Learning vocabulary through socio-dramatic play in an infant classroom – a pilot study

  • Rachel McCready

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education


This thesis investigates the effects of teaching vocabulary with the aid socio-dramatic play methodologies. The aim of this research – set in the Republic of Ireland - is to explore how to enhance and extend young children’s (aged 4-6 years) vocabulary through: playful methodologies, providing opportunities to build upon natural instincts of play and curiosity, and utilising these instincts to develop learning. Language development and constructivism underpin the review of literature and consideration is given to the role of the adult during play and the home learning environment.

This is a mixed methods study which utilises both qualitative and quantitative data collection techniques. A pilot randomised controlled trial in a Primary School classroom was used to ascertain whether socio-dramatic play facilitates topic-specific vocabulary acquisition. A topic introduced by storybook reading has been developed by groups of pupils exploring and expanding upon the themes using socio-dramatic and ‘small world’ play, while other groups continued to use more traditional language activities (providing a control group for data). Assessment on topic-specific words (before, during and after) measured success with vocabulary acquisition.

Focus groups with pupils and teachers, and a parent questionnaire provide supporting data that gives insight into experiences of vocabulary teaching and learning through socio-dramatic play. Play as a methodology in language teaching and learning received an encouraging response, and the intervention was seen as a positive learning experience.

Findings of this study centre around the positive impact of socio-dramatic play as a methodology to support language learning and the impact that this may have on the classroom. The role of the teacher during play and the relationship between direct instruction and play-based supports are discussed, and a need for professional development, along with good support from management and the home are also emergent themes.
Date of AwardJul 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorSarah Miller (Supervisor) & James Nelson (Supervisor)

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