Tricks to Help Your Student Master Vocabulary Words

Learning vocabulary is a milestone of reading and writing skills, as well as something kids do daily—sometimes without noticing. Whether your child needs to learn a specific set of vocabulary words or you’re looking to simply expand his vocabulary, here are ways to help.

1. Post words everywhere

In addition to—or instead of—flash cards that your child can keep in her back pocket and whip out during any downtime, try posting the words where your child will see them most often. This could be above her dresser, on the bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator, in the notebook she carries around, on a bookmark, etc. Increasing the amount of interactions your child has with the words will help her memorize and comprehend them easier.

2. Learn word groups

The danger of drills and simple repetitions is that words are isolated from the context in which they function (i.e., phrases and sentences), which makes it more difficult for kids to remember them. Encourage your child to learn the words in groups that go together. For example, instead of crowd, think crowd of people—or, instead of data, think most accurate data. When studying a specific word, have your child list as many associations and connections as he can with the word, including drawing pictures of the word’s meaning.

3. Study context

Similar to word groups, understanding context is an important strategy for your child to study vocab more effectively. Have her consider the word in a sentence. What words often appear with or near it? Consider the context of the sentence also (formal? casual?). Can the word be used in multiple contexts or is it very particular? If you and your child are making flash cards, jot down a sentence from a book, an article, or another text with the word in it instead of just listing the definition of the word. To go a step further, have your child make up a new sentence with the word that has personal connections to her own life.

4. Use the words in daily life

Encourage your child to use the words in his day-to-day routine. You can choose one word, or a few words, per day or week. This might feel stilted at first, but it can be fun! Have your child pledge to use the word aloud or while writing, whether for homework or in his personal life (i.e., in a letter or an e-mail to a friend). If you choose to join the activity, you can model how you’d use the word, which will give him double the practice.

5. Read

If widening your child’s vocabulary with no specific word list is the goal, prioritize reading. It’s one of the best ways to increase vocabulary while also improving your child’s comprehension skills and expanding her world view. Encourage your child to read books that are just a bit challenging for her; there should be just enough new words for her to learn, but not too many that reading becomes laborious and context clues are too difficult. In addition to independent reading, set aside time to read with your child. This is a great opportunity to tackle higher-level reading material—you can take turns reading aloud, or you can read aloud yourself.

6. Listen to audiobooks and podcasts

Listening is an excellent way for students to engage with material that they might not otherwise. Choose education-oriented or fun podcasts that you can listen to together or alone, preferably ones that speak to your child’s interests. Try videos as well; there are many videos that might address topical vocab words or that your child can put them into a song and dance routine

For years, flash cards have been touted as the way to learn vocab. This year, see how you might use them differently or even go without them. If your child has a study buddy or tutor, try incorporating some of these strategies in activities they already do.  

Lisa Low

Lisa Low is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.