Vocabulary Building Techniques

by Carol Chandler-Wood

Last month, my article addressed the importance of having a broad vocabulary.  SUMMER is a great time for students of all ages to put effort and energy into broadening their vocabulary.  They can do so on their own at home or seek professional assistance in preferable.  This month I will provide several strategies to do so, which follow: 

Go back to your roots.  Learning the origin of words, or word etymology, can be fun and certainly a great way to remember the meaning of words.  Studying Greek and Latin prefixes, suffixes and root meanings will allow you to see the foundation for all words.  Being familiar with word etymology is a great start to building vocabulary.  This can prove to be beneficial even for elementary students as it makes learning new words fun and improves retention.

Learn.  Use.  Repeat.  Add.  Each week, select five challenging vocabulary words and write each definition on a single flashcard.  After memorizing each word’s meaning and practicing each word’s pronunciation, use the words daily in conversation and in writing.  Continue the process week by week and add five new words each week to the list.  Before you know it, you will have an extensive vocabulary!

Make it a family affair.  Every day, assign the same new word to each person in your family and look up the word’s definition.  At the dinner table or elsewhere in the home, take turns verbalizing the word and its meaning and have each family member construct a sentence using the word in context.  Each person is to make a commitment to use the new word throughout the day in conversation and in writing and is to share his/her progress and hold each other accountable for the word of the day.  Do this five days each week for one month.  You will be amazed at the broadening of vocabulary and the fun of doing so together!   If there are elementary students in your family, create two groups of words each week; one group for them and another for older students and parents.

Read with a dictionary and a thesaurus.  While it’s important to become well-read and to read challenging books, it is vital to know the meanings of unfamiliar words that you read!  It is also essential to acquaint yourself with word relationships and word associations so that you do not limit yourself – this will allow you to be a better conversationalist and a proficient writer.  Familiarizing a young student with how to use a thesaurus and dictionary is especially valuable in building their use of words and their meanings.

Play games.  Doing crossword puzzles, analogy puzzles, Boggle, and Scrabble (just to name a few) keeps your mind energized and allows you to have fun at the same time!  There are also many vocabulary software programs available online, such as:

  • www.ultimatevocabulary.com
    • Has usage examples, images, and language translations
    • Has different levels for all ages, including elementary students
    • Allows you to create your own word lists
    • Has audio word pronunciation
  • www.powervocabularybuilder.com
    • Designed for conversational vocabulary building
    • Has lessons on word usage
    • Allows you to build your own word lists
    • Has usage/memory tips
    • Human voice word pronunciation
  • www.verbaladvantage.com
    • Program differs for all types of users:  The SAT student, the elementary student, or the adult
    • Has different uses for written and spoken communication

Have fun building your vocabulary and becoming a more interesting and effective speaker and writer and enhancing your communication, presence, employability and/or promotibility!