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Oral Language Experiences and Reading Development — May 2019


Could you provide information on how oral language experiences can support reading development in elementary school?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources since 2000 on oral language experiences and reading development in elementary school. The sources included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

Research References

Altun, D. (2018). The efficacy of multimedia stories in preschoolers’ explicit and implicit story comprehension. Early Childhood Education Journal, 46(6), 629–642. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Oral language provides a foundation for reading comprehension. Story comprehension is a fundamental oral language skill; it covers making inferences, identifying main ideas, monitoring, perspective-taking, and applying working memory capacity. Complex reasoning and perspective-taking are key factors in deep reading comprehension. Preliterate children’s deeper story comprehension skills can be initial indicators of their later reading comprehension. Thus, the purpose of this research is to investigate preliterate preschool children’s story comprehension skills in detail. This study focuses on the additional multimedia features of digital storybooks and whether they hinder or promote young children’s explicit and implicit comprehension in a small group reading activity. The findings revealed that (a) children in the multimedia-enhanced storybook group outperformed the print storybook group in terms of both explicit and implicit story comprehension, (b) explicit story comprehension was higher than implicit story comprehension for both groups, and (c) the children recalled significantly more story elements and the length of the story retellings was greater with the aid of animated illustrations. The findings indicate that a digital storybook provides close temporal contiguity of text and visuals and may enhance story understanding by concretizing the narration. The study provides evidence that multimedia stories can foster children’s implicit story comprehension and inferential thinking about the content of the story.”

Collins, M. F. (2005). ESL preschoolers’ English vocabulary acquisition from storybook reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 40(4), 406–408. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “In this article, the author presents a study which focused on some of the gaps in current knowledge about vocabulary acquisition from storybook reading. First, the study examined the effects of storybook reading on the vocabulary acquisition of 4- and 5-year-olds. Second, the study not only employed repeated readings of stories but also employed the use of rich explanations of target words during the reading. Third, it contributes to knowledge of vocabulary acquisition of second-language learners because it examines ESL preschoolers’ English vocabulary acquisition. Next, it examined not only the role of initial L2 vocabulary knowledge to vocabulary acquisition but also the role of initial L1 knowledge to second-language vocabulary acquisition. It utilized many storybooks to assess children’s vocabulary acquisition and examined storybook reading in a time frame which reflects the typical or natural experience of repeated readings. Finally, it examined a number of variables for their contribution to vocabulary acquisition from storybook reading, including initial vocabulary knowledge in both languages, home reading practices, age, gender, and treatment. Furthermore, the study asks the following research questions: (1) Are rich explanations helpful to ESL preschoolers’ acquisition of sophisticated vocabulary from storybooks? (2) Does initial L2 vocabulary level contribute to children’s target vocabulary acquisition? (3) Does initial L1 vocabulary level contribute to children’s target vocabulary acquisition? (4) Which of the following variables account for the variance in ESL children’s English vocabulary acquisition from storybook reading: treatment, initial L2 level, initial L1 level, home reading practices, age, and gender?”

Coyne, M. D., Simmons, D. C., Kame’enui, E. J., & Stoolmiller, M. (2004). Teaching vocabulary during shared storybook readings: An examination of differential effects. Exceptionality, 12(3), 145–162. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “A storybook intervention for kindergarten children that integrates principles of explicit vocabulary instruction within the shared storybook reading experience is described with findings from an experimental study demonstrating the effects of this intervention on the vocabulary development of kindergarten students at risk of reading difficulty. Results indicated that in comparison to students in the control group, students in the intervention with lower receptive vocabulary skills demonstrated greater gains in explicitly taught vocabulary than did students with higher receptive vocabulary. Findings suggest that the explicit teaching of word meanings within storybook readings may help to narrow, or at least halt, the widening vocabulary gap among students.”

Foorman, B. R., Herrera, S., Petscher, Y., Mitchell, A., & Truckenmiller, A. (2015). The structure of oral language and reading and their relation to comprehension in Kindergarten through Grade 2. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 28(5), 655–681. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This study examined the structure of oral language and reading and their relation to comprehension from a latent variable modeling perspective in Kindergarten, Grade 1, and Grade 2. Participants were students in Kindergarten (n = 218), Grade 1 (n = 372), and Grade 2 (n = 273), attending Title 1 schools. Students were administered phonological awareness, syntax, vocabulary, listening comprehension, and decoding fluency measures in mid-year. Outcome measures included a listening comprehension measure in Kindergarten and a reading comprehension test in Grades 1 and 2. In Kindergarten, oral language (consisting of listening comprehension, syntax, and vocabulary) shared variance with phonological awareness in predicting a listening comprehension outcome. However, in Grades 1 and 2, phonological awareness was no longer predictive of reading comprehension when decoding fluency and oral language were included in the model. In Grades 1 and 2, oral language and decoding fluency were significant predictors of reading comprehension.”

Foorman, B. R., Koon, S., Petscher, Y., Mitchell, A., & Truckenmiller, A. (2015). Examining general and specific factors in the dimensionality of oral language and reading in 4th–10th grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(3), 884. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The objective of this study was to explore dimensions of oral language and reading and their influence on reading comprehension in a relatively understudied population—adolescent readers in 4th through 10th grades. The current study employed latent variable modeling of decoding fluency, vocabulary, syntax, and reading comprehension so as to represent these constructs with minimal error and to examine whether residual variance unaccounted for by oral language can be captured by specific factors of syntax and vocabulary. A 1-, 3-, 4-, and bifactor model were tested with 1,792 students in 18 schools in 2 large urban districts in the Southeast. Students were individually administered measures of expressive and receptive vocabulary, syntax, and decoding fluency in mid-year. At the end of the year students took the state reading test as well as a group-administered, norm-referenced test of reading comprehension. The bifactor model fit the data best in all 7 grades and explained 72% to 99% of the variance in reading comprehension. The specific factors of syntax and vocabulary explained significant unique variance in reading comprehension in 1 grade each. The decoding fluency factor was significantly correlated with the reading comprehension and oral language factors in all grades, but, in the presence of the oral language factor, was not significantly associated with the reading comprehension factor. Results support a bifactor model of lexical knowledge rather than the 3-factor model of the Simple View of Reading, with the vast amount of variance in reading comprehension explained by a general oral language factor.”

Goldenberg, C., Tolar, T. D., Reese, L., Francis, D. J., Ray Bazán, A., & Mejía-Arauz, R. (2014). How important is teaching phonemic awareness to children learning to read in Spanish? American Educational Research Journal, 51(3), 604–633. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This comparative study examines relationships between phonemic awareness and Spanish reading skill acquisition among three groups of Spanish-speaking first and second graders: children in Mexico receiving reading instruction in Spanish and children in the United States receiving reading instruction in either Spanish or English. Children were tested on Spanish oral language and reading skills in fall and spring of Grades 1 and 2. Children in Mexico were the lowest in phonemic awareness among the three groups and very low in their entering first-grade reading skills. However, they ended second grade matching or surpassing the reading skills of the U.S. students while remaining lower in phonemic awareness. Findings cast doubt on whether phonemic awareness instruction is helpful for children learning to read in Spanish.”

Kieffer, M. J. (2012). Early oral language and later reading development in Spanish-speaking English language learners: Evidence from a nine-year longitudinal study. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 33(3), 146–157. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Using nationally-representative, longitudinal data on a cohort of Spanish-speaking English language learners in the U.S., this study investigated the extent to which early oral language proficiency in Spanish and English predicts later levels and rates of growth in English reading. Latent growth models indicated that both Spanish and English proficiency in kindergarten predicted levels of English reading in third through eighth grade, but that only English proficiency was uniquely predictive. English productive vocabulary was found to be a better predictor of later English reading than more complex measures, i.e., listening comprehension and story retell, contrary to findings for native English speakers. Oral language did not predict later growth rates. Findings suggest the need for educational efforts to develop oral language during early childhood for this underserved population. Findings further suggest that such early efforts may be necessary, but insufficient to accelerate ELLs’ reading trajectories as they move into adolescence.”

Lervåg, A., Hulme, C., & Melby-Lervåg, M. (2018). Unpacking the developmental relationship between oral language skills and reading comprehension: It’s simple, but complex. Child Development, 89(5), 1821–1838. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Listening comprehension and word decoding are the two major determinants of the development of reading comprehension. The relative importance of different language skills for the development of listening and reading comprehension remains unclear. In this 5-year longitudinal study, starting at age 7.5 years (n = 198), it was found that the shared variance between vocabulary, grammar, verbal working memory, and inference skills was a powerful longitudinal predictor of variations in both listening and reading comprehension. In line with the simple view of reading, listening comprehension, and word decoding, together with their interaction and curvilinear effects, explains almost all (96%) variation in early reading comprehension skills. Additionally, listening comprehension was a predictor of both the early and later growth of reading comprehension skills.”

Lesaux, N. K., Crosson, A. C., Kieffer, M. J., & Pierce, M. (2010). Uneven profiles: Language minority learners’ word reading, vocabulary, and reading comprehension skills. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 31(6), 475–483. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “English reading comprehension skill development was examined in a group of 87 native Spanish-speakers developing English literacy skills, followed from fourth through fifth grade. Specifically, the effects of Spanish (L1) and English (L2) oral language and word reading skills on reading comprehension were investigated. The participants showed average word reading skills and below average comprehension skills, influenced by low oral language skills. Structural equation modeling confirmed that L2 oral language skills had a large, significant effect on L2 reading comprehension, whereas students’ word-level reading skills, whether in L1 or L2, were not significantly related to English reading comprehension in three of four models fitted. The results converge with findings from studies with monolinguals demonstrating the influence of oral language on reading comprehension outcomes, and extend these findings by showing that, for language minority learners, L2 oral language exerts a stronger influence than word reading in models of L2 reading.”

Mancilla-Martinez, J., & Lesaux, N. K. (2011). The gap between Spanish speakers’ word reading and word knowledge: A longitudinal study. Child Development, 82(5), 1544–1560. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This longitudinal study modeled growth rates, from ages 4.5 to 11, in English and Spanish oral language and word reading skills among 173 Spanish-speaking children from low-income households. Individual growth modeling was employed using scores from standardized measures of word reading, expressive vocabulary, and verbal short-term language memory. The trajectories demonstrate that students’ rates of growth and overall ability in word reading were on par with national norms. In contrast, students’ oral language skills started out below national norms and their rates of growth, although surpassing the national rates, were not sufficient to reach age-appropriate levels. The results underscore the need for increased and sustained attention to promoting this population’s language development.”

Miller, J. F., Heilmann, J., Nockerts, A., Iglesias, A., Fabiano, L., & Francis, D. J. (2006). Oral language and reading in bilingual children. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 21(1), 30–43. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This article examines the question: Do lexical, syntactic, fluency, and discourse measures of oral language collected under narrative conditions predict reading achievement both within and across languages for bilingual children? More than 1,500 Spanish-English bilingual children attending kindergarten-third grade participated. Oral narratives were collected in each language along with measures of Passage Comprehension and Word Reading Efficiency. Results indicate that measures of oral language in Spanish predict reading scores in Spanish and that measures of oral language skill in English predict reading scores in English. Cross-language comparisons revealed that English oral language measures predicted Spanish reading scores and Spanish oral language measures predicted English reading scores beyond the variance accounted for by grade. Results indicate that Spanish and English oral language skills contribute to reading within and across languages.”

Mol, S. E., Bus, A. G., & De Jong, M. T. (2009). Interactive book reading in early education: A tool to stimulate print knowledge as well as oral language. Review of Educational Research, 79(2), 979–1007. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This meta-analysis examines to what extent interactive storybook reading stimulates two pillars of learning to read: vocabulary and print knowledge. The authors quantitatively reviewed 31 (quasi) experiments (n = 2,049 children) in which educators were trained to encourage children to be actively involved before, during, and after joint book reading. A moderate effect size was found for oral language skills, implying that both quality of book reading in classrooms and frequency are important. Although teaching print-related skills is not part of interactive reading programs, 7% of the variance in kindergarten children’s alphabetic knowledge could be attributed to the intervention. The study also shows that findings with experimenters were simply not replicable in a natural classroom setting. Further research is needed to disentangle the processes that explain the effects of interactive reading on children's print knowledge and the strategies that may help transfer intervention effects from researchers to children's own teachers.”

Nakamoto, J., Lindsey, K. A., & Manis, F. R. (2008). A cross-linguistic investigation of English language learners’ reading comprehension in English and Spanish. Scientific Studies of Reading, 12(4), 351–371. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This study investigated the associations of oral language and reading skills with a sample of 282 Spanish-speaking English language learners across 3 years of elementary school. In the 3rd grade, the English and Spanish decoding measures formed two distinct but highly related factors, and the English and Spanish oral language measures formed two factors that showed a small positive correlation between them. The decoding and oral language factors were used to predict the sample’s English and Spanish reading comprehension in the 6th grade. The decoding and oral language factors were both significant predictors of reading comprehension in both languages. The within-language effects were larger than the cross-language effects and the cross-language effects were not significant after accounting for the within-language effects.”

NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. (2005). Pathways to reading: The role of oral language in the transition to reading. Developmental Psychology, 41(2), 428. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “What is the role of oral language in reading competence during the transition to school? Is oral language in preschool best conceptualized as vocabulary knowledge or as more comprehensive language including grammar, vocabulary, and semantics? These questions were examined longitudinally using 1,137 children from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. Children were followed from age 3 through 3rd grade, and the results suggest that oral language conceptualized broadly plays both a direct and an indirect role in word recognition during the transition to school and serves as a better foundation for early reading skill than does vocabulary alone. Implications of these findings are discussed in terms of both theoretical models of early reading and practical implications for policy and assessment.”

Palacios, N., & Kibler, A. (2016). Oral English language proficiency and reading mastery: The role of home language and school supports. The Journal of Educational Research, 109(2), 122–136. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The analysis of 21,409 participants of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten cohort focused on home and school factors sought to understand the level of reading mastery that children experienced throughout elementary school and Grade 8 by relating home language use, timing of oral English language proficiency, and the provision of school-based English language learner services to reading mastery. Results confirm that non-English language use at home is associated with a decreased reading mastery at higher levels of proficiency in Grades 1 and 3, and is reduced to nonsignificance in Grades 5 and 8 with the inclusion of teacher and school factors. Also, the negative association between timing of oral English language proficiency and reading mastery is partially explained by teacher and school factors, particularly children’s receipt of English language learner services. The findings provide support for policies that provide language services for language minority children and families during the transition to school and through the elementary school years.”

Papadimitriou, A. M., & Vlachos, F. M. (2014). Which specific skills developing during preschool years predict the reading performance in the first and second grade of primary school? Early Child Development and Care, 184(11), 1706–1722. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The aim of this study was to examine if specific skills that are developed during preschool years could predict the reading performance in the first and second grade of primary school. Two hundred and eighty-seven children participated in this longitudinal study. At the kindergarten level, phonological awareness (PA), rapid automatised naming, phonological short-term memory, auditory processing, motor skills and oral language were evaluated. Reading performance was evaluated in Grades 1 and 2 of the primary school. Results showed that not only total reading performance, but the accuracy and the fluency of reading as well, are predicted in the first grade of school by the PA and the phonological memory scores during kindergarten. Oral language plays the most important role in the prediction of text comprehension. Total reading performance and fluency of reading in the second grade were predicted by the PA and the phonological memory scores. In this grade, the PA, the phonological memory and the copy of shapes seem to be important for the accuracy of reading. Our results suggest that the utilisation of such early evidence through intervention programmes at the preschool age and during the first school years could contribute to the prevention of possible reading problems in school children.”

Roth, F. P., Speece, D. L., & Cooper, D. H. (2002). A longitudinal analysis of the connection between oral language and early reading. The Journal of Educational Research, 95(5), 259–272. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Investigated the relationship between oral language and early reading development by administering to 39 children a broad range of oral language, background, and reading ability measures in kindergarten and first and second grade. Overall, semantic abilities, not phonological awareness, predicted second grade reading comprehension. Phonological awareness in kindergarten predicted single-word reading in first and second grades.”

Santos, R. M., Fettig, A., & Shaffer, L. (2012). Helping families connect early literacy with social-emotional development. Young Children, 67(2), 88–93. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Early childhood educators know that home is a child’s first learning environment. From birth, children are comforted by hearing and listening to their caregivers’ voices. The language used by families supports young children’s development of oral language skills. Exposure to print materials in the home also supports literacy development. Literacy opportunities that arise naturally—in the home and early childhood settings—not only develop listening, oral language, and reading and writing skills but also foster social-emotional growth. As children experience more sophisticated forms of language and literacy, such as using longer sentences and a larger and diverse vocabulary, they build increasingly complex communication skills and use them to express needs, feelings, and ideas and to interact with others. By suggesting meaningful, fun, and engaging activities, early educators can play a critical role in supporting families as they support their children’s social-emotional development. In this article, the authors describe specific and effective literacy-based strategies and activities that early childhood educators can use in the classroom and suggest to families so they can support their young children’s social-emotional skills at home.”

Shanahan, T., MacArthur, C. A., Graham, S., & Fitzgerald, J. (2006). Relations among oral language, reading, and writing development. In C. A. MacArthur, S. Graham, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Handbook of writing research (pp. 171–183). New York, NY: The Guilford Press. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This review examines the theory and empirical research into how oral language (speaking and listening) is related to literacy (reading, writing, and spelling), how the components of literacy, particularly reading and writing, are interconnected, and the changing nature of the empirical study of cross-language relationships. Understanding how the different language systems are correlated with each other can reveal the degree to which progress in writing may be determined by oral language and reading development, which students will likely do best in writing, and why writers err in particular ways.”

Storch, S. A., & Whitehurst, G. J. (2002). Oral language and code-related precursors to reading: Evidence from a longitudinal structural model. Developmental Psychology, 38(6), 934. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This longitudinal study of children from preschool through fourth grade examined code-related and oral language precursors to reading. Findings indicated that the relationship between code-related precursors and oral language is strong during preschool. During early elementary school, reading ability is predominately determined by kindergarten print knowledge and phonological awareness. In later elementary school, reading accuracy and comprehension appear to be influenced by different skill sets.”

What Works Clearinghouse (WWC). (2007). Dialogic reading: WWC intervention report. Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Dialogic reading is an interactive shared picture-book reading practice designed to enhance young children’s language and literacy skills. During the shared reading practice, the adult and the child switch roles so that the child learns to become the storyteller with the assistance of the adult, who functions as an active listener and questioner. Two studies of dialogic reading that fall within the scope of the Early Childhood Education Interventions for Children with Disabilities review protocol meet What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) evidence standards. The two studies included 52 students with language delays, from ages three to six, participating in early childhood programs in the Pacific Northwest. Both studies examined intervention effects on children’s communication and language competencies. Based on these two studies, the WWC considers the extent of evidence for dialogic reading to be small for communication and language competencies for children with disabilities. No studies that meet WWC evidence standards with or without reservations examined the effectiveness of dialogic reading for children with disabilities in the domains of cognitive development, literacy, math competencies, social-emotional development and behavior, functional abilities, or physical well-being. Dialogic reading was found to have potentially positive effects on communication and language competencies for children with disabilities.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

International Literacy Association –

From the website: “The International Literacy Association (ILA) is a global advocacy and membership organization of more than 300,000 literacy educators, researchers, and experts across 86 countries. With more than 60 years of experience, ILA has set the standard for how literacy is defined, taught, and evaluated.”

REL West note: ILA has one book relevant to the request:

Roskos, K. A., Tabors, P. O., & Lenhart, L. A. (2004). Oral language and early literacy in preschool: Talking, reading, and writing. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

New America, Education Policy Program –

From the website: “New America’s Education Policy program uses original research and policy analysis to help solve the nation’s critical education problems, crafting objective analyses and suggesting new ideas for policymakers, educators, and the public at large. We combine a steadfast concern for historically disadvantaged populations with a belief that better information about education can vastly improve both the policies that govern educational institutions and the quality of learning itself.”

REL West note: New America has a blog post relevant to the request:

Guernsey, L. (2010). A key to reading comprehension in 3rd grade: Oral language development. Retrieved from

Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services –

From the website: “The Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) studies Administration for Children and Families (ACF) programs and the populations they serve through rigorous research and evaluation projects. These include evaluations of existing programs, evaluations of innovative approaches to helping low-income children and families, research syntheses and descriptive and exploratory studies.”

REL West note: OPRE has a presentation relevant to the request:

Espinosa, L., Matera, C., & Magruder, E. (2011). Intentional planning for oral language and vocabulary instruction, planning for vocabulary routines, Personalized Oral Language(s) Learning (POLL). Retrieved from


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used:

[(“oral language” OR “oral language experience”) AND (“reading” OR “reading development”)]

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.7 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2004 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.