Children must understand the meaning of a word to help them understand the world around them and stories they read.
Third grade students should be able to figure out the meaning of an unknown word in a 3rd grade level book by looking for clues in the story, the pictures, or the word parts. 3rd graders are expanding their vocabularies by using dictionaries and using thesauruses to find synonyms, or other examples of a word (“Another word for happy is excited, joyful, elated or content”). They also dive into learning homophones, words that sound alike but have different meanings (there, they’re, their) and homographs, words that are spelled the same but have different meaning (baseball bat and the flying animal bat). Subjects like science and social studies will be providing new lists of words for your child to master and use in their work as well.
Another goal is for children to build their vocabulary by learning as many new words as they can from life experiences, reading about new subjects and through conversations.
Reading aloud to your child and having your child read books on their own is the best way to increase their vocabulary. Books provide words they won’t encounter in everyday conversations, often the language of books is more complete and formal than just talking. A great story also provides context and illustrations for learning a new word.
Become aware of the language you use with your child. Often parents will simplify how they speak hoping it will help their child more easily understand what they mean. Instead, aim to use more sophisticated “rich vocabulary,” use interesting words and phrases and bold descriptive words. Give your child every advantage and be intentional by being specific with the words you choose. Your effort will expand their world of knowledge!
Instead of: “It looks bad outside.”
Try: “Could you be our family meteorologist? Observe the weather conditions then report back to us your predictions for the day!”
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. 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, in words they understand.
For example: “Do you know what appoint means? It said the club appointed the girl to be their president. It sounds like they gave her the job with a big responsibility. Can you say “appoint”? Have you ever been appointed to do something by your teacher?”
When you are 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 ‘scarce” means from the story? Have you ever seen something in ‘scarce’ supply?”
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 use the new words they’re learning in your conversations with them.
Vocabulary words are usually gathered from different subjects such as cience and math or stories they’ve read in school. If the teacher sends a note home about the themes for the week, use those words. If students are learning about solids, liquids and gasses in science, ask them to tell you what those words mean. Describe how you’ve used those words.
Example: “When I take this leftover frozen soup out of the freezer its as hard as a rock – its solid. Then I warm it up on the stove and its becomes liquid again. If I boil it too long, the liquid begins to evaporate into the air as steam. That’s a gas! You can see it steaming up from the pot and fogging up the window.”
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 friends, their favorite characters from TV shows, 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 conversations 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.