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Once upon a time, there was a pulchritudinous princess . . .: The role of word definitions and multiple story contexts in children's learning of difficult vocabulary

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 February 2012

National Foundation for Educational Research, UK
University of Reading
ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE Carmel Houston-Price, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Earley Gate, Whiteknights, Reading RG6 6AL, UK. E-mail:


The close relationship between children's vocabulary size and their later academic success has led researchers to explore how vocabulary development might be promoted during the early school years. We describe a study that explored the effectiveness of naturalistic classroom storytelling as an instrument for teaching new vocabulary to 6- to 9-year-old children. We examined whether learning was facilitated by encountering new words in single versus multiple story contexts, or by the provision of age-appropriate definitions of words as they were encountered. Results showed that encountering words in stories on three occasions led to significant gains in word knowledge in children of all ages and abilities, and that learning was further enhanced across the board when teachers elaborated on the new words’ meanings by providing dictionary definitions. Our findings clarify how classroom storytelling activities can be a highly effective means of promoting vocabulary development.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012 

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