Vocabulary: Activities for Your First Grader
Building a large "word bank" is one of the best ways to help children with reading comprehension. Young readers use knowledge about words to help them make sense of what they're reading. The more words a reader knows, the more they are able to comprehend what they're reading or listening to.
This project was developed in partnership with the National Education Association and Colorín Colorado.
Talking to and reading with your kindergartner are two terrific ways to help them hear and read new words. Conversations and questions about interesting words are easy, non-threatening ways to get new words into everyday talk.
Use rich language in conversations with your child
Even very young children love to hear and learn new words! Help your child expand their word bank and knowledge of the world by using interesting and vivid words instead of simpler language in your everyday conversations.
Read with your child every day
Reading aloud exposes your child to lots of vivid language that is not found in books for beginning readers. When you come upon a new and interesting word, take the time to stop and ask your child what they think that word might mean in the context of the story. Then offer a kid-friendly definition of the word and connect it to a similar word and a shared experience.
Word learning and vocabulary growth takes time and patience. Don't expect your child to learn a new word after one conversation or one read aloud. True word learning happens after being exposed to words several times. We all learn about words throughout our lifetime. You're getting your child off to a great start by developing an early interest in words.
Vocabulary in first grade
Try these vocabulary activities at home
Read aloud every day
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 as the language of books is more complete and formal than talking. A great story also provides context and illustrations for learning a new word.
Bring in the nonfiction
Nonfiction and informational books (such as the DK Eyewitness series) offer young children a treasure chest of new and interesting words about our world. If the book has a glossary, spend some time discussing the words with your child, and as you read aloud stop as often as needed to think about new words and how they connect to what your child already knows about. Learn more in this article, The Vocabulary of Science.
Talk about new words during read alouds
Talking to and reading with your child are two terrific ways to help them hear and read new words. Conversations and questions about interesting words are easy ways to get new words into everyday talk. "The book says, 'The boy tumbled down the hill,' and look at the picture! How do you think he went down the hill?"
Sharing a new word with your child doesn't have to take a long time: just a few minutes to talk about the word and then focus back on the book or conversation. Choose which words to talk about carefully — choosing every new word might make reading seem like a chore. The best words to explore are ones that are less common to see in the books your child might read. When introducing new words to your young learner, keep the following four helpful hints in mind:
- Provide a simple, kid-friendly definition for the new word: Enormous means that something is really, really big.
- Offer a simple, kid-friendly example that makes sense within their daily life: Remember that really big watermelon we got at the grocery store? That was an enormous watermelon!
- Encourage your child to develop their own example: What enormous thing can you think of? Can you think of something really big that you saw today? That's right! The bulldozer near the park was enormous! Those tires were huge.
- Keep your new words active within your house. Over the next few days and weeks, take advantage of opportunities to use each new vocabulary word in conversation. Kids often need to hear a new word in context ten times or more before they "know" that word.
How do I help my child learn new words while we read aloud?
Literacy expert Sandra Wilborn suggests that parents pause during the read aloud to elaborate on a new word by giving a simple definition, connecting the word to something your child knows, and using it in a sentence. Reinforce the learning by using that new word at home in the weeks ahead. (From our video series Reading SOS: Expert Answers to Family Questions About Reading.)
Give them great words
Children's author Jane Yolen (Owl Moon, How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?) delights in using rich language in her picture books. In this clip from our video interview with Yolen, she says she often has to fight to keep good words — that really stretch vocabulary learning — in her picture books.
Grocery store vocabulary
The produce section is a great place to hear new interesting words. Words like rhubarb, asparagus, artichoke, and kiwi are fun to say, and fun to eat. As you introduce each one, use descriptive words to help your child learn. "A kiwi has a fuzzy outside, but the inside is bright green with black seeds!"
Start at the root
Begin with a simple root word, such as push. Ask your child to come up with words they know that contain that word, such as pushing, pushed, pushover, push-up. Talk about how all these words have some shared meaning related to the word push.
Consider the prefix
Numeric prefixes like bi- and tri- are a part of many words kids know and use. Discuss words like tricycle, tricep, triangle. All these words share the prefix tri-, which means three. Can they develop a list of words that begin with the prefix bi- (like bicycle and binoculars)? This gives you a great chance to introduce new words, like bicentennial, bicep, and biped. You can generate similar word lists with the numeric prefixes uni, octo, and cent.
Try this activity from the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR). The FCRR "At Home" series was developed especially for families! Watch the video and then download the activity: Word Connections. See all FCRR vocabulary activities here.
Homonyms — words that sound the same but have different meanings — provide a great opportunity for word fun. Say a word out loud, and see if your child can generate more than one meaning for the word. For example:
bark: the sound a dog makes
bark: the covering on a tree
ring: jewelry you wear on your finger
ring: the sound a doorbell makes
Explore your world
Visits to a museum, the zoo, the botanical garden, historical sites, and even your neighborhood park are terrific opportunities to introduce your child to new words. Spend some time looking at the signage and identifying new words, then connecting them to what you see right there.
"What’s another word for ..."
This game helps your child learn there’s more than one word for everyday things. For example, look around you and say, "what's another word for couch?" (sofa, ottoman). Or, "what's another word for cup?" (glass, mug) .You can extend the game by talking about how two things are similar but not exactly alike (glass, mug). That helps your child learn about the subtle differences in related words.
Understanding vocabulary: why it’s critical to your child’s reading
This video is from Home Reading Helper, a resource for parents to elevate children’s reading at home provided by Read Charlotte. Find more video, parent activities, printables, and other resources at Home Reading Helper.
More vocabulary resources
Reviews provided by Common Sense Media.