Reading 101: A Guide for Parents

Vocabulary: Activities for Your Second 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.


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.

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.


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 second 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:

  1. Provide a simple, kid-friendly definition for the new word: Enormous means that something is really, really big.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.)

Be a word detective!

Families can help develop word knowledge through simple conversations focused on words. For example:

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.

Multiple meanings. Many words have more than one meaning. While sitting at the dinner table, choose a word and brainstorm as many meanings and uses for the word as you can think of. Some words to start with: spring, frame, check, light.

Consider the prefix. Numeric prefixes like bi- and tri- are a part of many words kids know and use. Discuss words like tricycle, triceratops, 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.

Multiple meaning match

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: Multiple Meaning Match. See all FCRR vocabulary activities here.

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, if your child is doing a unit at shool on weather, for example, ask "what's another word for hurricane?" (typhoon). You can extend the game by talking about how two things are similar but not exactly alike (small, microscopic). That helps your child learn about the subtle differences in related words.

Should I tell my child to look up words in the dictionary?

It's still okay to encourage your child to look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary (remember to do it with them!) — but that's just the first step. Literacy expert Sandra Wilborn says that vocabulary development is a process that requires lots of exposure to a word in order to really learn it. Find out about the other simple things parents can do to reinforce word learning. (From our video series Reading SOS: Expert Answers to Family Questions About Reading.)

How your child can master any difficult vocabulary word using a semantic map

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.

Vocabulary apps

Reviews provided by Common Sense Media.

"What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person ..." —

Carl Sagan