Help Your Child Learn Vocabulary

Help Your Child Learn Vocabulary

There are 3 key factors that will help your child learn vocabulary. First is to fully understand the meaning of a word; second is to confidently know how to use that word; third is to use the newly learnt word as much as possible. If a child is confident of the meaning and pronunciation and use of a word then they will have a high chance of incorporating it into their vocabulary.

To help your child learn vocabulary, first understand the forgetting curve. The forgetting curve theory (shown below) states that once information is learnt, the brain will start forgetting it over time. This will happen quickly at first. Typically if someone learns 10 words, they will forget 8 of them by the next day. So what can we do to help children learn new vocabulary.
Elapsed Time

In this blog post, I will present my vocabulary learning system. A simple step-by-step process to help your child learn new vocabulary, and be able to use it.

My vocabulary learning system is based on the following principles.

  1. Understanding the meaning of a word: Fully understanding the meaning of a word will allow your child to have the best chance of remembering it!
  2. Confidence in how to use a word: To use new vocabulary correctly your child will need to understand how and when to use it.
  3. Using a word at regular intervals: The forgetting curve tells us that children of what they learn within a day. My system utilises a spaced repetition strategy to maximise retention.
  4. Variety of activities: I’ve included a wide range of activities, so that your child will experience and use each new word in different ways. Thereby increasing interest, confidence, and therefore, retention.
  5. Batching: The final principle is to batch related words and learn them together.

I have designed the vocabulary worksheet to be used for each piece of vocabulary. It has 2 key features. Click here to for the worksheet link.

  • the timing of practice.
  • using the word in many ways, and 

Vocabulary practice

First, let’s look at timing. The forgetting curve theory states that after 24 hours, a person will forget 8 out of 10 new words learnt. To overcome this we can use spaced repetition. This is where we help our child work on new pieces of vocabulary repeatedly but with an increasing gap between each practice. Look at the top right of the worksheet. There are 5 tick boxes. When you complete each practice tick a box and schedule the next practice!

The optimum timing goes as follows.

  1. Tick a box when first working on the word.
  2. The 2nd touchpoint should be 1 hr later.
  3. The 3rd set of activities should be 24 hours after the 2nd.
  4. The 4th set of activities should be 1 week after the 3rd.
  5. The 5th and final set should be 1 month after the 4th.

It may seem that the first 3 sets of activities are too close together. However, this is the key to the strategy. The first 24 hours are when most new information is lost. If the first 3 sets of activities are closely spaced and effective, then by point 2 or 3, knowledge of the word should have stuck. Points 4 and 5 are mainly to confirm that your child knows how to use the word. If your child does not understand a word at this stage, that probably means they didn’t really learn or understand it well in the first place or maybe the word isn’t that useful to them.


Now let’s look at the exercises. They are as varied as possible to maximise retention. They also involve the student using and thinking about the word as much as possible, to further maximise retention.

I recommend working with 4 to 10 words at a time depending on the age of your child.

You can also work with up to 3 batches a week. For example batch A twice on Monday and once on Tuesday; then batch B twice on Wednesday and once on Thursday; then batch C twice on Friday and once on Saturday

Here are the exercises you can try at each point in order to maximise the chance of retaining the vocabulary with confidence.

For each word in your batch, use a separate worksheet and do each of the exercises.

First activities

(green section) – ensure that your child understands the meaning, pronunciation, and stress pattern of the word. Ask your child to write the most simple meaning for the word that makes sense to them.

Why the activity works: The act of thinking of a definition for a word will get their mind going. They can then. You can also try to write and have checked your own simple phrase containing the word.

2nd contact

1 hour later (light blue section) – Make a sentence with the word, perhaps try another in a different tense. Search the word online to read any sentences containing it. Try thinking of simple stories that use as many of the batch words together. Be creative and silly!

Why this activity works: Funny and silly things will stick in their mind. This is another learning trick.

3rd contact

1 day later (purple section) – Make a funny sentence with the word. This is 1 day later. Remember that the forgetting curve rule states that 80% of information will have been forgotten by this stage. So don’t be surprised that your child struggles to remember the words. If they can even remember 2 out of 5 they are doing well!! The first thing to do is say each word and ask your child to make a sentence, you can see what they remember. Next, Then revise the sentences and definitions that you made the previous day. Now ask your child to think of a funny sentence that they can draw. You can then draw a picture involving the word that is perhaps silly or funny or crazy.

Why this activity works: This visual image will really stick in your mind and the creation of the picture will also help to solidify meaning and memory. Check out my drawing to learn blog to learn about this!

4th and 5th contact

1 week and 1 month later (light yellow section)

On these occasions, we will repeat previous activities. First, check to understand. Practice sentences again without looking at the meaning or previous sentences. Then make short stories incorporating all the new words.

If at any point 3, 4, or 5, there is a word that your child doesn’t understand a given word, then you must consider 2 things.

  1. Is the word too difficult for their current level?
  2. Is it a useful word to learn?

You can then decide whether to relearn this word from scratch or you can decide it’s not right to learn it now.

The key to the system is the timing of the activities and the variety of activities. Feel free to add your own activities, this could be making short stories with your child or hunting for the target vocabulary in books that they read. If you follow all the tricks above then you will have a great chance of incorporating new vocabulary and having the confidence to use it.

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