“So I had this fab idea and I asked my boss, like, if I could do it and he said, ‘Totes yea, whatevs, go ahead but how are you gonna make it sound amazeballs and stuff?’ and I said, ‘Hey I got this obvi will get you the deets later; peeps gonna love it.'”

Would you feel confident asking this person for suggestions to teach your children vocabulary?

I wouldn’t, but that’s because I am a bit of a word snob. I find great satisfaction in learning a new word and weaving it into conversation. The last new word I learned was discursive. Turns out, this is a word I could have been using for years and only just learned it at age 40 (something…) It applied to a conversation I was having and the topics were all over the place. I normally call these “follow the bouncing ball” type conversations, but the better word would be that it was discursive. Knowing the right word is imperative to expressing yourself in speech and in writing.

Parents call us all the time wanting to know how to “do” vocabulary with their students. The reality being that if you are reading to young children, and your older kiddos are reading good literature, you are exposing kids to a broad range of new words. While it is easy to keep tabs on the little ones’ learning, it can be harder to tell if your olders are skipping words they don’t know. This is where we tend to add a vocabulary study of some kind, usually around 4th or 5th grade(ish).

Before we look at some of those products, consider this option. Have your student use a Post-It® note as a bookmark when reading. As they come across a new word, jot it down. After they have 5-10 words on their note, have them make an index card with the word, definition, a sentence and maybe even a picture to help them remember this word. Now as they continue to read, and come across the word again, it will stick because they made the note card. Punch a hole in these cards and keep them on a book ring or piece of yarn. Anytime they add new cards, have them flip through the stack again. Pull out 10 words a week (or less) on a Monday and use these as a spelling or vocab quiz on Friday.

In addition to reading, you can pull new words from science, history, geography, math, music, art, church or places you go as a family. Make an index card for each word. These words can then be used in a game (hangman, Win/Lose/Draw, Jeopardy, word searches, etc.) You can sort them by parts of speech as an activity; stack the nouns together, verbs together, etc. Look for common word families. Draw out 3 random cards and use them as a writing prompt! Now that could be interesting! Can you imagine?

There are also some really good options that are already done for you. Wordly Wise 3000 uses wordlists that you put into sentences and activities. It can be done independently and kids can even check their own work. Vocabulary from Classical Roots is a workbook series that builds vocabulary using Latin and Greek roots. Vocabulary Cartoons are a fun and effective option for a visual learner. Games like Blurt, Classwords and Rummy Roots create conversations about words and their meanings.

Knowing the right word builds efficiency when writing and speaking. It’s the same reason we learn grammar and handwriting – to be an effective communicator. I would much rather be asked, “What does that mean Mom?” than to use the same words ad nauseum. I like variety and so do people who listen to you speak and read what you write. Stock up on index cards and encourage your students to build their wordly repertoire! Let’s be honest, I’m not the only one who judges someone on their vocabulary, am I?