4 challenging words preschoolers learned from audiobooks

Students listened to audio recordings while following along in storybooks embedded with vocabulary lessons
By: | April 5, 2021
(AdobeStock/Sushiman)
Elizabeth Kelley

Elizabeth Kelley

What’s the best way for at-risk preschoolers to learn challenging words such as “disappointed,” “enormous,” “brave” and “protect?”

Interactive, audio-enhanced storybooks have proven effective at boosting vocabulary and better preparing a vulnerable population for elementary school, according to researchers at the University of Missouri and the University of South Florida.

“While we are working with children who are only 4 or 5 years old, we teach them the vocabulary words they will need to know when they eventually enter elementary or middle school,” said Elizabeth Kelley, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri’s School of Health Professions, who collaborated with Howard Goldstein at the University of South Florida, on the study.

“If we can teach them more challenging words while they are young, we can give them the language skills they will need to be ready for school and set them up for success throughout their lives,” Kelley said.


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In the study, Elizabeth Kelley developed an audio-based program called “Story Friends” for use in 24 preschool classrooms in Missouri and Florida. Students listened to audio recordings while following along in storybooks embedded with vocabulary lessons.

A preschooler’s vocabulary level correlates closely with future reading comprehension capabilities. Students with strong language skills perform better academically and have fewer behavioral problems, Kelley said.

And though the audio program was designed for students struggling with language skills, it has proven effective at building the vocabulary of all children, Kelly said.

The study, “Feasible implementation strategies for improving vocabulary knowledge of high-risk preschoolers: Results from a cluster-randomized trial,” was recently published in the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research.

“We know the experiences students have early on can greatly influence their future performance in school and their overall health and well-being,” Kelley said.“Going forward, this strategy can be used to help young students expand their language skills in general, and at-risk students with limited vocabularies can be identified for more specialized, tailored training and additional support.”


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