Sesame Street and Vocabulary

Barney, Lamb Chops, The Puzzle Place, and Sesame Street.

Anybody else a Lamb Chops fan? I still remember that I was changing in the locker room for swim club when I found out that the Lamb Chops lady (Shari Lewis) died.

What does not belong?  Sesame Street!  I never enjoyed Sesame Street growing up.  I liked the other three shows (albeit, I only liked Barney secretly), but despite the fact that I grew up with a lot of Sesame Street toys and gear, I thought Sesame Street was b-o-r-i-n-g.

Yet as an adult, studying reading development, I’m really beginning to like and appreciate Sesame Street!

Actually, take that back a few years.  When Sesame Street began bringing in celebrity guests, well, that was genius.  But I simply appreciated the humor and the guests back then.  Now, I appreciate the educational merit of Sesame Street.

Exhibit 1:  Mark Ruffalo, Murray, and Empathy

This is just great.  The word “empathy” is audibly repeated numerous times.  The definition is visibly demonstrated and explicitly stated.  There is context provided, and it’s personalized.  Lastly, it’s entertaining and celebratory!

This sort of unfamiliar word through TV is great especially for young children from low-income backgrounds.  In one study, it was shown that the average 3 year-old from a welfare-dependent background had 500 active vocabulary words, whereas a 3 year-old from a professional family background had more than 1,000 words!  Then, according to the Matthew Effect (the richer get richer, the poorer get poorer), these differences become more and more pronounced as the children get older. *

I used to think Sesame Street was a gimmick, and I don’t want my future kids to watch TV.  But I do see how, in a sense, it provides the scaffolding and repetition for students who are less likely to learn new vocabulary easily through the medium of TV.  I do wish Sesame Street would actually SHOW the word though.  Students need to see it (because, fun fact: Spelling actually matters! (It’s not arbitrary!)  Spelling helps build vocabulary which in turn has a direct effect on Reading Comprehension).

Okay, I had an exhibit 2 in mind so that I could talk about phonics, but I think I went too long about vocabulary.  Take a look anyway!

*From the Vocab chapter in Best Practices in Literacy Instruction (4th ed.)
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