VOCABULARY

Understanding words and their meanings. 

Click here to access a printable copy of the information presented on this page. 

What is Vocabulary? 

Vocabulary is the knowledge of words and word meanings (Diamond, 2016). Vocabulary plays an important part in early literacy as a tool for children to rely on when decoding unfamiliar words and in comprehending, or understanding, what they are reading.  As the Read Naturally website points out, "Students with low vocabulary scores tend to have low comprehension and students with satisfactory or high vocabulary scores tend to have satisfactory or high comprehension scores." (Read Naturally, 2018). If you want to read more about what vocabulary is and why it is a critical reading skill, click here to read the National Reading Panel Report: Practical Advice For Teachers. 

Watch the video below to listen to Dr. Cynthia Lundgren of Hamline University explain the importance of vocabulary related to literacy. 

Reading Rockets. (2014, April 29). Vocabulary: Bricks and Mortar. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/c-42iLpS3SM.

How is vocabulary used to decode unknown words? 

When encountering an unknown word within a text, readers rely on three cueing systems to help decode the word.  The three cueing systems are visual, syntax, and contextual cues and readers rely on all three of them simultaneously.  Visual cues are used when readers use their phonics skills to decode the unknown word.  Syntax cues are cues readers get from the grammatical structure of the sentences, asking themselves in their head: "what would sound right in this sentence?" while trying to figure out the unknown word. Readers use context cues when decoding words when they rely on the meaning of the text to decode the unknown word.  This is where vocabulary plays a critical role in the reading process; if children have a large vocabulary they have a wider base of knowledge to rely on when decoding the unknown word.  To get a more detailed explanation of visual, syntax, and context cues please click here to access the article by Dr. Susan Kruger, M.Ed. titled "The Cue to Reading" Series (Article 3): When Mistakes are Golden. 

Kruger, S. (2011, August 3). The Cue To Reading [Infographic]. Retrieved from https://studyskills.com/literacy/the-cue-to-reading-article-3-when-mistakes-are-golden/


Example of how vocabulary is used to decode unknown words: A child learning to read comes to the unknown word "map" in a book. The initial decoding skill most children use is to stretch the sounds represented by the letters m - a - p.  If the word they are decoding is a familiar, one that they have heard before and said many times, the recognition of the word will be very quick.  The instant recognition is quicker and the recall of this word is better because the word is in their speaking vocabulary. 

How do you build vocabulary with your child at home? 

There is a wide variety of ways to help build your child vocabulary at home. Author Nell Duke, an education professor at the University of Michigan and writer for the Parent Toolkit website, provides an excellent list in his article titled "How to Help Your Child Build a Strong Vocabulary".  Click here to access the full Parent Toolkit article or read below to see the list of tips for yourself right here. 

"Goldilocks Principle"

Professor Nell Duke recommends applying the "Goldilocks Principle" when trying to teach your child new words: not too many words at one time and not too few. 

Torrey, T. (2015). Goldilocks Bowls [Infographic]. Retrieved from https://www.aphablog.com/2015/09/14/goldilocks-dad-and-finding-care-thats-just-right/

See It, Say It, Write It
In order for your child to actually learn a new vocabulary word, he needs to be able to read it, say it, and write it. If your child comes across a word in a book and asks you how to pronounce it, encourage him to repeat the word out loud after you say it. 

Make Words Concrete
As you are teaching your child new words, it is important to help visualize them. For nouns, show your child a picture of it by searching online, or showing a picture in a book or magazine. If it is an adjective, find things that can be described using the word. 

Multiple Exposure

Typically, a child needs to hear a new word 4 to 12 times before it is added to his vocabulary. It is also important to use the word in a variety of different contexts, wherever it applies. 

Read Daily
Books are the number one way to expose kids to a richer vocabulary. As often as possible, read books with your child. 

Show How You Learn New Words
When you come across a word that you don't know, point it out to your child. Describe to him how you were able to determine its meaning by using context clues. 

Wulf, B. (2015). Woman Thinking Gears [Photograph]. Image retrieved from https://aspieantiquarian.wordpress.com/2015/02/09/rigid-thinking-and-set-shifting-in-adult-auties/

New Words Are Everywhere

Help your child build her vocabulary by taking her to new places and exposing her to different ideas. Visit your local zoo or the nearest museum and have your child describe the various animals and exhibits that she sees. 

Everyday Activities to Build Vocabulary
Image provided by Tracy Donohue, included in her article "9 Tips to Build Your Child's Vocabulary at Home"

Donohue, T. (2016). Tips for Building Vocabulary [Infographic]. Retrieved from https://iowareadingresearch.org/9-tips-to-build-your-child%E2%80%99s-vocabulary-at-home

Share your success or tips on how you build vocabulary with your child below: 

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