Blogger Maria Trivisonno

Direct Vocabulary Instruction

Last month, I attended my first in-person professional development in two years when I presented at and attended the Ohio Library Council’s Convention and Expo in Columbus, Ohio.  While there, I saw amazing speakers like Jason Reynolds and Saeed Jones and attend other sessions focusing on youth services.

To me, the most impactful session was entitled “Rich, Robust and Expressive: Vocabulary Building in Storytime; Storytimes for School Readiness and Community Needs.” Presented by Dr. Maria Cahill, Associate Professor in the School of Information Sciences in the College of Communication and Information at the University of Kentucky and Janet Ingraham-Dwyer, Library Consultant—Youth Services for the State Library of Ohio (and truly the MVP for youth librarians in my state), the session focused on Direct Vocabulary Instruction (DVI). 

I had never heard of DVI as a term, though I—like most storytime librarians—have somewhat used it in my work.  However, this session drilled down on why we use books with rich terminology and how we can most effectively teach vocabulary to our storytime participants.

Thankfully, it’s not a difficult process.  DVI has three steps:

  1. State the teachable word.
  2. Define using common language; and
  3. Provide a connected example.
“Blocks” by Hey Paul is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A “teachable word” can be easily described with a synonym or antonym and can be used in child-friendly and/or book-related examples.  For instance, a noun that you can show in real life or a verb that could be acted out are teachable words. 

During the session, the presenters then passed out a bunch of picture books and had us practice DVI.  In small groups, we picked out teachable words and giving a simple definition and connected example.  This exercise taught me that, while DVI is not particularly difficult, pre-planning and not trying to make up a definition on the spot is certainly a best practice!

That’s DVI in a nutshell.  There is more to talk about, of course.  We discussed asking open-ended questions before, during, and after shared reading.  The presenters also looked at the rich language, greater complexity, repetition, and action words found in many songs along with the benefits of self talk and parallel talk.

In addition, the presenters gave us a link to two modules based on the Storytimes for School Readiness IMLS-funded research project in which the University of Kentucky took part. These are available for the rest of November, so if you are interested, look at them now!

How are you using Reading, Talking, Singing, and Playing in your storytimes to build vocabulary?  Please feel free to share below!

This post addresses the core competencies of I. Commitment to Client Group, III. Programming Skills, and VII. Professional and Personal Development.


  1. emily mroczek

    Thanks for this post Maria. I’ve never heard of this before and it seems like a great idea.

  2. Maria Trivisonno

    You’re very welcome! I had not heard of it either, which is why I was eager to share 🙂

  3. Maria Cahill

    Maria, thank you so much for your kind words! I am thrilled to read that you found our presentation beneficial. Janet Ingraham Dwyer is a gem and an outstanding collaborator! I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn with her, and I am so grateful to the public libraries in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana who opened their doors to our research team so that we could learn from them.

    1. Maria Trivisonno

      It was so nice to meet you and to learn more about your research at the Conference. Janet is indeed the best 🙂

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