Help Improve Children's Vocabulary

Peter Bayne


Peter Bayne


Thursday 22 September 2022 12:06

One of the most significant issues facing children is a lack of vocabulary. Limited vocabulary can restrict learning because children cannot follow a lesson or instructions.

Imagine you were in a meeting surrounded by unfamiliar business jargon; you would immediately switch off and become distracted. The same applies to children. Many classroom behavioural issues arise from boredom, and quite often, this boredom stems from an inability to participate.

Children performing at a higher academic level than their peers tend to be confident readers. Good readers are inclined to read more than those who struggle, increasing their vocabulary bank. In turn, their increased vocabulary knowledge gives them a headstart across most subjects as it is easier to follow a lesson or instructions.

Most children will not retain new vocabulary upon reading or hearing it first, so repetition is essential to ensure retention. On average, pupils learn 2000-3000 new words each year. However, a child should have an arsenal of approximately 50,000 words to successfully navigate their school years. The author of 'Vocabulary Ninja', Andrew Jennings, uses a great analogy of a two-horse race. He calls this race the 'Vocabulary Stakes'. One horse has 40 obstacles in its way, and the other has none. Who is going to win? The horse with no obstacles. The same applies to a child's learning. Removing the barriers (lack of vocabulary) will increase their likelihood of academic progress.

Building vocabulary is a gradual process. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix. Thankfully, there are steps that you can make at home to embark on this journey. The first step is to use ambitious vocabulary when conversing with your child. Take the time to stop and give them an accurate definition of an unfamiliar word. It also helps to ask them to repeat the word and definition back to you.

Techniques to Use at Home

There are techniques that I teach to solve what an unknown word means in a piece of writing or comprehension; however, I will share a couple of activities that you can use at home. The first is 'Word of the Day'. Select an ambitious, age-appropriate word and display it in a focal part of the home. I would suggest creating a poster that includes the following information: word type (noun, adjective etc.), pronunciation, definition, examples in a sentence, synonyms (similar words), antonyms (opposite words), prefixes and suffixes. If you would like an age-appropriate list of words, please contact me, and I would be happy to help.

Secondly, try reading a chapter ahead of your child's book and select unknown or ambitious vocabulary they may find challenging. Next, take the time to discuss what these words mean. If you do not have time for this activity, an alternative would be listening to your child read aloud, identifying difficult vocabulary and taking time to uncover the meaning of that particular word.

Make learning fun by incorporating games into your child's vocabulary journey. You can purchase appropriate games such as Articulate for Kids or card games. Additionally, you can play games that only require a pencil and paper. You could ask your child to write down as many words as possible, beginning with a specific letter. There are opportunities to expand this activity by asking them to look up the words in the thesaurus and list any synonyms and antonyms they may find.

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