The size of a child’s vocabulary has been linked to overall school achievement both socially and academically. We use our vocabulary to understand others, express ourselves, and learn in different situations.
With a wider vocabulary, children can make connection between what they have heard, read, and know, giving them access to new information and helping them to think and learn about the world. SPD speech therapists Laura Tan and Lye Yue Ning share tips on how parents can help their child expand on their vocabulary.
Tips for expanding vocabulary
Children learn from what they hear, and they pick up most words indirectly through everyday experiences. Daily interactions and multiple exposures to new words are important teaching opportunities. Here are some ways that you can do it.
For instance, if you have just came across the word ” frustrated ” in a book you have read together, you could incorporate the new word in the following ways.
1. Through meaningful contexts
Learning moments can be incorporated as you go about your day together. This will help them learn and use the new words across different environments.
Parent: “Ugh this traffic is frustratingly slow! We are hardly moving!”
2. Through things or events of interest
When your child is engaged in activities or events that they are interested in, they are likely to pay more attention and learn a new word. Follow your child’s lead and talk about what you are doing together.
Child: “I’ve tried so many times, but my castle keeps falling down!”
Parent: “That is frustrating! Let’s see how we can do it better.”
3. Through interaction
Introduce the new word when talking with your child. This will help them to relate the new word to their own experiences and not just memorise the word.
Parent: “Are you having difficulties opening the bottle? You look frustrated. Do you need help?”
4. Through multi-modality
Use different modes of activities. Besides having conversations, you can read books together, sing songs, watch TV and many more. This creates quality exposure through different senses.
For example, when watching a soccer game on TV, you could say: “Gosh, it must be so frustrating to have missed that shot!”
1. Selecting words to teach
To select a good word to teach, make sure that the word fits one or both of the criteria below.
a) High frequency words
Will this word be useful in more than one context (e.g., conversation, academics, or reading)? Will it provide your child with a more specific way of expressing themselves? If yes, then this is a high frequency word.
b) Words with multiple meanings
Does this word have more than one meaning in different contexts? This will be important for your child’s comprehension skills.
2. Selecting the right books
Use the P.I.C.K method to help you choose a book suitable for your child’s reading level.
Purpose: Why does your child want to read? Is it for leisure or to learn something new?
Interest: Does the book interest your child? Do these together to determine their interest level:
- Look at the front cover
- Read summary on back cover
- Flip through the pictures
- Read chapter titles
Comprehension: Can your child understand what this book is about?
Know the words: Can your child read most of the words? (Refer to the 5 Fingers Rule)
Tools to build vocabulary
There are many strategies to help your child build vocabulary and deepen their understanding of words related to the target word. Here, we are going to focus on two visual organisers: Word Map and Word Ladder.
1. Word Map
It is an organiser that shares a similar concept as a mind map to show the categories, characteristics and examples that are related to the target word.
Why use it?
By drawing the connections and relationships between the categories, characteristics and examples to the target words, children can broaden their knowledge on a concept. This will allow them to grow, not just in breadth, but in depth as well, aiding them in their vocabulary development.
How to create a word map:
1. Select a target word (e.g., frustrated)
2. Generate a child friendly definition
3. Identify words related to target word. Possible areas to consider:
- Synonyms (similar meaning)
- Antonyms (opposite meaning)
- Who does it
2. Word Ladder
It is a visual organiser that arranges words on a scale based on their meaning.
Why use it?
By thinking about the intensity or gradient of the word meanings, it increases the child’s exposure to different vocabulary and helps them discriminate between the differences in meaning. It also enhances their vocabulary by allowing them to be more precise in the use of words.
How to create a word ladder?
1. Identify the new word
2. Talk about the meaning of the word
3. Come up with an antonym and put both words on each end of the scale
4. Discuss what other words may sit between/on top/ below these two words
5. Some concepts to consider for scale:
- Quality (e.g., good/bad, high/low)
- Speed (e.g., fast/slow)
- Intensity (e.g., strong/weak)
- Temperature (e.g., freeze/boil)
Most importantly, enjoy the process and have fun learning together!
ABC Reading eggs. (2023). How to Find “Just Right” Books for Your Child with the Five Finger Rule. Retrieved from ABC Readingeggs: https://readingeggs.com.au/articles/just-right-books/
Fielding, L., & Roller, C. (1992). Making Difficult Books Accessible and Easy Book Acceptable. The Reading Teacher, 45(9), 678-685. Retrieved from https://sci-hub.ru/https:/www.jstor.org/stable/20200958
Just Right Reads. (2018). What are Just Right Reads? Retrieved from Just Right Reads: https://www.justrightreads.com/justrightreads
Cover photo credit: Shutterstock