Children must understand the meaning of a word to help them understand the world around them and the stories they read.
1st grade students should be able to figure out the meaning of an unknown word in a 1st grade level book by looking for clues in the story, the pictures, or the word parts. They’ll also begin to sort objects into categories and define the characteristics of the category (e.g. “A bat is a mammal that flies.”).
Another goal is for children to build their vocabulary by learning as many new words as they can from life experiences, being read to and through conversations.
Reading aloud to your child and having them read books on their own is the best way for your child to increase their vocabulary. Books provide words they won’t encounter in everyday conversation, because the language of books is often more complete and formal than talking. A great story also provides context and illustrations for learning a new word.
Become aware of the words you select when talking with your child. Often parents simplify how they speak hoping it will help their child more easily understand what they mean. Instead, aim to use “rich vocabulary,” interesting words and phrases and bold descriptive words. Give your child every advantage by being intentionally specific with the words you choose. Your effort will expand their world of knowledge!
Instead of, “Did you see that big dog?”
Try: “Did you see that gigantic, gray dog sprinting across the street?”
A child’s vocabulary is mostly made up from the exact words their parents use at home.
“New research suggests we may be wildly underestimating their brainpower. Children whose parents used complex language were found to have significantly higher IQs (a formidable 40 points) than children whose parents did not — suggesting that young brains become wired early for complex thought.” GreatSchools.com “Surprising Secrets to School Success, 2018
When reading aloud to a child there will be words that your child does not understand. Children usually don’t tell us because they are unaware of what they do not know. After reading a page, make sure to ask your child if they understood a word that appeared tricky or challenging.
Describe how you figured out the word. (“First I looked at the pictures to see if I saw a hint, then I looked at the word to see if there was a clue in the word.”) Explain what the word means in a “kid-friendly” way using words they understand.
For example: “Do you know what terrified means? Look at the boy’s
face – he’s very scared! Terrified means to be very afraid. Can you say ‘terrified’? Have you ever been terrified of something?”
When pointing out new words to your child, make sure they tell you how they understand the meaning of that word. Can they connect this new word to something they have experienced?
“Can you tell me what the word ‘vivid’ means from the story? Have you ever seen something that was ‘vivid’?”
A child needs to hear a new word about 10 times before they begin to use it in their own vocabulary. Take advantage of opportunities to use the new words they’re learning in your conversations with them.
Vocabulary words are usually gathered from different subjects, such ase science and math, or stories they’ve heard read aloud in school. If the teacher sends a note home about the themes for the week, use those words. If students are learning about forces such as push and pull in science, ask them to tell you what those words mean. Describe how you’ve used those words.
Example: “Every time I open the refrigerator I have to pull the door open. You and your brother like to push your bedroom doors closed with so much force it makes the windows shake!”
Life experiences are the best new vocabulary lessons. Visiting museums, the zoo, historical sights and even different parks can open up your child’s world to new words.
Ask your child questions about what they’re interested in, their toys, their favorite characters, their favorite books; make eye contact and listen closely as they speak. Take turns when talking with them. As parents, we sometimes can get in a habit of giving instructions but not engaging in conversation with our kids. Having meaningful discussions at home helps children develop their vocabulary by allowing them to incorporate the new words they have learned into their conversations.
These 1st grade vocabulary words introduce and reinforce “high-utility” or commonly used words that will help improve their comprehension and overall reading success. Students should aim to understand the meaning of these words, not read or spell them at their age.