543

How to Build Your Child’s Vocabulary

Vocabulary plays an important part in learning to read. For example, when a beginning reader sees the word dog in a book, he begins to sound it out. When he realizes that he is very familiar with the word dog, he reads it with confidence.

How to Build Your Child's Vocabulary - From All About Reading

But what if the child comes across the word yak in a story? If he has never heard of a yak, he may try to sound out the word, but may then begin to second guess himself. Is this a real word? Have I decoded it properly?

A similar thing can happen with older students, too. If a student comes across the word bovine but it’s not in his vocabulary, he may become frustrated.

A large vocabulary is critical for reading comprehension. This article will show you how to include vocabulary development in your child’s educational plans, as well as some pitfalls to avoid.

Four Types of Vocabulary

When we talk about vocabulary, we are actually talking about four related vocabularies. In order from largest to smallest they are:

  1. Listening vocabulary (words we can hear and understand)
  2. Reading vocabulary (words we can understand when we read)
  3. Speaking vocabulary (words we use when we talk)
  4. Writing vocabulary (words we use when we write)

For younger students who are still learning to read, speaking vocabulary is generally larger than their reading vocabulary. But for older readers who are past the “learning to read” stage and who have entered the “reading to learn” stage, this is the typical order.

How to Build Your Child's Vocabulary - From All About Reading

There is a high correlation between the four vocabularies. Growth in one area generally leads to growth in another. But is it possible for you to influence this growth? The simple answer is YES!

So let’s look at how to increase your child’s vocabulary.

Two Main Approaches to Vocabulary Development

How to Build Your Child's Vocabulary - From All About Reading

Most vocabulary is attained through indirect methods:

Direct vocabulary instruction includes things such as:

Both indirect and direct methods of building vocabulary are important, but let’s look at what doesn’t work when trying to build your child’s vocabulary.

Five Common Mistakes in Teaching Vocabulary Words

Does this routine sound familiar?

It’s Monday–time to learn a new list of twenty vocabulary words. The children look up the words in the dictionary and copy the definitions. On Tuesday they will use the words in a sentence, and on Wednesday they will complete a fill-in-the-blank worksheet or even a fun vocabulary crossword puzzle. On Friday there will be a quiz on the twenty words. Then, whether they remember last week’s words or not, on Monday it will be time to start all over again.

Although many of us were taught vocabulary words this way, even the most compliant kids groaned inwardly at this demotivating routine.

Here’s the problem: the list-on-Monday, test-on-Friday approach to teaching vocabulary simply isn’t effective. It does, however, illustrate these common mistakes:

  1. Assigning too many new vocabulary words at one time.
  2. Teaching vocabulary words out of context.
  3. Expecting students to recall vocabulary words after a single exposure to the word.
  4. Making vocabulary development a boring topic that kids want to avoid.

And then there is a fifth common mistake:

  1. Skipping vocabulary development entirely.

And this is really where the rubber meets the road. Vocabulary that is developed naturally rather than taught using the more traditional method above is much more likely to stick with your child.

How Does All About Reading Build Vocabulary?

Each story lesson in the All About Reading program includes direct and indirect vocabulary lessons that offer a variety of ways for your child to learn new words. The sampling below shows the range of vocabulary-building activities that can be found in AAR lessons.

Vocabulary words are illustrated and then used in the next story.

AAR Level 1 Story and Activity

Though this is perhaps the simplest type of vocabulary lesson, it is effective because it allows children to form pictures of concrete nouns in their minds. In this AAR Level 1 example, students are introduced to the words pug and bun before encountering the words in the story “Get Them!”

Download the Warm-Up Sheet from Level 1
Download Level 1 Story: “Get Them!”

The names of countries and world regions are introduced.

AAR Level 2 Story and Activity

This AAR Level 2 lesson introduces children to the mountain region of the Swiss Alps with an easy-to-make minibook and an engaging story.

Download a minibook activity from Level 2
Download Level 2 Story: “An Elf in the Swiss Alps”

Idioms such as “hold your horses” are explained.

AAR Level 3 Story and Activity

AAR Level 3 introduces twelve idioms in an activity called “When Pigs Fly.” Many of these idioms are encountered in “Chasing Henry” and subsequent stories.

Download an idiom activity from Level 3
Download Level 3 Story: “Chasing Henry”

Dialects used in other regions or by specific groups of people can present interesting challenges.

AAR Level 4 Story and Activity

The AAR Level 4 activity “What Does the Cowboy Say?” introduces children to vocabulary and regional idioms such as reckon and fixin’ to, which in turn allows them to fully enjoy the story “Cowboy Star.”

Download a dialect activity from Level 4
Download Level 4 Story: “Cowboy Star”

Greek word parts provide clues to the meaning of many words.

AAR Level 4 Story and Activity

And finally, AAR Level 4 includes an activity called “Borrow a Telescope” that introduces children to eleven common Greek word parts and related vocabulary words. Some of these words are featured in “Charlie’s Sick Day” and subsequent short stories.

Download a word building activity from Level 4
Download Level 4 Story: “Charlie’s Sick Day”

Other vocabulary activities feature homophones, concept maps, morphemic strategies, and words that have origins in other languages such as French, Spanish, and Italian.

Research shows that children also learn a huge number of words from engaging in conversation with the adults around them. So as a parent, how can you leverage this knowledge for your child’s benefit?

The Conversational Method for Teaching Vocabulary

The conversational method is a powerful way to help build your child’s vocabulary. It is an indirect method that is so simple that you can start using it right after you read this article.

In a nutshell, the conversational method is simply talking with your child and expanding upon vocabulary words that your child has not yet learned.

Step 1: When a new word comes up in conversation or in a book, provide a simple, age-appropriate definition for the new word.

How to Build Your Child's Vocabulary - From All About Reading

Step 2: Provide one or two examples that make sense to your child.

How to Build Your Child's Vocabulary - From All About Reading

Step 3: Encourage your child to think of his own example, or of the opposite of the new word.

How to Build Your Child's Vocabulary - From All About Reading

Step 4: Use the new word in conversation over the next few days.

How to Build Your Child's Vocabulary - From All About Reading

the-conversational-method-thumbnail

You can download this simple chart and hang it on your fridge to remind yourself of the four steps. Soon this method will become second nature to you, and your child’s vocabulary will grow by leaps and bounds.

Research Studies about Vocabulary Instruction

All About Reading is a research-based program, and I spend considerable time keeping up on the latest language arts-related studies. My job is to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to help children learn to read. There is a large body of research that backs up our claim that vocabulary growth is critical for reading, especially as students approach high school.

Click to read a sampling of research studies.
  • The size of one’s vocabulary is strongly correlated to how well text is understood, even at the high school level.
    Stanovich, K. & Cunningham, A. (1992). Studying the consequences of literacy within a literate society: The cognitive correlates of print exposures. Memory & Cognition, 20(1), 51-68; Beck & McKeown (2007). Increasing young low-income children’s oral vocabulary repertoires through rich and focused instruction. Elementary School Journal, 107(3), 251-271.

  • Growth in oral vocabulary development can predict reading comprehension.
    Elleman, A., Lindo, E. Morphy, P. & Compton, D. (2009). The impact of vocabulary instruction on passage-level comprehension of school-age children: a meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Effectiveness, 2(1), 1-44.

  • Adults’ conversations with children facilitate vocabulary growth.
    Mol, S. Bus, A., & deJong, M (2009). Interactive book reading in early education: a tool to stimulate print knowledge as well as oral language. Review of Educational Research, 79(2), 979-1007. Mol, S. & Neuman, S.B. (2012). Sharing information books with kindergarteners: the role of parents’ extratextual talk and socioeconomic status. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.

  • Discussion about morphology (such as root words and affixes) improves vocabulary.
    Bowers, P. N., Kirby, J.R., & Deacon, S. H. (2010). The effects of morphological instruction on literacy skills: a systematic review of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 80(2), 144-179.

The Bottom Line for Building Vocabulary

When it comes to building your child’s vocabulary, here’s what you need to keep in mind:

  • Avoid the common mistakes in teaching vocabulary, as outlined in this article.
  • Teach specific new vocabulary words using direct instruction.
  • Discuss word parts so your child can learn word construction.
  • Read lots of books aloud to your child and have informal conversations about new words that arise.
  • And finally, have fun playing with words!

The All About Reading program walks you and your child through all the steps needed to help your child’s vocabulary grow. The program is multisensory, motivating, and complete, with everything you need to raise a strong reader. And if you need a helping hand, we’re here for you.

All About Reading Product Line

What’s your take on encouraging a larger vocabulary? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

Share This:

< Previous Post  Next Post >

Leave a Comment

Michelle

says:

Good day Marie, the books send is very helpful my daughter is struggling in reading and this is very thoughtful of you in helping our children I really appreciate it. God bless

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

It’s wonderful to hear that this was very helpful for you and your daughter, Michelle. Thank you.

Aneeta Khoso

says:

Lovely

Ella Martsenuk

says:

This was great information! thanks for sharing!

Sana

says:

Please make some books online free… It will guide parents more.. In this pandemic situation it would be helpful for everyone…

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sana,
We have COVID-19 Quarantine Schooling Resources that I think you may find helpful!

Tara in Maryland

says:

This was a very informative article. Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge. It’s quite helpful. I am looking for something to help my children through the summer.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful for you, Tara. If you need anything else or have questions, please let me know.

Bhavna Sharma

says:

Explained in very easy way. Love to read this article.

Joanne Eskew

says:

Love your all about reading and spelling programs. I wish you had an all about English program!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Joanne!

We don’t have plans for any other aspects of English at this time, but I can help you with program recommendations if you are interested. Let me know.

Carmen

says:

I am interested in your Language arts (english) program recommendations- I have a rising 4th grader that has completed all levels of AAR and level 1 (working on level 2) of AAS; also have a rising 1st grader that is completing AAR1. Thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Carmen,
Sure! We keep a list of programs that are incremental and/or mastery-based.

For writing, some to consider:

– Institute for Excellence in Writing. IEW has a very incremental approach and has options for student videos, teacher videos, or both.

– Writing Skills by Diana Hanbury King is incremental. This one is for high school, or use the EPS adaptation for 5th-8th grades, called The Paragraph Book.

– WriteShop uses an incremental approach and includes multi-sensory activities.

– Writing Strands provides an incremental approach.

– Essentials in Writing is both multi-sensory and incremental. The author describes it as a Math-U-See approach to writing. The lessons are presented in short video segments of 3 to 5 minutes and then the student works on the concept that was taught. It also has grammar included for 1st-6th grade levels, and optional grammar dvd included in Jr. High levels.

For a different type of approach altogether, check out offerings from Brave Writer. Their Home Study Courses teach writing and literature through project-based writing assignments, such as learning all about secret codes or working on a photo journal for a month.

For Grammar, here are a number of grammar programs available that have either multi-sensory components or an incremental approach. Some of the programs focus exclusively on grammar, while some include writing as well. Here are some suggestions:

– Winston Grammar is a hands-on program with color-coded cards, and is generally aimed at students in 4th to 7th grades.

– Easy Grammar features an incremental approach and includes topics such as usage and punctuation, for 2nd grade and up.

– Essentials in Writing mentioned above includes grammar with writing.

– The Sentence Family is a simple and fun program aimed at 3rd through 6th graders. The program uses drawing pictures along with a storyline to teach parts of speech and how they relate to each other. It is a very fun introduction to grammar but is not complete in itself.

– Fix It Grammar is incremental and uses very short lessons. Each level teaches grammar using sentences from a single story, so there is the added fun of seeing the story slowly unfold. The teacher’s manual is very comprehensive and even includes advanced concepts so the teacher can answer questions a curious student may have. The youngest the program is recommended for is 3rd grade, although it is appropriate for older students as well.

– Analytical Grammar teaches mastery of grammar by working on it for short grammar-focused units once a year for 2 to 3 years. Junior Analytical Grammar is for 4th or 5th graders, with Analytical Grammar for 6th to 9th graders.

I hope this helps you narrow down your choices. Let me know if you have questions.

Katarzyna Meinicke

says:

Thank you so much for a lovely resource. It is very valuable for all the teachers including these professionals who teach pupils with English as an additional language.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re so welcome, Katarzyna. 😊

Elaine Cornish

says:

Fabulous! Thank you so much!

Jennette Gaudern

says:

What do you suggest to enrich your child’s vocabulary after they have finished the AAR curriculum?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great question, Jennette. The tips and suggestions here still apply after a student has finished All About Reading.

Continue to read aloud to your child from a wide range of materials, not only chapter books in many different genres but non-fiction and poetry as well. I still read aloud to my 17-year-old regularly and my college student was so accustomed to listening to me read aloud that he now listens to audiobooks all the time. And when you read aloud, if you come across a word you think your child may not know, ask him. Let him know as well that he can interrupt to ask about a word he doesn’t know.

Have your student read daily from a variety of materials too and encourage him to ask about words they don’t know. Resist the urge to tell him to look it up in a dictionary, as that will likely cause him to just skip words he doesn’t know and move on. Few people are willing to stop reading to take the time to look words up. Instead, supply the meaning of the word in a conversational way, as described in this blog post. Or, if you are unsure, do a quick search online and you both can learn a new word.

If your student is doing well in spelling, you could start learning morphemes, which is the meanings of word parts. An example is a word like telephone. Tele means “distance” and phone (or phon) means “sound”. Knowing this makes other words like gramophone and telegraphy easier to figure out. All About Spelling uses a concept of “word trees” in level 7 to teach Latin root morphemes. However, children that are doing well with spelling can be ready for them earlier than level 7. Our blog post Teaching Latin Roots with Word Trees has printables for this. My kids and I enjoyed the game Rummy Roots for learning word root meanings. There are also a number of books, workbooks, and curricula that teach roots.

If you would like a book or two, here are a couple Marie likes for vocabulary:
– For any age (grade school on up): Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary
Instruction
by Isabel Beck
– For high school level: Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis

I hope this helps you have a plan for helping your child build an expansive vocabulary!

Wendy

says:

Dear Marie:
I have a middle school student who struggles with vocabulary at middle school level. May you please recommend a program for his level? I think your fresh approach could help him more than the weekly vocabulary lists and exercises.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wendy,
One book Marie recommends is Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction by Isabel Beck.

Also, take a look at our Teaching Latin Roots with Word Trees blog post. It has printables with a fun way of learning how to form words using Latin roots, such as “port” meaning “to carry” in words like import, deportment, supportive, and many more. The printable includes a blank word tree so you could use it for any root.

A game my kids enjoyed at this age for learning both Latin and Greek roots for building vocabulary was Rummy Roots. Here are some other possible resources for this sort of study:

The Book of Roots and Roots of English (Memoria Press)
English from the Roots Up (Literacy Unlimited)
Greek and Latin Roots and More Greek and Latin Roots (Creative Teaching Press)
Vocabulary from Classical Roots (Educators Publishing Service)
Vocabulary Packets: Greek and Latin Roots (Scholastic)
Vocabulary Vine and Science Roots (Hasseler)
Word Roots (The Critical Thinking Company)

But as you find a program you like, don’t overlook just using the books your student is reading. Let him know if he ever reads a word he doesn’t know what it means that you will give him the meaning. Or you or he could look it up quickly on a phone. If he has to look words up in the dictionary, he’ll be inclined to just skip words he doesn’t know and move on. But if he knows you will tell him what a word means if he asks, he is likely to start asking. And when he does, you can then implement the recommendations in this blog post. You can bring the word up again later, talking about other words that have similar meanings and words that have opposite meanings. You can also discuss other words that have the same root. For example, if he asks what luminous means, later on (you want to let him get back to reading) you can talk about illumination as well.

And I highly encourage you to read aloud to him regularly from a wide variety of genres, non-fiction, and even poetry. Listening to books allows students to go through more literature than just what they read themselves and it gives you the perfect opportunity to discuss words. As you read and come across a word that you think he may not know, pause your reading as ask him. Discuss the word briefly and make a note to discuss it more later. This is very, very effective for building a great vocabulary, plus there are many benefits of reading aloud to students even into the high school year. I still read aloud to my 17-year-old, even though he is reading classic literature on his own as well. Another option is listening to audiobooks, but I have found that while it is natural for us to pause and discuss when I read aloud, we don’t ever pause an audiobook for that. I think audiobooks are good, but reading aloud directly to your student is better.

I hope this gives you lots of ideas to help your student build an expansive vocabulary! Let me know if you need anything else or have questions.

Mary Ann Barnett

says:

This is amazing information. I can see where my oldest granddaughter needs help. Thank you for all these ideas. Where can I get Rummy Roots game?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Mary Ann,
The Rummy Roots game is available through Rainbow Resource, Amazon, and many other stores and websites. There is even a “More Roots” expansion pack.

Beverley Brandt

says:

Absolutely great!

Delmas Louvoumina Nzaou

says:

I cannot thank you enough for this better way of increasing children vocabulary. I fell in love with this
effective methodology. I can’t wait to implement this with my little kids.

Zaneta Crain

says:

I’m going to work with my 11year old using what I have learned from instructions on how to teach him and I hope this work.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are so welcome, Delmas! 😊

Irina

says:

Thank you so much for your great and motivating articles!

Swati Shah

says:

Hi
Definitely your tips are gonna to help to instill and enhance vocabulary.

Lisa Zystro

says:

My son and I had almost the exact conversation about the term vast last week thanks to your Kindergarten reader!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I love this, Lisa! 😊

Francesca

says:

Fantastic. some really useful resources. Thank you so much

Colleen

says:

Marie and team, this is great. Keep up the good work!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Colleen!

D ANITH\l=

says:

Thanks for a clear idea about vocabulary , Really helpfull please help me future to develope ,,,

Julie

says:

Any suggestions on a child who has dyslexia who struggles with learning to read and do vocabulary?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Julie,
All About Reading is Orton-Gillingham based, which is a proven approach for helping students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. It’s also the approach that the International Dyslexia Association recommends. The author of AAR and AAS, Marie Rippel, is a member of the International Dyslexia Association and has instructed graduate-level courses in Orton-Gillingham Literacy Training offered through Nicolet College in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. She is also a member of Pro Literacy, has previously served on the Board of Directors of the Literary Task Force in Wisconsin, and tutored students for more than 20 years. If you haven’t had a chance to watch their story about her son’s struggles, you may want to check that out (they were told he would never read). Quite amazing!

You might like to visit our Dyslexia Resources Page.

Please let me know if you need help with placement or need more information.

Rashidah Bal

says:

Great Resources!!

Samantha

says:

Love the root tree! Thank you.

Shellie

says:

I’m so thankful the vocabulary has been built into the reading program. School for us takes a whole school day (5 hours) with 3 little children and anything to save time is so beneficial. Not having to do a separate 20 minutes on vocabulary is an invaluable time-saver! Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are so welcome, Shellie! In addition to saving time, working on vocabulary in the context of what they are reading helps the child remember the new word better too.

Pamela

says:

This is a brilliant way to teach new words. The more ways they can get exposure and then adapt it to themselves, the better ingrained it will be.

Tracey

says:

Great tips!

Melinda

says:

Thank you for the information on the conversational method to encourage vocabulary growth! The chart download is cute and helpful!

Donald Errol Knight

says:

Good tips!!

Jenny

says:

These are great tips. Thank you for all of your helpful free posts!

Jessica Bailey

says:

I absolutely love your curriculum!! Thank you for helpful articles such as this to further help me teach my children!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Jessica! I’m happy we can be helpful for you.

Amy U

says:

This is a great way to look at the different ways of learning and using vocabulary words. Thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Amy! I hope you can find something you can use in this blog post.

I really love all of your posts, but seriously, this one is great. Thank you for the example dialogue. We read a lot of books with complex vocabulary so we often get questions about what a particular word means. Seeing this example dialogue gives me a better guide for responding. I’ve always given an example, but I can see why 2 examples and then asking the child to respond would be more effective. Even young kids can catch so many words this way.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Jen! It is surprising how just asking kids to respond expressing their understanding of the new word in some way makes such a big difference. I think it’s because they aren’t just taking the information in (listening) but giving it out too (speaking) that reinforces the concept beyond just listening alone.

Leave a Comment