The Future of Education

Edition 14

Accepted Abstracts

How can we improve learning of novel words by young children? Framing new learning situations.

Jean-Pierre Thibaut, University of Bourgogne (France)


How do children learn novel words? Most often in unstructured learning situations or with limited input. For example, picture books for children and used by parents often display pictures of single objects. A picture shows an object or an action. Then parents or adults pronounce the novel word that goes with this picture “this is a ….”.  This teaching novel words mode considers word learning as an association between a word and a concept and the concept. There might be more than this.  There is now ample evidence that the opportunity to compare several exemplars to the same target category name (e.g., several apples rather than one apple) gives better results in terms of word extension (e.g., Thibaut & Witt, 2023; Stansbury et al., 2023). Comparisons promote extensions that are based on deep semantic commonalities rather than on superficial features. Comparisons promote what authors call objects alignment, an alignment starting with easily accessible ones and, then, progressively incorporate deeper conceptual regularities. We discuss the evidence regarding the role of comparisons in novel word learning. Here we will show how children generalize novel words in situations in which they can choose among several objects the ones they would accept as having the same name.  We will illustrate how existing picture books for children and devoted to word learning can be improved in order to promote better word learning and generalization.


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Graham, S. A., Namy, L. L., Gentner, D., & Meagher, K. The role of comparison in preschoolers' novel object categorization. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 2010, 107(3), 280-290

Namy, L. L., & Gentner, D. Making a silk purse out of two sow's ears: Young children's use of comparison in category learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology-General, 2002, 131(1), 5-15.

Thibaut, J. P. Récurrence et variations des attributs dans la formation des concepts. Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Liège, Liège, 1999, 220p.

Thibaut, J. P., & Witt, A. Young children's learning of relational categories: multiple comparisons and their cognitive constraints. Frontiers in psychology, 2015, 6, 643.

Thibaut, J.P., & Witt, A. (2017). Generalizing novel names in comparison settings: Role of conceptual distance during learning and at test. In G. Gunzelman, A. Howes, T. Tenbrink, & E. Davelaar (Eds.). Proceedings of the 39th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 3314–331).

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Zelazo, P. D. Executive function: Reflection, iterative reprocessing, complexity, and the developing brain. Developmental Review, 2015, 38, 55-68.


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