Sunday, 26 February 2012

Learning New Vocabulary

"What's the most impressive word you know?"

I was recently told that a child needs to encounter a word in context fifteen times to gain an understanding of it and then be able to use it in their own writing. While I'm not sure where the 'fifteen times' came from I certainly do agree that children can't possibly fully understand and then be able to use a word after seeing it only once or twice.

Picture books are good for introducing new vocabulary to all key stage two children. In a picture book there are less words and the story can be completed quickly. The pictures often add to the children's enjoyment and certainly raise points for discussion and deeper understanding of plot. Then within the story there will be one or maybe two words that will be new to the children. I recently used 'Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey', from which the group I was working with selected the word 'crevice' as a word they did not know the meaning of. We repeatedly said the word aloud to ensure all could pronounce it correctly. Next, the group offered suggestions for its meaning. After that, I explained its meaning and gave the children the opportunity to try writing it in sentences of their own. To follow up all this, over the following weeks I highlighted opportunities for using our 'new word' and looked to see who was using it and then if it was in the correct context. Since time I have also used Meerkat Mail, Six Men and Princess Smartypants. Each one of these texts and proved useful in introducing new words.There are also many, many more useful picture books for all key stage one and two children.

After the new vocabulary has been introduced, it's essential to keep providing those opportunities for the children to actually use the word in context:
- Have a class word of the week.
- Ask for a certain word or words to be used in a written text.
- Display a word. Read some definitions. Children select the correct one.
- Display a word. Read it in some sentences. Children select the correct one.
- Read a sentence with a gap. The children insert a word they recently learned.
- In a book highlight some words. Children re-write replacing those words with synonyms. 
- Tally chart for number of times the class have used the new words. Spoke and written.
- Look at word up at
- Look at a group of synonyms. How do their definitions differ / match?
- Display a definition. What's the word?
- Select a random word. Children put it into a sentence.
And of course praise and rewards always encourage! 

This process can be used in any subject. I have used this in literacy as a method of improving children's writing through their word choices. But, it will also be useful in maths, science and other areas for developing understanding of subject and topic specific vocabulary.


  1. Why first ask them what they think the word means?

  2. Children thought about similar words and the context of the rest of the sentence / story.