Learning Vocabulary

Learning vocabulary is incredibly important for all areas of development. It affects reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills development. 

However, just knowing a definition of a word doesn’t truly represent complete knowledge of a vocabulary word. Let’s find out what it takes!

Vocabulary Review

A fancy term for all the words we know is "lexicon.” Thus, a person’s lexicon is all the words he or she knows and can say.

So, if a child knows a word and uses it and is part of his/her lexicon, then we can add it to his/her “vocabulary count?” Nope! 

For example, let’s take the word “brilliant.” A child may hear it once in a sentence, “the man is brilliant.” The child remembers the word “brilliant.” Now, it appears that he “knows” it. The next time he sees a man he may even say “that man is brilliant.” However, he said this sentence just because he saw a man, not necessarily because the man was smart.  The child has the word in his vocabulary or lexicon but he is missing the complete word knowledge.

Children with language disorders tend to have incomplete word knowledge.

Word Knowledge

Semantics or word knowledge is the ability to take a word from our lexicon and be able to relate it to other concepts (compare/contrast), categorize, pull background knowledge, etc...

When considering learning vocabulary or teaching vocabulary to your child, this is where you should focus your energy. Knowing a word doesn’t do a child much good if their semantic knowledge is incomplete. 

Learning vocabulary is more than just knowing the definition of a word! 

Actually, just give the definition of the word to your child and THEN work!

It's more than a simple definition

Below is a visual that illustrates 4 key areas of a vocabulary word a child 5 years old or younger should know. 

learning vocabulary toddler

Let’s do an example together: Zebra

  1. Category - What group does it belong to? It is an animal. It is a zoo animal.
  2. Function - What does it do? It runs, walks, eats, drinks.
  3. Association - What goes with it? Grass, zoo, other zoo animals.
  4. Description - What does it look like? It is black and white. It has stripes.

Below is a visual that illustrates the 5 key areas of a vocabulary word PLUS 4 areas of how words relate to other words. This is appropriate for children 5 years or older. 

learning vocabulary elementary

Let’s define "happy" as an example:

  1. Category:  Happy is a feeling or an emotion
  2. Function: It expresses how we feel when we feel good
  3. Association: Smiles, laughing
  4. Description: Happy looks like smiles, playing at the park, seeing mom and dad, opening presents, going for a walk
  5. Location: You can be happy anywhere!

AND how does it relate to other words?

  1. Antonyms - What means the opposite?: Sad
  2. Synonyms - What means the same thing?: Glad
  3. Similarities - How are happy and sad the same?: They both describe how we feel. 
  4. Difference - How are they different?: Happy is when you feel good. Sad is when you feel bad. 

Okay, NOW you are ready to learn vocabulary

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