Teaching and learning vocabulary is a dynamic and multifaceted process.  There are endless opportunities to learn vocabulary as we go about our lives, both in structured and unstructured environments.  We can learn new words no matter where we are or what we are doing!

Vocabulary is learned in many ways.  Teachers largely use explicit instruction, using many methods of implementation to make it a rich and resourceful way to learn. Kids also acquire vocabulary through the process of incidental learning. Incidental learning is learning that happens outside of a formal teaching environment, such as when we are watching television, reading a book, talking with a friend, playing/doing sports, or traveling to another country. When parents say, “I don’t know where she/he learned that word”, they are referring to incidental learning in regards to vocabulary development.

Explicit Instruction

Explicit instruction is a way to teach skills or concepts to students using direct, structured instruction. It helps to make lessons clear by modeling for students how to start and succeed on a task and giving them ample time to practice. Here are some tried and true methods used by educators: 

Review and preview of vocabulary is common in learning environments. When teachers and parents start by explaining what the word means, it gives the brain a head start in developing familiarity with new words.  This way, when the words are discussed in the lesson/lecture and/or text/film there is comprehension support built in. 

Prefixes/suffixes are morphological markers and are key components in understanding how word parts shift and change meaning of words.  These interchangeable word parts help us to grow words by making different and new combinations.  They are like different sets of locks and keys that open up hundreds of ways to express ourselves using different manifestations of the roots, prefixes and suffixes. For example, “re” means again, and “ed” indicates past tense.  Like this, there are dozens of prefixes and suffixes (morphological markers) that “morph” the word and create new meanings.  

Determining meaning from context is when we take our vocabulary word and see if we can see what it means by looking at the key words (context clues) and ideas in sentences before or after the unfamiliar word. This helps us to make sense of what is happening in the story/article/text.

Using visuals is a must when teaching and learning vocabulary.  I always show kids an image of the new word, and if appropriate, we may watch a short video with the word in action.  This reinforcement is not only good for our diverse learning needs but reinforces the learning pathways that feed into eachother’s networks. They expand as we make more connections when we learn.  Internet searches are great for instantly bringing up numerous images of a word.  Just be mindful of the multiple meanings that the computer doesn’t recognize.  It often brings up the most popular use of a word and it may not be appropriate for viewing! Kids can also draw out pictures of words they are learning.  This doesn’t work for all words, but when it does it reinforces their understanding of the word, and when and how it is used.

Repetition, repetition, repetition! This is a number one must do.  When learning anything, we all know that we need to hear it again and again for it to sink in and become part of us.  As we know from watching kids develop language, words are repeated endlessly to help them understand and use their new vocabulary. Teaching kids to learn, or learning a new language as adults, reminds us of how much repetition is involved to learn a word, understand it, and then generalize its use. 

Expand understanding of words by creating definitions and then discovering their synonyms and antonyms.  From there, kids can make analogies and metaphors to deepen their understanding. 

Shades of meaning helps kids understand the subtle differences between words so they can see how it impacts the message they are sending or the story they are telling.  Understanding shades of meaning also helps improve comprehension, since it is increasing vocabulary.  For example, the difference between “fast, swift and rapid” or “small, tiny, microscopic”.  These shades of meaning become more nuanced and reveal more complexity in the message when we understand.  If kids have a limited vocabulary then they also have difficulty making inferences because they are missing the content.  One word makes a huge impact. Whenever there is a way for kids to act out vocabulary words, I include that as an activity since most kids like to move!  Describing and defining not only builds vocabulary but it improves grammar and syntax when using expressive language skills, and is also great for kids practicing more fluent speech if they stutter. 

Continuing discussion with peers, parents and teachers, integrating new words into daily conversation or in reference to a certain topic, reinforces the understanding and use of new words.  

Fun Ways To Learn

Reading!  Literacy at every age brings us into the world of language.  Words abound and are offered up in numerous ways in regards to grammar, syntax, morphology and use.  Any genre and any modality (book, magazine, online) will do the trick! 

Turning captions on for YouTube videos helps support understanding of new or less familiar words.  The pause button is a wonderful tool to stop and discuss how the new word is related to what they are watching.  

Explore specific areas of interest to learn subject specific vocabulary.  This is highly motivating for kids since it is a subject that they really enjoy. We usually go the extra mile for things that we like. They can choose a certain subject, such as: science, social studies, English or math. Or perhaps there is a person or event that they want to read or learn about.  Both explorations bring about new ideas and words to learn.  Current events also create a lot of interest and interaction regarding what is happening now and always brings in new ideas and vocabulary.

Playing games is an all time favorite way to fire up the competitive spirit to learn in order to get the points! Popular games such as Cranium, Taboo, Pictionary, Scattergories and Apples to Apples are fun ways to learn and use new vocabulary.  You can also make your own game, such as in creating Jeopardy categories of: Defining Words, Antonyms, Synonyms, Part of Speech, Describing, Giving Examples. 

Online Games add to the vocabulary fun! Here are some popular ones: 

Beck and Bo: Learning new words in context. Pre-K ($2.99).

Endless Wordplay: School Edition, rhymes, phonetic approach, and silly animations help kids construct words. Pre-K/K ($14.99).

Montessorium: Introduction to words for emerging readers and writers. Pre-K/K/1 ($4.99).

Flocabulary: Hip hop based platform teaches vocabulary across all content areas. K-12 (free to try, then paid).

ReadWorks: Differentiate reading instruction with high-quality texts and lessons. K-12 (free).

VocabularySpellingCity: Subscription-based, student-facing app fine for independent practice. K-12 (free/paid).

Osmo Words: Versatile word game challenges across content areas and abilities. 1-8 (free/paid)

There is a lot to do but we are here to help and make it as easy and fun as possible!

At Vibe, our speech therapists are trained to work with children of every age, and in every facet of speech and language.  We are experts in our field. The clinical and personal relationship we have with you is at the core of everything we do. From the resources we bring to support growth in communication, to the highly individualized therapy sessions. We offer collaborative partnerships with other providers, family and caregivers and we are committed to exceeding your expectations. We look forward to helping your child bring their best self into the world!