Vocabulary development is an important part of learning. It can open up an understanding of the world that would otherwise be ‘closed’ to our students. Not only that, the more complex vocabulary a student can accumulate, the more they’ll be able to develop reading comprehension. But in today’s world of abbreviated text messages, our students may be lacking in vocabulary acquisition.
So today, we’ll be covering some ideas on how to encourage vocabulary development in young minds.
Method 1: Teach word origins to encourage vocabulary development
The reason word origins may be a good way to encourage vocabulary learning is because they can provide context and meaning to the words. The stories can be remembered more easily than words alone as mere ‘data.’
Word origins can also be fun, since they may sound funny without their backstory. They can also teach some history. And they can show kids how language develops. They may be using the dictionary as an authority on words. But word origin stories can show them that dictionaries are actually a reflection of how societies use language.
And, it can show them that all the slang they use today is rapidly developing the English language thanks to the Internet. In fact, it only took one 16-year-old to randomly use the phrase “on fleek,” which then became part of pop culture language. And this article explains the story of a courtroom that needed interpretation of many new words the boom of the Internet has created. So, imagine what English may sound like in 100, 200, 500 years?
Therefore, this lesson can also expand into etymology. Read more about language etymology, and get a list of word origins here.
Here is a resource on the origins of terms:
Method 2: Teach kids word morphology to develop vocabulary
Related to our topic above about teaching word origins, you can also teach word morphology. This is when an old word takes on a new form. Or, when you add affixes or suffixes to a word to help it better relate to the context in which you are speaking. How do you turn a word into its past tense form? It’s plural form? Morphology, according to this article,
“Morphology is a critical element of successful vocabulary development and accurate decoding. …Subsequently, weakness in decoding and vocabulary skills is noted as a potent inhibitor to fully comprehending text.”
That sounds like something to pay attention to!
Here is a video on the meaning of morphology with some examples.
What is one word morphology example causing the world to raise an eyebrow? How about Donald Trump’s use of, “bigly”? According to this article, it’s actually a word!
Can your students identify other word-morphing happening in current events? Can they come up with their own? This can be a fun exercise to get kids using words, and being aware of their so-called ‘correct’ usage (which remember, is only dependent on how we all adapt to those morphologies!)
Method 3: Encourage kids to tell their own stories, so they use vocabulary in more sentences
Whether in written or spoken form, kids telling their own stories can help them use vocabulary, which in turn can help that vocabulary ‘stick.’ If they are telling a story verbally, such as a bedtime story, and they use a word, you can mention synonyms. Like the example in this article, if the child uses the word “buy,” you can introduce the word “purchase.”
This article also explains more reasons to encourage kids to tell their own stories:
4 Benefits of kids telling their own stories
Method 4: Use kids’ novel interests to develop vocabulary
Who says kids have to learn vocabulary ‘by the book’? They can pick up new words in many places, including their current obsessions. This can be part of teaching words as ‘related groups,’ according to this article. Anyone with a kid may notice that they go through ‘phases’ of novel interests. This month it may be insects. Next month it may be Star Wars. The month after it could be dinosaurs or cars.
You can use these opportunities to explore vocabulary with kids at home. Or as teachers, ask kids to do language arts assignments that are based on topics they choose. This can enhance their motivation for the work.
Take our article on the Maker education movement, for instance. If a kid is into electronics and ‘making’ things, they can start their vocabulary learning to name the objects they are working with. Often, those words can have meaning in different contexts later on. There can be crossover of language into different subjects or for different needs.
So let’s take the word “microprocessor.” What does “micro” mean? Remember word morphology above? Ok, so then, what is the opposite of “micro”? It’s “macro”!
Kids may learn to “tinker” with objects in a Maker education space. But then they’ll later be able to use that word when referencing something like “tinkering” with a recipe in the kitchen. And so on.
To conclude: vocabulary learning can be engaging and fun
There’s no need to rely on memorization and spelling bee contests alone for vocabulary enhancement. Use the 4 tips above to help kids get a hold of vocabulary they will enjoy learning. This will help with interactive methods as well, since the students can talk about their words while using them.