Go long! Go deep! Storybook reading intervention to target breadth and depth of word knowledge in preschool-age children

One of the most fun and, quite honestly, easiest contexts that we can use in therapy with toddlers and preschoolers is shared book reading. And, it’s kind of a no brainer that we can and should be using interactive read alouds to target one of the key areas of language development that’s lacking in our 2-, 3-, and 4-year-old clients: receptive and expressive vocabulary*.

In this intervention study of 226 preschoolers, they found that:

  • Kids who had a high initial level of vocabulary knowledge were able to increase their understanding and use of words through exposure alone.

  • However, for kids with the weakest initial vocabulary levels, exposure and repetition isn’t enough.


So what helps? Explicit instruction. Their explicit intervention activities included: pictures, clear child-friendly definitions, and being encouraged to act out, use, and explain target words. They found that in order to go beyond breadth (the number of words that you know) to depth (how much you know about a word), explicit instruction of word meaning and interactive activities that extend understanding beyond how the words are depicted in the book, helped. Ultimately, going long and going deep is key if we want to have a long-term impact on vocabulary development.

*This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed the topic of word learning during shared book reading. See this review, too.


Dickinson, D. K., Nesbitt, K. T., Collins, M. F., Hadley, E. B., Newman, K., Riveria, B. L., …Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2019). Teaching for breadth and depth of vocabulary knowledge: Learning from explicit and implicit instruction and the storybook texts. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2018.07.012