It’s only words…

Current research confirms that lockdown had a significant impact on children’s language development. A survey of schools across England revealed an increased number of four- and five-year-olds needing support with language. Of the 58 primary schools surveyed, 76% of headteachers said that children starting school in September 2020 needed more assistance with their verbal communication than had been necessary in previous years.

The acquisition of an adequate vocabulary is an essential part of language development. There is already known to be a wide variation of language experience between different groups of children. For example, some eight-year-olds will have a vocabulary of 7,000 words, while others will have a vocabulary of 3,000 words. Such a discrepancy disadvantages some children from an early age. By the time these eight-year-olds are eleven and starting secondary school, they will need a vocabulary of 9,000 words to access the secondary curriculum. When pupils can understand the words they read in formal texts or hear in classroom discussions, they are free to focus on the overall meaning of what is being read or discussed. 

To help children extend their vocabulary: –

  1. Talk with the children. All children learn words through discussion, especially when listening to and participating in conversations with adults. Even if they are only hearing conversational words, this will provide them with a solid foundation to build on.
  2. The easiest way for any child to develop their vocabulary is through reading. Reading enables the child’s personal word bank to expand gradually with regular reinforcement and repetition. This creates a virtuous circle. The more the child reads, the better their vocabulary becomes. The better their vocabulary, the more complex the texts they can tackle, which in turn exposes them to additional complex words. 
  3. If children find age-appropriate texts difficult to read, encourage them to listen to material on CDs or the internet. Use text-to-speech facilities on devices to read the texts aloud. Encourage the child to click on any unknown words for dictionary definitions.
  4. Play word games: crosswords, anagrams and word quizzes. Think of as many animals, countries, place names, pieces of scientific apparatus, vegetables, musical instruments, etc, beginning with a letter of the alphabet in two minutes. It is always useful to link any new vocabulary to groups of known words, for example, names of countries beginning with ‘I’: add the new country ‘Indonesia’ to the already known countries of Ireland, India, Israel and Italy.
  5. Watch television with sub-titles. Children often mishear words and mispronounce them, which may lead to embarrassing errors. If they have the opportunity to see the word as it is spoken, they will be more likely to recognise it and pronounce it correctly when they see it again.
  6. Point out the more obvious suffixes and prefixes to help work out the meanings of unknown words. Aqua meaning water links with: aquarium, aqueduct, aquatic and Aqua-park, so sub-aqua will be something to do with being under water. The ‘tri’ in triceratops, triangle and tricycle relates to the number three: three horns, three sides and three wheels, so tripod will mean three legs.
  7. Read material to them that would be too difficult for them to read by themselves, perhaps articles from the newspaper that you think might interest them. Explain some of the more complex words as you read.
  8. Read non-fiction books, and children’s newspapers and magazines to expose the child to technical and topic specific words. It will seem more natural to discuss unfamiliar vocabulary when reading information and subject specific books aloud.
  9. Raise awareness of proverbs. An understanding of common proverbs helps children understand the concept of ‘reading between the lines’. For example, the proverb, ‘Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill’, isn’t telling you to go digging, but to not exaggerate the size of a problem you are facing.  
  10. Share puns and jokes, nonsense poems and limericks. Puns that humorously interchange the meanings of words, (such as those found in Christmas crackers), are particularly useful.

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