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Vocabulary development remains an active and robust research area, yet little is known about what students, particularly young students, think during vocabulary learning. A commonly held assumption is that young learners employ few, if any, cognitive and metacognitive strategies when engaged in literacy tasks. Conversely, decades of research confirms that older learners with active metacognitive tools are better equipped to make meaning from text, of which vocabulary is a crucial component. To better understand the strategies and metacognitive actions young students make when learning vocabulary, student comments (N = 35) spontaneously produced during two experimental vocabulary learning tasks were reviewed and analyzed. Employing grounded theory and abductive analysis, comments reveal that young learners use several tools and metacognitive processes to support vocabulary learning. Findings suggest that children as young as 6 years old can verbalize their strategy usage and metacognitive awareness. Findings are examined in light of traditional views of young learners’ metacognitive development and connectionist reading models of grapho-phonemic connections as facilitators of vocabulary learning. Implications for research on the role of metacognition during vocabulary learning with early learners and orthographic exposure during vocabulary learning are discussed.