5 tips for vocabulary instruction

Vocabulary plays a critical role in a child’s academic success. Children must develop strong vocabulary skills to become successful listeners, speakers, readers, writers and more. Children who are deaf and hard of hearing often enter school behind their peers with typical hearing in the area of vocabulary. Their difficulty with overhearing language and lack of incidental learning requires that they be directly taught new words. Below are some tips for vocabulary instruction to implement with children with hearing loss to develop their vocabulary skills and set them up for academic success.

  1. Use visuals. When introducing new words, pair the word and its definition with a visual. You can use a picture, show a video or demonstrate/show a real-life object. For older students, use a visual aid such as CID’s vocabulary card template, that allows the student to write the word and its definition, use the word in a sentence and draw a picture. When the child can not only hear the word but see it, too, he is more likely to truly understand it and be able to correctly use it in his spoken language.
  2. Pre-teach. For students in older grades, teach new academic content words in advance. It can often be difficult for students with hearing loss to keep up with fast-paced classroom instruction and discussions. Giving students who are deaf and hard of hearing the opportunity to hear and learn new words ahead of time allows them to be better prepared for keeping up with and making sense of academic lessons.
  3. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Children who are deaf and hard of hearing need to hear new words multiple times and in multiple contexts throughout their day in order to truly learn them. Informing other professionals on the student’s educational team, as well as their parents, about target vocabulary can help increase the chances that the student is exposed to these words throughout their school day as well as at home.
  4. Use a theme. Teach new vocabulary within a theme. For younger students, this might be a relevant, age-appropriate (and timely) theme such as, apples in the fall or bugs in the spring. For older students, new words are often taught around the content area of a given subject such as force and motion in science or government in social studies. Themes help students learn related words and allow them to draw on their past experiences and existing knowledge.
  5. Recognize vocabulary development is an ongoing goal. Learning new vocabulary never ends, even for adults. For students who are deaf and hard of hearing, vocabulary development is an area that should always be considered when writing goals and in daily instruction.

To learn more about vocabulary acquisition, stay tuned for CID’s new online course, Vocabulary Acquisition for Academic Success, coming in October 2020!


Jessica Klein began working as a speech-language pathologist at CID in 2004, assessing and treating children from birth to age 12. Klein co-wrote the “Targeting Speech Skills for Children Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing” workshop, presenting annually at CID as well as at Southeast Missouri State University and the Missouri Speech and Hearing Association conference. In 2011, she accepted a job as a speech-language pathologist at a St. Louis charter school. While in the public school setting, Klein assessed and provided services to students with varying speech and language needs. She was a member of the school’s CARE team, collaborating with teachers and specialists to develop interventions for students struggling in the classroom. In 2015, she returned to CID ready to share her public school experiences with colleagues to help better prepare CID students for mainstream settings. Since her return, she has written a webinar about developing literacy skills in children who are deaf and hard of hearing as well as spoken about literacy skills and case managing students who are deaf and hard of hearing at Fontbonne University. She became associate coordinator of the CID Emerson Center for Professional Development in 2017.


Abby Zoia is currently serving as the Coordinator of the Emerson Center for Professional Development at Central Institute for the Deaf (CID). Ms. Zoia holds a Missouri teacher of the deaf certificate (K-12), professional certification from the national Council of Education of the Deaf, as well as Listening and Spoken Language Specialist certification from the AG Bell Academy.  She has served as a teacher at various age-levels for more than 16 years and was recently the Coordinator of the Virginia J. Browning Primary School at CID.  In addition to presenting at numerous CID workshops, Ms. Zoia has presented at the international conventions of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. 

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