Building Vocabulary in Your Homeschool
Word Power is Academic Power
Vocabulary is a collection of words. Some words we can only guess approximate meanings in context. Other words have roots or prefixes that give us clues which we can use to make guesses. The words we have truly mastered are those that we can not only read and understand but also use correctly in our own speech or writing.
Of course, vocabulary skills are not just for the standardized tests that are so important for college admission. A fluent vocabulary is also a marker of a good communicator and a skilled writer. Vocabulary truly runs the gamut of the language arts curriculum - reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Consider how you want to tackle the teaching of vocabulary in your homeschool. There are several approaches, and you may find that your chosen method changes over time as your children's needs change.
Creating a Word-rich Environment
Research has shown a distinct difference in the vocabularies of children from poorer homes versus those with working class or professional parents.
The gap is astounding and is directly related to the home environment, specifically the words used in the home.
In the study, the parents in homes below the poverty line spoke less frequently to their children, used fewer words when they did speak, and also used a total of fewer unique words.
The working class families were significantly higher on all accounts. But the professional families had the highest rates of vocabulary size and talking to their children.
The parents of the working class and professional class children were not deliberately teaching vocabulary. Using those words, and lots of them, was simply part of their normal life. And it rubbed off naturally on their children.
Moral of the research? Talk to your children.
Don't baby talk. Don't talk down to them. In fact, go ahead and use those words that they might not understand. It's by hearing new words used in context that children can add new words to their own vocabulary.
So the research shows that informal vocabulary learning is effective. If your home is word-rich, it will rub off on your children.
Generation Cedar has a relaxed approach to teaching vocabulary. I love her perspective. But don't let the simplicity of it deceive you. In order for this type of relaxed method to work, your home must be very well soaked with conversation and books.
In this natural approach, rather than memorizing lists of words, a child hears words used in context. After repeated exposure, the child grows to use those new words correctly in his own speech and writing.
New words can come from conversation or from books. That's why reading aloud to your child is so vital for his education. Read all kinds of books -- easy books, hard books, and everything in between. Don't assume that a book is too hard until you've tried it out on your children. Your reading aloud enables them to understand a book they could not comprehend from reading on their own.
And that means that reading aloud to your children doesn't have to stop when they begin reading independently. Keep reading to them, even in middle school, even in high school.
But don't turn a reading session into a vocabulary drill either. Constantly stopping to discuss words will ruin the flow of the novel. Read more about how to handle new vocabulary words in your read alouds at The Heart of the Matter.
Playing word games like Boggle and Scrabble are great vocabulary opportunities. In my family, we tend to "invent" new words, hoping to score points. When we find the words in the dictionary, it's a great discovery and often adds a new word to our vocabulary. Another fun activity is solving and then creating Hink Pinks.
Other informal ideas are selecting word-of-the-day from your reading or from a purchased calendar. Try to use the word in normal conversation and see who can use it the most frequently. Roan shares some great tips for reviewing vocabulary with her children informally at The Homeschool Classroom.
Dictionary and Thesaurus - Reference Skills
Part of creating that word-rich environment is having the tools a word-smith needs, primarily a dictionary and a thesaurus. Be sure to teach your children how to use a dictionary. And then use it. Pull it out when you encounter a new word. That word can be added to a personal glossary, a homemade dictionary, or a word-of-the-day chart.
My daughter enjoys reading on her Kindle because the dictionary is integrated into each book. Just place the cursor over the word, and definition will appear at the bottom of the screen. Clicking the controller will take you to the dictionary entry if you want more details.
With a do it yourself (DIY) vocabulary plan, you will need a technique for reviewing words. Vocabulary: Just Another Bump in the Road? has some very practical ways to make that happen.
Vocabulary ties into grammar since the part of speech of a word will control its usage. Part of a vocabulary study would be different forms of a word, for example a verb form, an adjective form, and a noun form.
According to research by Dr. Robert Marzano, vocabulary is learned within a framework of 4-14-40. After a mere 4 exposures to a new word, the most gifted students will master a new word. An average student needs to work with a word up to 14 times to be able to use it fluently. In contrast, the lower-achieving students require up to 40 different exposures to a new word to master it.
Application? Provide repeated exposure to new words through reading, listening, writing, games, and exercises.
Tips for Studying Words
1. Use drawings and mnemonics devices, created by your children.
2. Use graphic organizers and notebooking pages, especially to show the relationships among words -- synonyms, antonyms and ranking.
4. Choose vocabulary projects from this long list at National Capital Language Resource Center.
5. Solve and create analogies.
Options for Direct Instruction in Vocabulary
1. Greek and Latin Roots
3. Unique Approaches
1. Greek and Latin Roots
Research shows that children learn more words faster when they study root words, prefixes, and suffixes. The fancy word for this skill is morphemic analysis, but it simply means that based on meanings of parts of words, students can better guess the meanings of new words.
Prefixes, Suffixes, and Root Word Printables
English From the Roots Up
Reviews of English From the Roots Up - And More
- Free Printable Notebooking Pages for English from the Roots Up
Freebies from Albright News -- notebooking pages for Greek roots, Latin roots, and in color or black and white.
- Barb's Review of English from the Roots Up
Barb goes beyond a mere review and gives tips for using this curriculum.
- Cindy's Review of English from the Roots Up
A great overview of the program.
Vocabulary Notebooking Pages
2. The Workbook Approach
Workbooks have some advantages.
There is a wonderful comfort in always knowing what to do next, lesson after lesson. Just keep turning pages in order until you've completed the book.
For busy homeschool moms, workbooks can fit a real need for independent learning so mom can work with other children or get lunch on the table.
The exercises and quizzes give immediate feedback as to mastery. If the score was low, you can go back and review or reteach.
If you want to work on adding vocabulary words but don't know where to find words or don't trust a more informal approach, workbooks are a good option. We have used all the books pictured here at some time to supplement that word-rich environment of great conversation, word games, and reading aloud that is the home.
Scholastic Vocabulary Workbook
Wordly Wise Series
We have used Wordly Wise since the beginning. It's a great curriculum that is easy to implement.
Wondering if you need the teacher's guide for these workbooks? Read this discussion by homeschool moms who have used Wordly Wise.
Curriculum Reviews of Wordly Wise - And More
- Wordly Wise Curriculum Review at The Heart of the Matter
Karin Katherine gives a thorough overview of this classic program.
- Wordly Wise 3000 Series Curriculum Review at The Curriculum Choice
A very thorough and positive review of Wordly Wise.
- Graphic Organizers for Worldly Wise Vocabulary Study
Six pages of graphic organizers designed to help you visually understand words' meanings. (PDF) Definition map, semantic map, and Venn diagram.
I've created an entire page devoted just to Analogies for Homeschool. Every child should know how to solve and compose analogies.
Analogies are a great learning tool. Not only is vocabulary strengthened, but critical thinking skills are honed.
3. Unique Approaches
If you want something planned out but not as strict as a workbook, try this fun cartoon style of learning. The visual aids are sure to appeal to visual learners. With the examples in this book, a child would understand how to create his own mnemonic devices for remembering future vocabulary.
As a supplement, watch the vocabulary videos at VocabAhead.
View samples at the main website.