Children with lower language abilities, including children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) are at risk for persistent reading difficulties. Previous studies have demonstrated that children with lower language abilities display eye movements different from their typically developing peers while hearing nouns in a naturalistic storybook reading context. This study examined how language ability and various lexical characteristics interact with 4- and 5-year- olds' eye movements during a naturalistic storybook reading task. We used eye-tracking technology to measure eye movements of 49 preschoolers with variable language skill. The children looked at storybook pictures on an eye tracking computer while they listened to a narration of the story. Target areas of each illustration corresponded to verbs in the text (i.e., images of the subjects and objects referred to by the verb). Results revealed that all children, regardless of language ability, were more likely to be looking at the target images while a target verb was being spoken than when a different word was being spoken. This relationship grew stronger as language ability increased. Additionally, lexical variables (age of acquisition, number of syllables, concreteness, frequency, and occurrences in the story) also impacted the likelihood that children were looking at the target images. Because the interaction of each lexical variable, language ability, and time was different, clinical implications suggest that speech-language pathologists, early childhood educators, and parents should be aware of these interactions in selecting storybooks with specific word stimuli. Such careful consideration of word stimuli may help children identify what illustrations are important during shared storybook reading.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Communication Disorders



Date Submitted


Document Type





language disorder, eye-tracking, verbs, storybooks, reading



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Education Commons