Vocabulary – Schools
Vocabulary refers to the words a child is able to understand (receptive vocabulary) or express (expressive vocabulary). Development of a good vocabulary is important to language development, as adults we continue learning new words throughout their lives. If a child has a limited vocabulary they may have difficulties in understanding what is being said to them or difficulties in expressing themselves.
Word finding is the ability to retrieve words from your mental ‘dictionary’. Adults experience word finding difficulties when they know a word, it’s on the ‘tip of my tongue’.
Children continue to develop their vocabulary skills throughout primary school in order to use curriculum key words, give clear descriptions and gain a greater understanding of the relationships between words. By the end of primary school, most children have developed effective skills to learn, store and recall new words. Secondary school and college students continue to develop more advanced skills to meet the vocabulary demands of the curriculum. This enables them to use subject specific vocabulary to communicate effectively within their subject classes, written work and with their peers.
Word retrieval strategies rely on the child/students ability to store both semantic features [meanings] and phonological features [speech sounds] of words. Children and students will always benefit from activities to develop these skills. Those who need lots of repetition will benefit from exposure to topic related vocabulary both at the beginning and end of the school term. Some ideas to support vocabulary development are outlined below:
- Identify key words for a given topic prior to it being taught in the classroom (this can be done by the class teacher, LSA and with the child if appropriate) It is recommended that a manageable amount of words are introduced at one time e.g. 3 – 5 per topic.
- Find pictures or objects that represent the topic vocabulary where possible.
- Introduce the key words (with pictures/objects) to the child before they are taught in the classroom.
- Talk about each word in turn (during different sessions if possible). Discuss the semantic features (relating to the meaning of the word) and phonological features (relating to the sounds in the word) as follows: “typhoon; an extreme wind or storm [category: Weather]” “typhoon has 2 syllables and rhymes with “cocoon”.
- Knows words can be put into groups and can give common examples e.g. animals: dog, cat, horse…
- Understands a range of related words to describe concepts e.g. soon, early and late, soft, hard and smooth
- Can clap the correct number of syllables in words
- Can find words beginning with the same sound in listening activities, e.g. ‘can you find me something that starts with a ‘t’?
Year 1 - 2
- Compares words, the way they look, sound or mean e.g. there are two words ‘sea’ at the beach, and you ‘see’ with your eyes.
- Can talk about objects, describing their size, shape, category, function, etc.
- Uses newly learnt words in a specific and appropriate way e.g. “Dad, you know when you have lots of lions together it is called a pride of lions.”
Year 3 - 4
- Uses a range of words related to time and measurement e.g. century, calendar, breadth
- Uses a wide range of verbs to express their thoughts, or about cause and effect e.g. “I wonder what she’s thinking”, or “If we run we should get there on time but we might arrive late.”
- Joins in discussions about an activity using topic vocabulary e.g. “I saw some chicken eggs hatching in the incubator on the farm last Friday.”
Year 5 - 6
- Makes choices from a wide and varied vocabulary e.g. ‘leap’ instead of ‘jump’, ‘terrified’ instead of ‘frightened’
- Uses sophisticated words but the meaning might not always be accurate e.g. “My bedroom was meticulous.”
- Knows that words can have two meanings and uses them appropriately. Can’t always explain how they are linked e.g. ‘hard’ (rigid object and tough person)
- Beginning to extend understanding and use of vocabulary linked to expressing emotion
Year 7 - 9
- Understands some words have multiple meanings, e.g. hot, bright.
- Is able to explain the meaning of new vocabulary using a dictionary style definition, e.g. describing ‘brave’ as ‘someone who shows courage, even in a dangerous situation’ rather than saying ‘they’re not scared’
- Uses more interesting vocabulary when prompted, e.g. ‘worried’ becomes ‘anxious’.
- The student may find higher level verbs hard to understand, e.g. estimate, research.
- Still challenged by some instruction words, e.g. modify, generate, consider.
- Uses patterns in words (e.g. affixes), e.g. –able, -esque, un-, dis- to aid understanding.
- Uses ‘academic words’ when prompted in all formal tasks, e.g. ‘condensation’ instead of ‘dripping’.
- Can confidently explain the meaning of subject words and words with multiple meanings.
- Will continue to learn vocabulary for specific topics or specialisms.
Page last reviewed: 17 April, 2018