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How to build vocabulary when reading with young children

By Janet Castrejon

Mother reading with child

When reading a book in a foreign language to a child, you want to use strategies to build vocabulary and improve comprehension. These strategies will be particularly important if the language is the child's second language. (Note: Some of these are the same strategies that you use with beginning readers.)

Before reading

  • Look at the title of the book and the picture on the cover and have the child make predictions about what the book is about.
  • Ask them what they already know about the topic of the book. For example, if it's about a whale, ask them what they know about whales.
  • Do a "Book Walk." Show them the pictures from each page of the book and ask them what they think will happen in the story.

During reading

  • Ask questions about the pictures on the page. If there is an object on the page that they are not familiar with in the foreign language, talk about it to allow for practice with the new word. For example, "What do you think he's going to do with the ______?"
  • Periodically stop and have them predict what they think will happen in the story.

After reading

  • Check for understanding by asking them to retell the story in their own words. You could use the "book walk" strategy again. Flip through the book and ask if they remembered what happened on each page. This also provides an opportunity to review new words that came out in the book.
  • Ask them if they liked or disliked the book and why.
  • Ask them who their favorite character was and why.

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