resistance to treatment noted in other stud-
ies, it also raises the possibility that conventional measures may
*Corresponding author.
lack sensitivity and specificity to detect subtle changes in vo-
cabulary development.
Focused on e-book media, Verhallen and colleagues (Ver-
hallen, Bus, & de Jong, 2006) argue that digitized storybooks
with film-like visualizations, audio and other additions support
language/literacy development in two powerful ways: 1) added
images, sounds and emotions facilitate oral language compre-
hension and memorization and 2) onscreen books mobilize
energy so children invest more mental effort in oral language
comprehension. Their studies show that children lagging in
language skills benefit most, learning 2× as many words in
multiple electronic readings over encounters with static books
(Verhallen, Bus, & de Jong, 2006). These children are also
more active in multi-media ebooks, demonstrating higher rates
of skin conductance responses indicative of increased amounts
of invested mental effort toward story comprehension (Verhal-
len & Bus, 2009). Still, the modest effect size (2
= .16) in
this study underscores the stubborn resistance to intervention
among children with weak language skills.
“Engineering” the traditional shared book reading procedure
to foreground word learning, several researchers have devel-
oped more deliberate instructional sequences that attempt to
teach a target set of words. Silverman (2007), for example,
describes Anchored Vocabulary Instruction that combines oral
contextual strategies (e.g., linking new words to personal ex-
perience) and analytical strategies (e.g., attending to letters and
sounds of new words) that bridge oral and print sources of word
meanings. Anchored vocabulary instruction had a large effect
size on the sample (2
= .94), and researchers found this type
of vocabulary instruction to be more effective than contextual
or analytical instruction alone. More direct, Biemiller and
Boote (2006) tested the effects of well-placed vocabulary in-
terruptions to explain word meanings in a repeated readings
approach with positive results, especially for kindergarteners.
The effect size for overall pre- and post-test scores was large
(Cohen’s d = 1.21) and that the main effect was highly signifi-
cant (F = 182.73). Similarly, Smeets and Bus (2012) found that
multiple-choice questions embedded in an interactive electronic
storybook either during or after reading increased word learning
a sizeable percentage over a read only condition. Moreover this
approach outperformed the hotspot as a source of vocabulary
instruction. Direct, intensive, embedded vocabulary instruction,
it appears, may substantially reduce resistance to intervention in
children with vocabulary delays.
Several instructional features emerge from these different
approaches that may be viewed as design basics of vocabulary
intervention: 1) a before-during-after (BDA) inst ructional frame-
work to introduce, discuss and review new words (format); 2)
repetition and explanation of new words in context (instruction);
and 3) opportunities to use new words in contexts beyond the
book (transfer). Specifications of intensity, frequency, duration
and conditions of instructional approaches incorporating these
design basics, however, remain unclear. Questions, such as how
strong; how often; for how long; and in what ways in the class-
room setting supplemental vocabulary instruction should occur
require further research. In the final analysis, it is probably not
one instructional approach over another (a magic pill), but
rather its prescription, or set of instructions, for providing sec-
ondary prevention of vocabulary delay that matters.
In this study we focus on the impact of instructional fre-
quency on children’s word learning gains when provided an
instructional supplement, referred to as say-tell-do-play (STDP).
Research on the frequency of vocabulary instruction in early
childhood classrooms is rare. A recent study conducted in kin-
dergarten classrooms reports an average of 8.14 discussions
(not instruction) of vocabulary words per day that are very brief,
episodic and limited to relatively easy words (Wright, 2012).
The STDP supplement replicated a direct, intense vocabulary
instruction approach routinely used in the preschool literacy
curriculum to teach sets of target words (8 - 10 per set). Our
research goal was to examine the impact of instructional fre-
quency on 1) overall receptive vocabulary growth of those re-
ceiving the supplemental instruction and 2) the number of tar-
get words learned over a treatment period. We hypothesized
that more of the same (direct, intense instruction) over a treat-
ment period yields greater word learning gains for children
vulnerable to vocabulary delay. Rate of word learning during
treatment and fidelity of implementation (accuracy) were also
We used a matched subject’s research design to test our gen-
eral hypothesis that an increase in the frequency of direct, in-
tense vocabulary instruction boosts its efficacy for vulnerable
children. If demonstrated, this factor has implications for using
the STDP technique in early childhood classrooms and informs
the use of similar techniques aimed at secondary prevention.
The study was conducted in eight Head Start classrooms in
their third year of an Early Reading First program. The program
emphasized the development of essential early literacy skills
using scientifically research-based techniques and strategies
(Whitehurst, 2008). Classrooms were located in the Midwest (n
= 4) and the Southwest (n = 4) United States. The teacher-child
ratio in each of these classrooms was on average 1:10. Each
classroom included a teacher assistant.
The literacy curriculum represented an evidence-based ap-
proach per Early Reading First guidelines (e.g., provide active-
ties and instructional materials based on scientifically based
reading research for use in developing childrens phonological
awareness (ERF Guidance, p. 9)). The curriculum was embed-
ded in a series of content topic studies (e.g., Buildings) that are
part of the Creative Curriculum (Dodge, Colker, & Heroman,
2002). Children received on average a total of 75 minutes of
daily early literacy instruction divided between whole group
shared book reading and small group literacy activities at activ-
ity centers. All teachers used a direct, intense vocabulary in-
struction technique in the context of shared book reading, re-
ferred to as say-tell-do-play (See instructional example in Ap-
pendix). Target words taught in the context of shared book
reading followed a say-tell-do technique and were further prac-
ticed in play activities in activity centers on a dail y b asi s.
From the 8 classrooms, children with a standard score of 85
or less on the PPVT-IV (Dunn & Dunn, 2007) were identified
as vocabulary-delayed, totaling 161 children. From this group
of eligible children, 24 children were randomly selected for
participation in the study. From this eligible pool, a sub-sample
of 12 children was assigned to treatment, referred to as eligible
treatment (ET; 9 males; 3 females; mean age = 54.3 months;
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
mean PPVT standard score = 79). A matched sample was as-
signed to a non-treatment condition, referred to as eligible non-
treatment (EN; 9 males; 3 females; mean age = 53.1 months;
mean PPVT standard score = 79). A total of 10 teachers par-
ticipated, holding associate or BS degrees and averaging 22
years of experience. All had received an estimated 10 hours of
training in the STDP technique as a part of ongoing profes-
sional development in the Early Reading First program.
STPD Supplement
The STDP supplement replicates the say-tell-do-play vo-
cabulary approach embedded in the daily early literacy instruc-
tion of the participating classrooms. The instructional design of
STDP is grounded in the basic research on the statistical and
social nature of vocabulary development. From infancy the
amount and type of language available in the environment shapes
vocabulary development (Samuelson, 2002 [IES]). Studies of
infant speech, for example, show that sound frequencies in the
environment shape the neural architecture for language (Rivera-
Gaxiola, Silva-Pereya, & Kuhl, 2005). At the same time, vo-
cabulary acquisition is social, requiring human interaction for
word learning to occur (Hockema & Smith, 2009; Kuhn, Tsao,
& Liu, 2003). As Hart and Risley (2003) demonstrated, chil-
dren grow more like their parents in vocabulary resources, lan-
guage and interaction style. By age 3 they talk and use numbers
of different words similar to averages of their parents. The so-
cial setting creates the environmental conditions for fast map-
ping that links sound information in the environment to mean-
ing in individual working memory, and sets the stage for sche-
ma construction in long-term memory (Bloom, 2002; Carey,
1978; Heibeck & Markman, 1987; Smith, 2000).
Based on this body of research, two instructional design fea-
tures appear critical for directly teaching vocabulary to young
children: 1) multiple exposures to new words and 2) social
interaction in the word-learning environment. The instructional
design goal is to support meaningful word learning that engages
the young learner in substantial cognitive processing yet is
sensitive to cognitive load, i.e., does not overwhelm working
memory (Sweller, van Merrienboer, & Paas, 1998). Achieving
this goal rests on three assumptions of cognitive processing
(Mayer & Moreno (2003: p. 44)—the dual channel assumption
(separate information processing channels for verbal and visual
material) (Paivio, 1986); the limited capacity assumption (lim-
ited amount of processing capacity available in dual channels)
(Chandler & Sweller, 1991); and the active processing assump-
tion (learning requires cognitive work in each channel) (Wit-
trock, 1981).
Illustrated in Figure 1, the instructional design of STDP in-
cludes repetitive tasks across three phases of word exposure in
a storybook context that involve auditory-visual processing
channels: looking at and saying the word (print + picture); tell-
ing about the word; and using a gesture for the word. Each task
is designed to help young learners pay attention to target words,
organize them and integrate them within the context of an un-
folding story as well as their own existing knowledge. The task
sequence concludes with a play activity based on play research
that shows the strong social “press” for meaningful language
use in play contexts (Pellegrini & Galda, 1998; Nicolopoulou,
2005). Moreover the opportunity for play maintains motivation
to learn new words because it is fun and enjoyable for children.
So designed, STDP provides maximum exposure to new
words in a storybook context through auditory and visual
channels (Paivio, 1990) in close succession so as to reduce
cognitive load (Sweller, van Merrienboer, & Paas, 1998). It
offers children a learning strategy for saying, telling and “do-
ing” words before, during and after reading followed by play
activity, which encourages personal language use (Pellegrini &
Galda, 1993).
Two times a week over a 12-week period, teachers imple-
mented the STDP supplement to the ET group in a quiet setting
following the steps outlined in Table 1. Prior to reading, chil-
dren were introduced to 3 - 5 target words from the story
aligned with the current topic study. Word cards with photos
and/or concrete objects were used to present each word. Fol-
lowing modeling by the teacher, each child was encouraged to
say, tell about and enact a gesture (do) in association with the
word. During reading, the teacher highlighted or repeated the
Te ll
Afte r
Pl ay
Figure 1.
STDP design.
Table 1.
STDP implementation protocol.
Read aloud:Date:
Target words:Photos: Yes No
Objects: Yes No
Phase Step Protocol Teaching actions
1 I say T says t arget word
w/photo or object
2 You say T asks children to
say target word
3 I tell
T tells mea ni ng of target
word w/photo or object
4 You tell T asks children to
turn-n-tell a f riend
Before reading
5 *Repeat for each word
6 I say & tell T says & tells target words
7 You say & tell T asks children to
say & turn-n-tell
8 I do
T uses ac ti on t o help
define new word
During reading
9 You do T asks children to
repeat action
10 Let’s play T invites children to play
After reading
T encourages use of target
words in play
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 17
words, inviting children to say-tell-do specific words in the
context of the story. After reading, she briefly reviewed the
words and then moved into a simple play activity (memory
game; board game; puppet play) where children were encour-
aged to use new words on their own. The supplement, therefore,
replicated the instruction used in the general curriculum, pro-
viding an extra dose of direct, intense vocabulary instruction.
All children in the ERF program were administered the
PPVT-IV as pre/post measure of receptive vocabulary. A cur-
riculum-based measure, referred to as LearningWell CBDM
(Burstein; was used to monitor
the word learning of children in the ET and EN groups on a
weekly basis during the treatment period. To measure receptive
vocabulary, individual children were shown a screen with a
photo set, including the topic-related target words and two foil
words. They were asked to point to the target words (Show Me).
To measure expressive vocabulary, the child was shown a sin-
gle photograph and asked to name the picture or action in the
picture (Tell Me). In both groups the assessment was adminis-
tered at the end of each week on words taught that week.
The 10-step instructional protocol (Table 1) was used to
guide/support fidelity of implementation. Using video samples,
the research team monitored implementation by coaches, pro-
viding feedback in one-to-one exchanges and in professional
development. Over the 8-week period, coaches monitored tea-
chers using direct observation based on the 10-step protocol;
they provided feedback on fidelity on-the-spot and in weekly
professional development sessions.
Following the assignment of eligible children to either treat-
ment or non-treatment groups, the STDP supplement was im-
plemented in 8 classrooms over a 12-week period. Initially
literacy coaches implemented STDP two times a week for an
estimated 4 weeks with the children to establish routines and
model the protocol with a small group. Next teachers imple-
mented the procedure twice weekly for 8 weeks. All total, the
ET group received about 30 minutes of supplemental vocabu-
lary instruction on 3 - 5 topic-related target words each week.
This was in addition to the estimated 60 minutes they received
in daily instruction on 8 - 10 topic-related words per week. The
EN group received daily vocabulary instruction on the 8 - 10
topic-related target words only (See Table 2).
Data Analysis
Pre/post scores on the PPVT-IV were compared as a direct
Table 2.
Instructional time and focus in general and supplemental vocabulary
Instruction General Total
12 weeks Supplemental Total 12
weeks Total
EN and ET ET only
Minutes per
week ~1 hour ~12 hours ~30 minutes ~ 6 hours~18 hrs
Words per
week ~10 ~120
words ~5 ~60 words~180
measure of children’s receptive vocabulary growth. Since the
sample size was small (n = 20; 4 children left the program be-
cause their parents re-located [3 from EN; 1 from ET]), statis-
tical tests were not conducted. A scatter plot was used to visu-
ally examine correlational trends between groups in a prelimi-
nary way. Weekly progress monitoring data were analyzed us-
ing descriptive statistics. Overall mean gains between groups
on the PPVT and CBDM tasks were calculated as percentages.
Rate was defined as the number of target words identified per
session and was calculated for the ET group only. Performance
scores on the assessment tasks were rated as high (majority of
words identified; rating = 3); average (half of total words iden-
tified; rating = 2); and low (1 or 0 words identified; rating = 1).
Using the 10-step STDP implementation protocol (Table 1),
the research team (n = 3) selected a 10-minute video sample of
each coach’s STDP instruction (the equivalent of one session)
to check fidelity to the protocol. Each step was coded as present
(1) or not present (0) on a majority of target words (>50%) for
items 1-9 and the play activity. Inter-observer reliability was
established at nearly 100% on a coach sample.
Coaches were assigned 2 or 3 teachers and used the protocol
to observe each teacher’s STDP implementation 4 times stag-
gered over the 8-week period (equivalent to 25% of sessions).
Inter-observer reliability was established at 92% on a randomly
drawn sample of three observations from a pool of 40 observa-
tions. Observations of fidelity of implementation on the 10-step
protocol for each teacher were summed (n = 4 protocols); an
individual average of 80% of steps present was considered
Fidelity of Implementation
Fidelity of implementation was highest among coaches with
a mean of 90% per the protocol and a range of 80% - 100%.
Teachers implemented the protocol with a moderate degree of
fidelity with a mean of 80% and a range of 70% - 90%. Differ-
ences occurred primarily around the number of target words
subjected to the say-tell-do routine in an instructional session,
at times failing to reach the >50% of words criterion. This, in
turn, impacted the overall strength of the instructional supple-
ment in the session. The play portion of the protocol was im-
plemented consistently (and joyfully) across educational staff
and sessions.
Receptive Vocabulary Growth in ET and EN Group
Figure 2 compares the pre/post performance on the PPVT-
IV of the ET and EN matched groups. These results show that
the ET group gained nearly 13 percentage points in receptive
vocabulary knowledge whereas the EN group gained approxi-
mately 7 points, giving the ET group about a 6-point advantage.
That the majority of the children in the ET group (n = 10) had a
post PPVT-IV standard score above 85 is also notable, sug-
gesting that they may no longer need supplemental instruction
beyond general classroom instruction, although further research
is needed to test the sustainability of the intervention. Addi-
tionally, the insensitivity of standardized measures, such as the
PPVT, to yearly vocabulary growth should be considered when
gauging the practical i mpact of the intervention.
While the sample is very small, the scatter plot in Figure 3
provides a preliminary view of the relative strength of the rela-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
tionships between treatment/non-treatment and vocabulary gains
for each group. As the trend lines show, there is a positive cor-
relation between the vocabulary instruction and word learning
for both groups, although the correlations are in the low range
(EN = .139; ET = .423); this is no surprise given the resistance
to treatment often found in vocabulary-delayed children. The
difference in the linear values between the groups, however, is
noteworthy indicating that the treatment (more of the same
STDP) accounted for about 30% more of the variance in vo-
cabulary gain for the ET group over the EN group. In other
words, increased frequency of STDP increased its power to
impact word learning about three-fold for these children. What
this suggests is that more frequent use of an intense supplement
alone may modestly improve children’s chances of word learn-
ing. Statistical tests with a larger sample are needed to observe
if such increases hold or even improve significantly.
Target Word Learning in ET and EN Groups
Figure 4 shows the overall mean comparison of percentage
of target words identified between ET and EN groups on the
progress monitoring tasks of Show Me and Tell Me.
Eligible children receiving the STDP instructional supple men-
tal demonstrated an 8-point advantage over their peers in their
EligibleNonTreatment EligibleTreatment
Me an Pre PPVT
Me an PostPPVT
Figure 2.
Comparison of receptive vocabulary standard scores between
Figure 3.
Scatter plot of EN and ET pre/post PPVT standard sc ores.
learning of receptive vocabulary (Show Me) and 9 points in their
expressive vocabulary (Tell Me). These are substantial differ-
ences, and need to be tested for significance with a larger sample.
Description of Rate of Word Learning
The analysis of word learning rate in the ET group is sum-
marized in Figure 5. In general, the majority of children in the
ET group demonstrated an average rate of word learning in
both receptive and expressive modes. In short, they identified
and verbalized about half the words after a week of instruction.
That the word-learning rate in the expressive mode for the ma-
jority of children is in the average range is noteworthy. Half of
the children showed a high rate of word learning in the recap-
tive mode, identifying most or all of the target words; however,
none performed at a high rate in the expressive mode. Two of
the children showed a low rate of word learning in their expres-
sive vocabulary.
How to improve children’s word learning via direct instruc-
tion remains elusive, although recent studies have foregrounded
what appear to be potent features of intervention (e.g., anchored
instruction). The various combinations of intensity, frequency,
duration and conditions of instruction matched to individual
needs will require considerably more research—as there is
unlikely any universal treatment, especially for children with
serious vocabulary delays. Our study shows that on a small
scale, children who received more frequent direct, intensive
vocabulary instruction learned more words each week than their
peers with less frequent instruction. The majority of children
showed an average rate of receptive word learning with most
demonstrating average rates. The rate of expressive word learn-
EligibleNonTreatment EligibleTrea tment
Me an Te ll MeScore
Me an ShowMe
Figure 4.
Percentage of target words identified in CBM.
LowRate AverageRate HighRate
Figure 5.
Rate of word learning in ET group.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 19
ing, however, remained stubbornly low, also reported in prior
research. The findings are preliminary, but warrant further ex-
perimental testing of the STDP instructional supplement with a
larger sample.
Several design features of the STDP instructional supplement
show promise for vocabulary intervention in classroom settings.
One is the say-tell-do set of mental strategies that may increase
opportunities for word learning multi-modally (looking, speak-
ing, listening, gesturing). Both theory (Paivio, 1990) and re-
search (e.g., Korat, 2010) show the benefits of multi-channel
word processing for word learning. That the instruction asks
children to say a word, talk about it and attach a gesture to it
actively engages them and may help to focus their attention and
concretize word meaning.
Another is the close temporal succession of word exposures
in a story context, which may help to organize and focus the
mental energy needed for word learning. Based on cognitive
load theory (Sweller, van Merrienboer, & Paas, 1998), this
makes sense in that the instructional sequence may support
ongoing attention to words and word-consciousness. Research
on cross-modal attention also shows the benefits of temporal
contiguity for focusing attention on word meaning in context
(Verhallen & Bus, 2012).
A third design feature is the opportunity for brief instruc-
tional episodes during shared reading that teach and reinforce
new words—a feature also supported in related research (Bie-
miller & Boote, 2006; Smeets & Bus, 2012). Some studies, for
instance, show that these instructional ‘moments’ are not dis-
ruptive, but rather help children to concretize unknown words
and to make connections between story line, pictures and word
meanings (Bus & Verhallen, 2009).
A fourth feature is the inclusion of play activity that may
motivate young children to explore and use new words sponta-
neously, thus boosting their own self-agency with language.
Studies of play talk indicate that children tend to use more ex-
pressive language (Fein, 1979) and complex syntax (Vedeler,
1997) in play episodes
Our findings also inform the practical application of other
direct, intense vocabulary approaches where more of the same
may improve efficacious without the need to seriously modify
the approach or abandon it altogether. The frequency factor in
treatment has advantages in that it is easier to implement in real
settings than changes in intensity, which may complicate in-
struction, and it can influence duration and conditions. The
length of treatment, for example, may be reduced; conditions
may be met through computer-based instruction.
In sum, the findings of our study indicate that increasing the
frequency of the STDP supplement improved its viability with
children resistant to vocabulary intervention in the classroom
setting. The findings also support its instructional design, which
appears to support word learning readiness and effort. Finally,
the findings point to the potential of frequency as a key factor
in specifying the implementation of robust vocabulary instruc-
tion approaches with children at-risk for vocabulary delay.
While the small-scale nature of the study allowed close ex-
amination of a matched sample, it also met with several limita-
tions. The classroom settings used in the study were imple-
menting an Early Reading First program that probably favored
the STDP instructional approach. Early Reading First (ERF)
programs focus on science-based early literacy instruction in
well-resourced educational settings (e.g., substantial teacher
professional development) that put them at an advantage over
non-ERF programs. The matched sample was quite small after
attrition, and attendance was not accounted for in the analysis.
In combination these factors seriously limit the results, al-
though the results appear compelling enough to warrant further
research. Fidelity of implementation indicated potentially sig-
nificant variability between educational roles (coach; teacher)
and between individual teachers. A threshold for implementing
the instructional supplement needs to be established to better
gauge effects on children’s word learning. Inevitable problems
with logistics (e.g., schedules; special events; student/staff ab-
sences) also compromised the STDP supplement, and may have
impacted the results.
A strong vocabulary is at the core of strong language com-
prehension, thus accounting for its high priority in preschool
language and literacy programs. For children with vocabulary
delays, however, general instruction is often insufficient for
adequate progress. Supplemental instructional procedures are
needed to afford these children more opportunity to learn words
and practice using them. Yet the specifics of intensity, fre-
quency, duration and conditions of supplemental instruction as
treatment factors are only emerging. As a supplemental ap-
proach, greater frequency of the say-tell-do-play procedure
during the preschool day shows promise for boosting the word
learning of vocabulary-delayed youngsters in a practical way.
When intense interventions are in place, frequency may be a
viable factor for boosting response to treatment.
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Example of say-tell-do voca bulary instruction.
[Following introducing title, author, illustrator]
T: We’re going to learn some new words in our story today –
The Little Red Hen. Let’s talk about them together.
T (pointing to a photo): This is wheat. I say wheat; Now you
C: Wheat.
T: Right··· wheat.
T: Let me tell you about wheat. Wheat is a grain that we use
to make bread. Wheat is a grain we also have in our cereal.
Can you turn and tell your friend this about wheat?
C: (turning to a friend) Wheat is in our cereal.
T: Yes··· wheat is a grain. It is tall and sways in the wind,
like this (moves hands back and forth). Can you do like I do?
(Repeats motion,)
C: (hands move back and forth).
[T continues in same way with a set of new words.]
T: (pointing to the text illustration). Here it is! This is the
wheat. You say:
C: Wheat.
T: Remember··· wheat is a grain to make bread. It’s tall and
golden. Can you turn and tell your friend about wheat?
C: (to a friend). Wheat is tall. It’s a grain.
T: Wheat sways in the wind, like this (moves arms back and
forth). Do like I do to show wheat swaying in the wind.
C: (Move hands back and forth).
[As needed T repeats say-tell-do with other new words dur-
ing reading.]
[Following discussion about favorite parts of the story].
T: Let’s use these puppets to retell the story of The Little Red
T: (pointing to photo or text illustration). We learned about
wheat. You say:
C: Wheat.
T: Wheat is a grain we use to make bread. It’s a grain in our
cereal, too. It is tall and sways in the wind. Maybe you have
seen wheat in a field . Turn and tell about wheat to your friend.
C: Wheat is a grain, and it’s in bread.
T: Right! Can you show me how wheat sways in the wind?
C: (Move hands back and forth).
[T repeats other words as needed or as time permits.]
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