When you first start teaching your child, it can be difficult to know how to teach vocabulary in the most effective way. I know when I first stepped into a classroom, I struggled with getting my kids to remember vocabulary that I taught them throughout the semester.
The problem wasn’t that they couldn’t learn it. The students had no problems learning a vocabulary list over a week or so. The problem was that one month down the line, they would have already forgotten it.
Vocabulary is of no use if it’s only remembered for a short period of time. So what can you do?
I learned that I had been approaching things the wrong way when it came to teaching vocabulary. Everything from my vocabulary selection to my strategies for teaching had to be adjusted if I wanted my students to remember what I taught them beyond the unit, beyond the semester, and after I was no longer their teacher.
To get this vocabulary into their long-term memory, you need to make these activities, games, and lessons relevant. If your child wants to learn, they are going to be far more successful than if they don’t.
As well, it requires repetition. The more we hear things and do things, the better chance that your child will remember it. This does not mean that if they repeat the word 10 times, that they will remember it. It means involving this vocabulary in games, activities, songs, and structured sentences so that they learn to use this word. For this reason, our 6 steps to learning vocabulary emphasize using many different kinds of activities to help your child.
In this article, I have tried to break this process down into 6 easy steps. If you follow these steps and structure your lessons based on this method, you can help your child improve their vocabulary skills. To help you, we have also designed an easy to use worksheet for you to outline your lesson plan strategy. You can download that by clicking on the link below.
If there is any part of this process that you don’t understand, please feel free to message us. You can do that by clicking on the picture below or by commenting on this post.
Step 1: Pick Your Vocabulary
Before you can teach your child vocabulary, you need to know what vocabulary you want to teach them. When I am picking vocabulary I try to consider three major factors: difficulty, importance, and relevance (to your child). These three areas are all crucial when determining what vocabulary to teach your child. Let’s start with difficulty.
Difficulty is going to be influenced by how old your child is and how much English they already know. You always want to aim for vocabulary that is going to push their limits, but not be so hard that it’s impossible.
Difficulty can mean many things. It can be how hard the concept is to understand. It can be how long the word is. Or, it can be how complicated the phonics is. All of these things can make certain vocabulary easier or harder.
When the difficulty is just right, you will be pushing your child to improve. When it isn’t, your child might be bored or frustrated. When you find a good balance, your child will be pushed to improve, making them stronger English speakers in the long run.
Next, you will want to factor in importance. How important is this vocabulary to your child’s English education? You want to use your time teaching your child words that will help them grow as an English speaker. Words that they will need to know going forward.
Don’t waste time with words that they aren’t going to be using in the near future. There will be time to learn those words later. Right now, you want to give them a vocabulary that reflects what they are going to be using now.
Finally, there is relevance. Relevance can be tricky. Let’s say your child is four. You have decided you are going to teach them math terms like plus, minus, and equals. These words aren’t too difficult from a phonics perspective, they also are important for their future education. But a four-year-old will (probably) not see the relevance of these words right now in their life. And, unfortunately, without relevance, your child may not be as determined to learn this vocabulary. Regardless of how you feel about the matter.
So, when picking the vocabulary you want to teach your child, keep these three things in mind: difficulty, importance, and relevance. The vocab you teach should be a little difficult, but not too bad. It should be important for them to learn now or in the near future. And it should be relevant to them and their lives. If you get these three things right, you have the beginnings of a great vocabulary lesson plan.
Step 2: Break it Into Manageable Chunks
One mistake a lot of teachers and parents make is to not break up the vocabulary they want to teach into manageable chunks.
What is a manageable chunk? Well, that depends on who you are teaching. A teenager might be able to handle 50 words a week. A three-year-old might be able to do 5. You need to find the right amount for your child.
Once you roughly know the number of vocab words that you want to teach, what’s next? Grouping them in a logical way of course.
Let’s give you an example to see how this might work. Let’s say you want to teach your child color vocabulary. In our color lesson, we have 13 colors with the corresponding flashcards. Our list of colors looks like this: Red, Blue, Yellow, Green, Orange, Purple, Pink, Brown, Black, White, Gold, and Silver.
And let’s say you have a pretty young learner. Then maybe you would want to split these lessons up into three like this.
In this example, I have used a thematic split. Your first lesson could deal with primary colors. Then secondary colors. And finally, our shades and other important colors. To even out the numbers, I decided to put green with the primaries instead of the secondaries, but again, it is up to you.
This is just one example of how you can break up your vocabulary into bite-sized chunks for your child. Sometimes, there won’t be a logical way to split up the vocabulary. In which case, do your best.
Also, depending on your child, you may need to spend more than one “class” on those vocab terms. Some children learn more quickly than others, and there is no benefit to hurrying your child through the vocabulary before they are ready.
Step 3: Recognize the Vocabulary
Now it’s finally time to start the teaching. Our first goal will be to have them consistently recognizing your vocabulary words. For young children, that may mean being able to see a flashcard and say the word. Or, hear the word, and choose the correct flashcard.
In this stage, you are going to want to play a game where they can practice recognizing the vocabulary. Keep it fun and try to change it up. Don’t be afraid to involve songs, dances, drawing, flashcards, and games. The more ways you teach something, the better chance they will have of remembering the vocabulary.
For older children, you may want to have them learn how to spell these words as well. For younger students, who aren’t yet writing, you can leave it at speaking, listening, and reading.
At this point, you don’t need to have them use the words in a sentence. That will come later. For now, you want them to focus on understanding the new words on their own. Once they can confidently recognize the words, you can move on to the next step.
Step 4: Produce the Vocabulary
Now we want to get them producing the vocabulary word. Typically, this is going to be in conjunction with a target sentence. If you need some help with target sentences, head on over to our post on scaffolding and target sentences to learn more about how to lesson plan effectively.
For this stage, your child is still probably learning the words, so you don’t want to choose a difficult target sentence to practice with. Instead, you want a target sentence that your child already knows. You want them focusing on the vocabulary word and not the sentence it is placed in.
For example, if you are still teaching colors, you might want to use a target sentence like this:
What color is it?
It is blue/red/yellow/etc.
Chances are, your child has already learned a basic sentence like this. If not, then you can choose another target sentence, or take the time and teach this one properly.
Again, what you want them to do is to produce the vocabulary in a structured sentence environment. You provide the target sentence, and they learn to produce that target sentence using the new vocabulary.
In this stage, you are going to want to play a lot of games that give them a chance to practice your target sentences and vocabulary. Take your time, and make sure your child has fun.
I’m a big fan of board games at this stage. Tell your child that they get an extra point if they can correctly ask and answer a question before each round. To learn more, take a look at our post on board games, and download a free board game as well that you can use.
Step 5: Use the Vocabulary
Now that your child has learned the vocabulary, you are going to want to give them a chance to use this vocabulary more creatively.
At this stage, you can teach them a new sentence pattern that they don’t already know. This new sentence will not only help your child with the vocabulary, but it also helps them improve their English level.
Continuing our example of colors, this is a sentence you could use to get your child using this vocabulary in a new way.
What __(toy)_ do you want?
I want the (color) ______.
What toy car do you want?
I want a blue car.
This sentence should introduce a new piece of grammar to your child. For instance, maybe your child will learn how to use adjectives with a noun. Adjectives will allow your child to be more specific with their language. Instead of asking for a car, they can ask for a blue car or a red car.
Games can help with this stage, as well. You can repurpose games that you have already played, or come up with something new to help your child learn. Remember to keep it interesting and varied as both are key to keeping your child engaged in their learning.
Step 6: Internalize the Vocabulary
The last stage of learning vocabulary is internalizing and reviewing. In this stage, we are no longer actively teaching the vocabulary or the sentences you might use with it. Instead, you will have moved on to new lessons with new vocabulary.
However, you can’t just leave the already taught vocabulary alone after you are done teaching it. For your child to internalize the vocabulary, they will need to use it often. Repeated reviews over time will help your child put that new vocabulary into their long term memory. This means that long after this lesson finishes, they will still be able to use this vocabulary when they need it.
The best way to achieve this is to be mindful of what you have taught in the past and to make sure it to review it when you can. In schools, we often use big “Jeopardy-style” games to review four or five units together. With your own children, you can try to adopt this, or do activities together that can involve this vocabulary.
If you have learned colors recently, then do a rainbow science experiment or bake different colored cookies. If there is an opportunity in conversation to use the vocabulary you can do that as well. Finally, look at having your child watch English TV shows or read English books. In both cases, the vocabulary you have taught will more than likely show up, especially if its fairly basic vocabulary.
Teaching your child English vocabulary can be a daunting task. It can feel like for every one word you teach your child, that they forget two that you taught them in the previous lesson. However, for all of the stress, it is a truly rewarding experience to help a child master a new skill like English.
The key to getting your child to remember vocabulary is to tap into your child’s interests. Make it relevant to them and their life, and they will improve quicker. This starts with choosing your vocab words, and it continues throughout the 5 other steps where you need to find fun and relevant games to help them learn.
The other key takeaway you should remember is that vocabulary practice cannot stop when the lessons finish. To get words to sink into your child’s long term memory, you need to periodically practice this vocabulary. This can be through sprinkling them into a conversation, watching videos containing these words, or by playing games to review previously learned vocabulary.
If you follow these 6 easy steps when planning your lessons, you will see dramatic improvements in vocabulary retention over time. To help you plan, don’t forget to download our planning sheet where you can map out your lessons and activities.
If you want more help with learning how to teach vocabulary, read our post on how to effectively study vocabulary. As well, you can take a look at our post on colors or animal vocabulary for vocabulary lesson ideas and free flashcards.
It is our hope that this guide will save you time and stress when it comes to answering the many questions that you probably have about how to teach vocabulary to your child. But, if you have any more questions, please feel free to click on the picture below, and we will do our best to help you.