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Using Multimedia to Promote Vocabulary Learning: Supporting English Language Learners in Inclusive Classrooms

Differentiated Instruction

Using Multimedia to Promote Vocabulary Learning: Supporting English Language Learners in Inclusive Classrooms

A recent research study shows that using multimedia video in conjunction with traditional read aloud methods may improve the vocabulary growth of English language learners. An example of how to implement multimedia during classroom read-alouds is described.

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The importance of vocabulary instruction: focus on ELLS

Children need to know a wide range of words to understand and learn from the stories they encounter in school. A child’s comprehension can suffer if they don’t know enough about the words they hear. This is a particular problem for English language learners (ELLs) who come to school with limited English language background. In fact, for ELLs who lag behind their monolingual English peers in English language skills, vocabulary may be the greatest hurdle they must overcome to succeed in school. Given the growing number of English language learners in U.S. schools, it’s important for teacher to develop a repertoire of effective, research-based instructional techniques that help young children from diverse language backgrounds improve their knowledge of word meanings.

Supporting traditional read-aloud instruction with multimedia

Incorporating vocabulary instruction into storybook read-alouds is a popular and effective way to improve the word knowledge of young children. However, because ELLs may not understand the meaning of many basic vocabulary words (e.g., same/different), they may need additional or different instructional support than non-ELLs during storybook centered vocabulary instruction. Using multimedia video in conjunction with traditional read aloud methods may improve the vocabulary growth of English language learners. Based upon research that suggests students benefit from information presented both verbally and nonverbally, representing words in more than one way may clarify instruction and provide the additional information needed to make sense of the words they are learning.

The research study

Based on this, we conducted a research study to investigate the effects of video support during read-aloud vocabulary instruction, looking specifically at the performance of ELLs. The study was set in a small, semi-urban public school in the northeast. Eighty-five children from pre-school through kindergarten participated in the study.

There were two intervention conditions in this study: (a) non-multimedia and (b) multimedia. In both of these conditions, teachers taught a scripted intervention lesson 45 minutes per day for three days a week over the course of twelve weeks. The length and duration of the intervention was the same across conditions. The content of both conditions was habitats (i.e., rainforests, savannahs, coral reefs, and deserts). There were two main reasons why we chose to use science content in our intervention. First, by combining vocabulary and science, teachers would be able to address both of these important instructional components at the same time. Second, a focus on content area topics in the early grades is essential for building children’s background knowledge.

Teachers read both fiction and non-fiction books on these topics to children. For example, for the focus on savannahs, teachers read The Giraffe who was Afraid of Heights (Ufer, 2006) and Life on the African Savannah (Berger, 1995). During read-alouds of the selected books, teachers focused on words such as herd, prey, graze, migrate, predator, path, charge, and defend. Then, in the video condition, teachers showed video clips that illustrated these words. After reading the books on savannahs, for example, teachers showed video clips from Swinging Safari from National Geographic’s Really Wild Animals Series (2005). Teachers in the non-video condition continued with more traditional vocabulary activities.

Results of the study

The results of the study supported the effectiveness of multimedia support for vocabulary instruction. We found that, compared to ELL children who only experienced read alouds, ELL children who were also exposed to the multimedia content learned more words then their ELL peers and caught up in vocabulary knowledge to their English only peers. We also found that non-ELL children learned the vocabulary words at the same rate whether or not they watched the video or only experienced read-alouds.

What this means for teachers

Multimedia additions to traditional read-alouds may be an appropriate way to support the vocabulary needs of ELLs in inclusive settings, as well as ELL classrooms. It is important to note that in the multimedia-enhanced intervention in this study, teachers guided children to notice words in the video and scaffolded children’s word learning by discussing words in the context of the video. It is likely that just showing the video to the children would not have been as effective.

Suggestions for use

One way multimedia can be used in conjunction with read-alouds is as follows:


Vocabulary knowledge is critically important for school success. English language learners who are behind their native English-speaking peers in vocabulary knowledge are at risk for experiencing difficulty in reading throughout their school years. Intervention that speeds up the vocabulary growth of ELLs is necessary so that they can catch up to their peers and keep up with instruction in school.

The video supported vocabulary intervention described here was able to accelerate the vocabulary learning of ELL students such that the gap between non-ELL and ELL students narrowed by the end of the intervention. Multimedia enhancement of vocabulary instruction may be an appropriate way to enhance regular vocabulary instruction to meet the needs of ELLs in inclusive settings, as well as in ELL classrooms.

Interview with Dr. Rebecca Silverman

Dr. Silverman talks about the two most important things parents can do to help their child build vocabulary skills: talk and read with your child every day. Watch video clip. (opens in a new window)


This study is fully described in Silverman, R. & Hines, S. (May 2009). The effects of multimedia-enhanced instruction on the vocabulary of English-language learners and non-English language learners in pre-kindergarten through second grade. Journal of Educational Psychology (opens in a new window)

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