Closing the word gap

You may have heard of the “word gap” it refers to the gap of 30 million words between different groups of children before the age of 3.

This gap was identified by researchers Hart and Risley in 1995 when their study that found low-income children are exposed to 30 million fewer words than their higher-income peers before age 3. Meaning that these word-impoverished children were starting school with a disadvantage that they may not
 Closing the word gap

This study and others have linked poor early literacy skills to lifelong academic, social and income disparities. This work has been furthered by many other researchers and the consensus is that low levels of vocabulary are a barrier to children becoming fluent readers as this hinders comprehension, enjoyment and fluency. The impact goes further than reading, low levels of vocabulary affects overall academic success and social mobility.  

We know that the vocabulary divide widens over time if it not addressed. We need to make sure that we develop approaches that teach vocabulary systematically as well as opportunistically. In doing so we can lessen the word divide.
What do we know about language development?

  • A large vocabulary is crucial to reading success.

  • Children need a vocabulary of 15,000- 20,000 words to read children’s literature successfully.

  • New vocabulary needs to be taught.

  • Once established, differences in vocabulary knowledge remain.

  • Children need to hear and use new words multiple times to fully understand them.

  • Stories chosen at a level beyond the children’s own reading level increases exposure to new and ambitious vocabulary. Talking about these words widens children’s vocabularies.

Source: Isabel Beck et al Bringing Words to Life
What you can do at school:

  • Choose books at a higher level than the children in your class can read independently to read aloud to your class.

  • Explain any unusual words that you find in these books so you help the children grow their vocabulary.

  • Talk about books. Research has proved talk about books has a richer vocabulary than normal conversation and it has a significant impact on children’s vocabulary development.

  • Plan and teach vocabulary. Ensure a whole school approach so that language is taught and built upon in later year groups.

    Rising Stars Vocabulary has used the latest research to create fun, creative activities to teach a core of language. The words chosen for each year group are challenging but through a series of supportive activities, engaging games and repeated application the children get a deeper understanding of each word they meet. We also teach words in context through poetry, stories and non-fiction. This engaging new resource is available in June for Reception and Key Stage One, Lower Key Stage Two and Upper Key Stage Two. Learn more and download a free sample here. 

    The word gap is something we can close. Every child can be given the tools to love words and love reading. Learning about words is a key step in developing that love.

Charlotte RabyCharlotte Raby is an early reading specialist, educational consultant and writer. She is the author of Rising Stars Vocabulary. Follow Charlotte on Twitter @CharlotteRaby 




english, English and Literacy, english teaching, learning, literacy, primary, teaching, vocabulary, word, word gap

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