Vocabulary Building: School and home




As a bookworm and a teacher, I can tell you until I am blue in the face that vocabulary is important to the literacy skills of our children. We make it fun at first, reading books to our baby’s and toddlers and young primary children. But then all of a sudden there is a breakdown. Vocabulary becomes homework and a chore and something that is not so fun anymore. Spelling tests? Vocabulary tests?  What can we as parents and educators do to make sure that 1) our children have an expansive vocabulary and 2) the knowledge and skills to go out and seek out a definition of a word they don’t know?

In the classroom I see my students struggling with vocabulary everyday, the biggest struggle is getting them to NOT be okay with not understanding or knowing the meaning of a word. Skipping unknown words, instead of investigating what it means, is popular among students.

I have used these methods with both my students and children.  Some can be used for fun, some for studying and maybe even both.

  1. Play Scrabble – Nothing more fun than family game night right? You can use scrabble several ways
    1. Good old fashion way. However, keep a dictionary nearby to help vocabulary building.
    2. As a study tool: put your child’s vocabulary list on the table and those are the words you try to “spell” first.
    3. Once you get up in age you may have to modify the game as follows.  Each person connects a vocabulary word to an already existing word. No one has actual tiles, they are more “free range” tiles and you are just trying to connect all the vocabulary words. The child with the vocab word goes first and then proceed however you like and make your own house rules (like who wins??) The only  must it that the words all must intersect or connect.

2. Magnetic Scrabble  – You can find these  Scrabble pieces on Amazon. This is great for “solo” time for a child that needs to study and can be stuck on any magnetic surface. I place them on the fridge, and while I am cooking, my 5th grader can study her words (Multitasking parent for the win!)  I also love to use these for my pre-schooler, in order to build her basic literacy skills. For example, adding letters to root words like “at”.

3. Vocabulary.com – I LOVE this website. I have fully integrated it into my classroom and my high school students love to compete for the top of the leader board. There are already pre-made lists or you can create your own. You are able to see both completion and Mastery ( how well you know a word) for each vocabulary word. This will work best with older children and you can create a chart so that they can compete with themselves or track their progress over a period a time. If you want to get the whole family involved sign everyone up and compete for the top of the chart (make sure you are using the same list!)

4. Thesaurus Game – This is something I do without either my students or my children knowing (Gasp! No metacognition). I do this every day.  A student (or one of my children) will say something and I will ask “Is there are another word you can use for _____?”  This helps build up vocabulary and understanding of the first word they were trying to use, this “thesaurus” skill will come in handy when writing long papers.

5. Congratulate them on the use of “Big words” –  When either of my children use a word that is not “normal”, for example humongous instead of really big, we make a big deal of it. The same goes with my students. I give high fives and “way to go’s” and make a big deal of it in the classroom. And then I sneak in the Thesaurus game to make sure they truly know what the word means.

6. Create an environment that they know it’s okay to not know a word but not okay to continue not knowing it – Lead by example find a word you don’t know have them help you figure it out (context clues, going to a dictionary). Let them know not knowing a word does not make them dumb, it is an opportunity to become smarter.  Make use of any access to devices; I like to say let’s use our magic device to find out what the word means. When I see students look up the word on their own, I again, make A BIG DEAL. n


If you have any literacy tips for building vocabulary that you would like to share, please feel free to comment! It takes a village to educate!