Developing Vocabulary with very young learners


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How to use a simple emotions board book to develop early emotional vocabulary.

Developing Vocabulary with very young learners

This example shows how to use a simple emotions board book and practitioner led dialogue to develop early emotional vocabulary. This book came from a Bookbug Baby bag but any simple feelings book could be used. The book includes the emotions: shy, frightened, excited, grumpy and sleepy. The book has large images and minimal writing. The practitioner is skilled in modelling emotion words and EW concepts, using the cogs to structure her own language and the children’s.


On first reading, the practitioner merely shares the “story” and points to the illustrations.


The next time the book is shared, more attention is paid to the detail on each page: the emotions words (orange cog) are emphasised and visual supports used to extend vocabulary and learning. The behaviour (green cog) that can be seen on each page is named and demonstrated by the practitioner and copied by the children.


“Gorilla feels shy. Look at Gorilla. His hands are over his face. (Demonstration.) He doesn’t want anyone to see him. He’s hiding. Let’s hide our faces, too” The practitioner then asked one of the children to find a symbol for shy using the EW Symbol Booklet. The child successfully did this and was able to match it to a cut out symbol and stick that on to the “shy” page of the book. The EW symbol card also shows the word, embarrassed, and red cheeks (body sensation, red/pink cog) which the practitioner was able to introduce into their discussions.


A similar dialogue took place for each page.


“Rabbit feels frightened. Rabbit is standing very still. Rabbit’s eyes are big and wide and her ears pricked back. Her mouth is open too. She must’ve seen or heard something over there (points to the way Rabbit is facing)(trigger, yellow cog).” The children were again asked to look at the images in the EW Symbol Booklet to identify the appropriate symbol. At first the symbol for anxious/worried was selected. The practitioner validated this suggestion, noting the similarities (wide eyes and open mouth) but also pointing out the differences (downward eyebrows), and then encouraged the children to look for a symbol with high eyebrows, like Rabbit’s. The children successfully located the symbol for frightened in the book. The practitioner showed the children the symbol cards for both frightened and worried, explaining both emotions at the children’s level. The children were then asked which one to stick on to the page. After discussion of how Rabbit was frightened by a noise and was worried it was a fox, they chose both symbols. A great demonstration of emotional language and understanding.

This simple activity of reading the book, pointing to the illustrations, copying the actions and matching these to the EW symbols is one rich in emotional vocabulary. It could be used as both an assessment tool for gauging children’s emotional understanding and language and as a solid foundation for developing further language and a deeper understanding, as well as an early introduction to the cogs and making (informal) links between concepts.

For more Early Years ideas using this book, download our full “Feeling Great” Practice Idea.