Molly F. Collins

A research-to-practice institute

On January 21, Professor Molly F. Collins presented her longitudinal research showing that exposure to rich instructional strategies during storybook reading supports ELL preschoolers’ vocabulary acquisition and comprehension skills.

Researchers, teachers, policymakers, and administrators attended the research-to-practice institute to learn the research and how to apply high-quality strategies to practice with preschoolers.

See highlights below on vocabulary, comprehension, raising the bar, and implications for all.

Strategies for providing rich explanation of sophisticated vocabulary during storybook reading

  • Point to illustration of word (e.g., here, the lion doffed [point] his hat).
  • “Tuck in” a brief definition (e.g., doff means to remove or take off something you are wearing).
  • Provide a synonym (e.g., doff means to take off clothing).
  • Use a gesture, if words permit (I might not gesture for this word because I want to get back to the reading; however, I can doff something later in a different context, for example in a large or small group setting).
  • Use a decontextualized statement* (e.g., when you came to school today, you doffed your coat and hung it on the hook in your cubby).

* Do this only if children won’t get sidetracked with tangential ideas. Use judgment in offering a statement that directs children away from the text during the reading.

Tips for leading stimulating story discussions

Choose interesting topics

  • Primary topics (1st/2nd readings)
  • Secondary topics (3rd/4th readings)
  • Special features (additional readings)

Develop the discussion

  • Study text and illustrations
  • Decide what you want children to know
  • Employ stimulating questions/prompts
  • Help children integrate facts and explicit information to arrive at new understandings

What we can do about it: Raise the bar!

  • Use and explain sophisticated vocabulary in conversation, when reading stories, and during play.
  • Choose interesting story topics for discussion.
  • Ask thought-provoking questions, and prompt them to deepen their thinking.

Implications: Practitioners, parents, and policymakers

Policymakers, advocates, and educators participating in the session discussed how Collins’s findings could be translated into practice to encourage more advanced verbal interaction with children. The following points come from their group discussion, as well as recommendations emailed or provided on the evaluation and feedback form.


  • We need to expose children to more than just basic vocabulary and provide rich explanations for learning.
  • When selecting books, we should consider the vocabulary and the interesting ideas they provide.
  • The power of modeling (using rich vocabulary) was reiterated by today’s institute.
  • Regardless
    of children’s first or second language, we can prompt deep thinking by
    asking higher-level questions and supporting discussion. Children can
    do this!
  • The strategies for developing vocabulary and comprehension can raise the overall quality of interactions with children.


  • Parents can use these strategies to support vocabulary and comprehension when reading books at home.
  • Strategies can be used in any language.
  • Follow-up seminars should integrate training for classroom staff and parents.

Policymakers & educational leaders

  • The quality of our language interactions in the classroom can make a difference in what children learn.
  • We must undertake comprehensive initiatives to promote these practices in preschool.
  • School principals need resources/more information on how to train coaches and staff to do this.

In short, the way we talk influences the way they learn and think.

This event was made possible with the generous support of the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation.

Download Less is Less: How we underestimate preschoolers’ vocabulary and comprehension skills [PDF, 1pg]