Building a child’s vocabulary in preschool

Ways to incorporate literacy and build language development in the classroom!

Language and literacy are important components of any preschool classroom and building a child’s vocabulary is a key component in facilitating language and literacy.

Build Vocabulary

Often times, when one things of the word “vocabulary” one might right away think of the word wall.  A word wall in the preschool classroom can help draw attention to new words and words in print but vocabulary is about building meaning and understanding which comes from putting words into action and making meaningful connections. Promoting vocabulary in the early childhood setting should be a natural and fun part of the classroom experience. Let’s take a look at ways in which you can promote a child’s vocabulary in your preschool classroom.

Emphasize new Words

The first thing for you to keep in mind is that every new word counts. We are not talking about searching through the dictionary for complex words. What we are talking about is emphasizing words that are part of a child’s natural environment and daily living. For example, if you are helping a child put on his or her jacket, say the words “jacket, zipper, on, and off” and invite the child to use the words through questions or casual conversation.

Weave in new Meanings

Make new words meaningful and practical to your students. Integrate new words into your student’s play and daily experiences by naturally weaving them in and out of conversations you have with the children about their play.

Emphasize Feeling Words

Introduce words that give preschoolers a way to express their feelings and emotions. Words such as happy, sad, mad, aggravated, frustrated, tired, lonely, and enjoyable can be used in everyday conversations with your students.

Emphasize the Names of Objects

Introduce objects that are familiar and not-so-familiar and that will invite interest and promote conversation.


Use lots of Descriptive Words

“You have chosen to use the color green…Your hands are small and my hands are big…Hannah’s hair is long and Juan’s hair is short…the toys in this water table are wet and cold…please place your paper on the round table…you have two hands and two feet.”

Emphasize Words through Books and Pictures

read aloud everyday and repeat favorite books often. Reading aloud with young children helps them to draw connection between the printed words and the pictures of the story. As the children hear the story they will draw connections the words you are reading and the meaning they share.

Invite the Children to Explore Books

Allow children to freely explore books of interest on their own time as well.  Books you have read with the children are a wonderful addition to the children’s book area because the children already have a sense of what the book is about and the kinds of words that are in the book. Take time to listen to the children as they read the book to each other or to you.

Integrate Printed Words throughout the Classroom

Include words that emphasize the name of familiar objects, concepts, and ideas and have the printed words displayed in strategic places throughout the classroom. As your students show interest in the words, help the children identify the words by using the words in everyday conversations.

Keep the Children’s Names in Reach and in View 

One of the first words a child learns and finds most meaningful is his or her name. Keep the children’s names visible and accessible throughout the classroom.

Building vocabulary is an ongoing process that should be a balance of intentional and natural learning opportunities.

By |2018-12-20T13:26:23+00:00October 24th, 2009|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Dana Spiers June 1, 2017 at 10:11 am - Reply

    Is there a list of words my 3 year old granddaughter should know. I’m trying to introduce new words to her before she starts preschool for September 2017. I’m looking for a list of words I can go over with her everyday.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 2, 2017 at 8:27 pm - Reply

      Hi Dana! I recommend doing lots of reading aloud with your granddaughter so her experience in language is fun, warm, and comes with better understanding of the words as they are used naturally and are more meaningful when learned in context of the books you read together.

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