Vocabulary Development

Vocabulary development begins in the early stages of life and continues to grow over time. Vocabulary simply means words that we use or can understand. The term vocabulary can be divided into two different areas: receptive vocabulary and expressive vocabulary. Receptive vocabulary comes first as we begin to understand words we hear and eventually read. Expressive vocabulary is what we say or how we express our own thoughts and ideas.

Both of these areas of vocabulary development are key to language development which in turn has been shown to have a strong relationship to learning to read and reading to learn. In the first steps to reading, children learn to sound out words. Once that word is sounded and decoded, the child then has to put a meaning to the word for it to make sense. This provides a basis of word knowledge. The two skills of sounding out words or decoding and understanding what the words means, helps a child learn to read. By the third grade; however, a child begins reading to learn. Which means that a whole new vocabulary base will be built on subject areas such as science, math, and social studies.

Vocabulary development is a key to comprehension. It is also a skill that can be easily supported at home. Simple things such as talking to your child develops vocabulary. What kind of conversation starters can you come up with? Here are some suggestions:
  • When your children come home, ask them how their day was but make it more than a "good or fine day" response. Ask them what was the best thing that happened, or the funniest, or the hardest. Change it each day so they don't know what you're going to ask.
  • At dinner, ask your child to teach you one thing he or she learned in school that day.
  • At any time, as your child what is his or her favorite movie or book and why. Or ask thought provoking questions like "if you could go anywhere in the world, where could it be."
Be creative and come up with questions that can't be answered with yes, no, or one word responses.

Reading to or with your child, encouraging them to read, or exposing them to new experiences also builds vocabulary.
  • Look for things that are not obvious to read: cereal boxes, signs while driving, magazines, game directions, signs, cans or boxes in the grocery store, or simply pick up a book.
  • To build experiences, take your child to the park, museums, the theatre, festivals, the hardware store, on vacations, or out for a walk.
Having fun with your child can build vocabulary that will help support literacy skills. What do you do each day to build vocabulary?