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Jessica Thornbury, Afra A. Herso, Ph.D.

Dramatic Play and Vocabulary Development

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In 2000, the National Reading Panel, Bush administration’s Good Start, Grow Smart (2002) initiative and the 2007 reauthorization of Head Start promoted scientific based literacy programs focusing on explicit and direct instruction (Han, Roskos, Vukelich & Buell, 2010). As a result of these policy initiatives, play was no longer considered an appropriate method of teaching literacy in many pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classrooms. Dramatic play, also referred to as pretend play, includes active engagement in role playing and the transformation of objects, situations, or identity (Rubin, Fein, & Vandenberg, 1983). There has been a connection between dramatic play and children’s development (Howe, Moiler, Chambers, & Petrakos, 1993). Moreover, research in early childhood literacy development suggests dramatic play and strategic conversation can facilitate students’ oral language development, vocabulary, and socio-emotional skills (Massey, 2013; Saracho & Spodek, 2006; Wasik & Iannone-Campbell, 2012). Using an action research design, this study explores the relationship between dramatic play and vocabulary development.  Purposeful sampling occurred and six kindergarten students from a classroom with thirty-four students were chosen. The participants include an equal number of males and females, as well as English Language Learners (ELLs). The students have mixed academic abilities and language complexity skills. The participants participated in four-week dramatic play intervention, where they had three dramatic play sessions per week. Qualitative data includes assessments, field notes, and dramatic play video recordings. Students were given pre-tests and post-tests for picture vocabulary tests, vocabulary definitions tests, and speaking tests. The findings suggest that dramatic play with teacher involvement helped all participants’ vocabulary growth. Students improved in the mastery of targeted vocabulary, as well as additional content vocabulary. Students also showed improvement oral language and socio-emotional skills. These findings suggest the potential benefit dramatic play has for increasing vocabulary when a teacher scaffolds the session. The author will discuss strategies and outcomes of the study in greater detail and explain challenges and limitations of the study.

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