Happy Learners - Developing Vocabulary

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Developing Vocabulary

Children with language and learning difficulties will need extra support in developing vocabulary. However, all children will benefit from opportunities to pre-teach vocabulary before being exposed to it as part of a lesson.

Children with difficulties acquiring vocabulary will benefit from activities that explore the semantic links and phonological structure of each new word.


Semantics is to do with the meanings of a word. The following are ways of exploring this:

Category - What sort of group does it belong to?

Function - What does this word do?

Context - Where might you find or use this word?

Description - Can you describe it?

Similarity - What else is like it?

Association - What else does it make you think of?


Phonology is to do with the relationships of sounds in a word. Phonological awareness is an understanding of these sound relationships. The following are ways of exploring this:

Length - Is it a long or a short word?

Initial sound - What sound does it start with?

Other sounds - What other sounds can you hear?

Rhyme - What other words sound similar? (Does not need to be a real word)

Rhythm - How many sounds in the word can you hear? Can you clap each syllable?

Children experiencing difficulties will need to revisit the vocabulary many times in order for it to be acquired securely. Where possible the following should be organised:

Daily vocabulary sessions lasting about ten minutes. If this is hard to achieve at least three times a week.

Limit the number of words being taught. Some where between 3 and 6 words is probably a good starting point but for some children this may be just one word!

Avoid other lists of words for the child to learn at the same time. For example weekly spellings.

Vary the strategies being used to teach and reinforce vocabulary. Children should have opportunities for kinesthetic learning as well as visual and aural.

Use games and make learning fun.

Make use of ICT. Programmes such as WordShark enable many children to work independently or with minimal support and are very good for motivation.

You may also find the following pages useful:

Barrier Games

Figurative & Non-Literal Language