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”.
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.