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Great Reading Foundations – Building Vocabulary

This article is the first of seven in the ‘Great Reading Foundations’ series for Beginning Readers.


 Elmo Blog

Have you watched ‘Sesame Street’ lately? I hadn’t for many years until my little Belle discovered it a couple of months ago. It’s entertaining and focused on valuing children and education. All super important stuff. One segment that really stands out to me is called ‘The Word On The Street’. Each episode focuses on one word and throughout the show they define, discuss and use the word several times. Now, this may seem like a simple thing – I don’t even know how much attention this segment gets. But I think it’s clever – very clever. Improving your child’s vocabulary is one of the keys to establishing a good foundation to your child’s reading success.


Put simply, children need to know a wide range of words so they can understand what they are reading.


So, what can you do to improve your child’s vocabulary?


1. When You Talk Use A Variety Of Words

 Your child will pick up the meanings of many words just by listening to you, and others, speak. Make sure you use common words, descriptive words and topic words in your everyday chat. For example:

• Common words may include dog, chair, window, door, brick, sun, boy and girl.

• Descriptive words may include beautiful, incredible, horrible, clever, sensible, courteous or grumpy.

• Topic words will vary depending on the theme. An example would be the theme of volcanoes and using words such as eruption, magma, lava or active.

2. When You Talk Use New Words Then Clarify

In the classroom I often introduce a new word then follow it up in a way most of the children would understand. For example, ‘Oh I am exhausted. I am really tired.’(probably including some kind of dramatic action as well!) This helps the children hear the word in a context they are familiar with. Then if they hear it enough, they just might understand it and use it.

3. Answer Your Child’s Questions

If your child asks the meaning of a word, take the time to answer. After reading you may discuss any new, unknown words that come up.


4. Categorise Words

Children are learning new words at a great rate of knots. And some children find it difficult to remember the word and its meaning. This is where helping your child put new words into categories can really help them. Just say you are at the shops and your child comes across a fruit they’ve never seen before – let’s say a gooseberry. Let you child look at it and let your child know it is a berry like a strawberry or a blueberry and berries are fruit. Then your child can store the new word (gooseberry) in a nice neat file in their mind under berries and/or fruit. Later when they need that word again they can go to that file in their mind and remember what is is. If your child has a messy ‘filing system’ in their mind, they may find it very had to retrieve information when they want to.

Create your own set of vocabulary words by:

1. Cutting pictures out of magazines and junk mail and store them in a zip lock bag. Try to keep them in categories so remember to label the bag.

2. Taking photographs. After doing the grocery shopping, you or your child might photograph the items. Or maybe you can photograph all the items in the kitchen drawer and store these under kitchen utensils – there’s probably quite a few new words to find here!

3. Buying a commercial set of vocabulary cards then attach them to a key ring.

4. Downloading vocabulary cards from the internet. I searched for ‘vocabulary photo cards’ and a range of options came up. If you are doing a ‘Google’ search, look at ‘Images’ as well.

My preference is for the ‘real life’ cards however, like everything in education, I think it’s good to mix it up a bit. Children are going to see both real images and illustrations as they read so they might as well be exposed to both. Some children will do best with real images, others with illustrations and some need both.


Play these vocabulary games:

1. Choose a new word for the day or week and see how many times you can use it.

2. Check out

3. Pick a category such as space, colours, animals or dinosaurs. See how many words you can come up with in 30 seconds.

4. Read a book to your child and discuss any new and interesting words that come up.

5. Participate in a new activity. Visit a new park, plant a flower or search for seashells – all of these experiences will create conversation and may just bring up new vocabulary to explore.

6. Pretend play. Similar to the last idea but you don’t have to leave home! Pretend play like cooking or working in a hospital can help you share all sorts of vocabulary with your child.



Whichever way you choose to help develop your child’s vocabulary, make it fun! By helping your child learn new words you are will helping them with their current and future reading success.


Happy Learning!






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