Helping kids build their vocabularies: spell-offs and bedtime stories

We’re working on helping J- learn new words. The more words she learns, the more she can think about and communicate. Yesterday, we tried an informal spelling bee at home, and she seemed to enjoy it. J- chose words out of the Collins English Dictionary, and W- picked words out of the Stoddart Visual Dictionary. You can guess who had to spell words like “articulating”, and who had to spell words like “leontopodium.” I refereed, which mainly consisted of helping J- pronounce the words and giving hints as needed.

That was fun. W- and I developed our vocabularies through, coincidentally, the same geeky habit of reading pocket dictionaries in childhood. If the opportunity to stump her dad gets J- into reading the dictionary, then awesome!

You know, it would be great to have a manga series that used all sorts of obscure words. That might lure J-‘s interest in. Hmm. =)

We’re also reading stories together as a way to help her build her vocabulary. By reading together, we can ask her questions to test her comprehension and help her learn new words. Our bedtime story? Animal Farm. We read a chapter a day, and she has no problems with the material. I love the way Orwell characterized the animals, and we all laughed at the cat’s antics. We’re on chapter 4 at the moment, and looking forward to the rest of the slim book.

  • You could make a game or challenge to see how many new words J can collect each day. She could write each new word on a Post-it note and put it in a prominent position (refrigerator) – then she could quiz you and W on the meaning.

    Another great way to build vocabulary is to study the Greek and Latin roots. Then find English words that use the root, for example “pedi” relates to the foot,
    so “pedometer”, “pedicure” and “pedicab”.

    Make sure she learns about Prefixes and Suffixes, which are easily found on Google.

    Long ago I established the habit of looking up unfamiliar words in the dictionary then write the word, definition and an example in a spreadsheet.
    I have a Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary and Macquarie Dictionary at my office and I often browse the pages looking for new words. For that reason I recommend every home invest in a good dictionary – paper, not digital!