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Vocabulary Vocabulary Vocabulary!

For a child with language delays vocabulary is a forever goal. Let’s work backwards for a moment. By the time a child reaches kindergarten the writing is pretty much already on the wall. Vocabulary level at kindergarten is an important checkpoint which is highly correlated to academic success.

Higher vocabulary builds better readers.

Reading builds higher vocabulary.

How do we build higher vocabulary?

You’ve probably heard it before…..reading aloud to children on a daily basis is well known to be the #1 ingredient to turn them into readers. It’s also the #1 way to build vocabulary skills before a child can read on his/her own.

Written language has a much wider range of words than we typically use when we speak.

Did you know we only use a small percentage of words when we talk in our daily lives? The rich vocabulary comes from being exposed to print. It’s more sophisticated in vocabulary and even in grammatical structures.

If you’ve never heard of Jim Trelease or read his book “The Read Aloud Handbook” order it right away! It’s the perfect baby shower/new mom gift. It will forever change how you think of reading aloud to young children. (THERE’S NO FINANCIAL GAIN IN THIS RECOMMENDATION!)

Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, says “As you read to a child, you’re pouring into the child’s ears (and brain) all the sounds, syllables, endings, and blendings that will make up the words he or she will someday be asked to read and understand.”(6th edition, p. 13)

Listening skills grow and then comprehension skills grow. Once the child has gained a degree of spoken language understanding then he/she moves on to learn to read.

Children who are read to regularly from a very early age are more likely to become strong readers than children who are not.

There’s a famous study by Hart and Risely which was later written about in the book “Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children” by Betty Hart. Now commonly known as “The 30 Million Word Gap” the findings from their study showed drastic differences in vocabulary based on economic status of a childs’ family.

There was roughly 30 million word difference in the number of words a child from a professional working parent household vs. a disadvantaged parent household heard before kindergarten age. This difference in language exposure is often referred to when discussing educational advantage vs. disadvantage in the schools. It’s hard to catch up and there’s a difference in academic success linked to vocabulary level/language competency a child has when they begin formal schooling.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record:

The more words a child hears in meaningful interactions with loved ones, the higher his/her language will become.

The higher the spoken language, the higher the potential for literacy

The higher the literacy the higher the potential for academic success

Honestly, it’s much easier to read aloud A LOT than it is to consciously use more sophisticated language in your talking. Typically we use the same general collection of words when we speak. This may be fine for the very early words of an infant but beyond that, books are the way to go. How often do you use the word “splendid” or “swiftly” as you remind your child to brush his teeth? (and is he even listening?).

Reading aloud to your child EVERY. SINGLE. DAY is an investment in their future success.

Strategies to build vocabulary:

  • Use synonyms for already known words.
  • Use specific words rather than general language. For example, say “Put the dish on the counter” rather than “Put IT over THERE” with a point toward the counter.
  • Take a moment to give a short explanation about how things work or what you are thinking when you try to figure out a problem in your daily routine.
  • Name the parts of common things such as the faucet instead of just turn the water on.
  • Play family word games.
  • Try to use NEW words that your children might not know in everyday interactions. Instead of happy/sad up the level to be more descriptive such as thrilled/disappointed.

Family Vocabulary Challenges:

  1. Ask your child(ren) to indicate when they hear or see a new word. Predict how many you will have together at the end of the week or set a goal between 50-100 new words. Start writing down a whole family list of new words to see how many you can discover in your routines for 1 week.
  2. Play a “Word of the Day” by finding an unfamiliar word in the dictionary and posting it in the kitchen or other place the family will see it throughout the day. Try to use that word very frequently through the day.
  3. Make vocabulary development a conscious focus in your discussions and when you read aloud.

NEED MORE HELP? Consider purchasing some instant downloadable materials we offer in our Teachers Pay Teachers store. You can click the links below and browse in our store front. 🙂

If you’re interested to take on a vocabulary challenge, here’s a resource to create a vocabulary notebook so you can record and keep track of the new words. The product includes sections and starters for you to structure your own marble notebook or binder. Check it out here.

Check out this conversation builder sure to bring up some new vocabulary.

We’d love to hear about some of your vocabulary building ideas or strategies in the comments below.

Pamela Talbot

Pamela is an ASHA certified Speech-Language Pathologist dually certified as a teacher of the hearing impaired. She is a Listening and Spoken Language LSLS-AVT. Pamela has extensive experience training parents and professionals at the international level.