Repeatedly reading the same book to toddlers helps develop their vocabulary

Katy Morton
Monday, March 4, 2013

A new study shows that reading the same books to children over and over again helps them to retain new words.

Researchers from the University of Sussex created nine storybooks which contained made-up words for two pairs of unfamiliar objects, for example- a 'sprock', a term used to describe a hand-held device for mixing food. Each book contained drawings of the new objects.

Storybook plots focused on the everyday activities of one family with either the brother or sister as the main character.

The storybooks were read to 16 three-year-olds over the course of a week. One group were read three different stories with the same new words, while another heard only one of the stories with the same new words.

Children were then tested to see if they could remember the objects referred to in the stories. Children who had heard just one story were much better at recalling and remembering the new words than those who had been exposed to three different stories.

The authors say that the findings suggest that reading children stories multiple times in succession has a dramatic beneficial effect on vocabulary learning.

Lead author Dr Jessica Horst from the university’s Word Lab said, ‘We know that the more books you have at home, the higher the academic achievement of children.  But what we haven't understood is actually how that learning happens.

‘This research suggests that it's not the number of books, but the repetition of each book that leads to greater learning. We know that children who watch the same TV programme over and over again do better in comprehension tests afterwards. What we think is happening with reading is that each time a child hears the book they are picking up new information. The first time it might just be the story, the second time they are noticing details of description, and so on. If the new word is introduced in a variety of contexts children are less likely to focus on the new word.’

She added, ‘Children don't necessarily need a vast quantity of books, but they do benefit from repeated exposure to those books.’

The study, ‘Get the story straight: contextual repetition promotes word learning from storybooks’, is published in the Frontiers in Developmental Psychology journal.

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