Utilizing Context – help your student use the context in which the word is introduced to solve for the meaning of the word. Did the word come up in a reading you are doing together? Use the surrounding words and sentences—or context—to help your student understand what the word means. Did the word come up in a conversation or lecture? Discuss the context of that conversation or lecture with your student, focusing on aspects such as what was being discussed, the point the speaker was trying to make and the tone in which the word was said.
Ultimately, relating the word to the context in which it was used will allow your student to connect the word to a bigger picture, making it more likely that she will retain the meaning of the word.
Synonyms & Antonyms – a great way to help your student understand a new word is to provide your student with synonyms (mean the same thing) and antonyms (mean the opposite). Indeed, as your child’s vocabulary grows, many of the new words they learn can be related to another word that means the same thing, or the opposite. For example, the word “enormous” might be related to the words big, huge, large or gigantic. Conversely, you might provide the words small, little, teeny, tiny, minute as antonyms.
Much like using context to solve for meaning, providing synonyms and antonyms will help your child relate a new vocabulary word to easier, more manageable words.
Not only will these tactics likely give your child a laugh, it will give her a physical expression/action to tie the word to when it comes up in the future.
Imagery – a great way to instill the meaning of a new word is to tie it to actual images. Especially effective in picture books, tying the image on the page to the word in question gives your child a better chance to comprehend what the word means than attempting to provide a verbal explanation they may not understand. If you child is beyond picture books and brings a word to you, look for other images that may help her understand. Such images could be pictures, as well as physical settings or items. For example, is your child confused about the word “bustling?” Perhaps the next time you are in a busy market or trying to move through a crowd, you can relate the word “bustling” to the physical situation.
Relating new vocabulary words to images provides your child with a tangible example that will reinforce other efforts to instill the word’s meaning.
Using New Vocabulary – a final step in learning new vocabulary is to play with it, using it frequently in order to assure your child retains the meaning of the word. Practice using the word in sentences, perhaps choosing 2 – 3 words to focus on for the week and see who can use the word the most frequently throughout the week. Make flash cards and play different games such as Go Fish or Memory, being sure to use the words in sentences as you play.
The more you as a parent and we as educators can do to make new vocabulary fun, the more inner drive your student will have to learn new words!
In conclusion, we suggest you play with the above tactics, figuring out which work for you and which might not (not all of us are actors!), and using a mix of those that do in combination to help your child improve her vocabulary. After all, obtaining new vocabulary is a quest that will last throughout her lifetime!