Tips to Improve Vocabulary

By Daniel Franklin, Ph.D


Vocabulary is an important element for reading proficiency and comprehension • Kids with dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities often struggle in this area • Try these simple strategies to help your child develop their vocabulary, which will benefit them in school and in life

Well-developed vocabulary is critical for good listening and reading comprehension. Many children with language-based learning difficulties (LBLDs) struggle to learn new words, which puts them at a disadvantage relative to their peers when trying to manage the demands of school, social interactions, and self-expression. 

Learning new words requires that an individual recognize the word and connect it to an idea or meaning. Many children with LD are unable to connect meaning to words even if they are familiar with the words. 

In a surprising twist, some children with LBLDs have an outstanding ability to learn new words. For these children, vocabulary development offers many benefits: it’s rewarding, promotes a positive mindset about their ability to be successful learners, and allows children to draw on this strength when facing reading and listening comprehension challenges. 

Children with LBLDs do not need to be highly skilled at reading to become skilled at vocabulary. Significant vocabulary development can be accomplished through speaking. Moreover, teaching vocabulary is easy, fun, and productive, as long as you follow these key principles:

  • Show your enthusiasm for language. From time to time, use an unusual word or a word that might be a little above your child’s age range. See if it piques their interest.
  • Stay away from words with meanings that have no relevance to your child or you. 
  • Provide definitions. If you want to help your child learn how to find definitions, great! Just don’t combine dictionary or research skills with vocabulary development. Provide the definition as many times as your child requests it. Never make your child self-conscious about not remembering the meaning of a word.
  • Avoid directly quizzing your child on the meaning of a word. Instead, use the word frequently and in as many different contexts as you reasonably can.
  • Don’t ask your child to spell the word you are teaching unless they love to spell and write—in which case, go for it!
  • Emphasize breadth over depth. It is much better to have a fairly good understanding of a lot of different words than a deep understanding of only a few words. When teaching vocabulary to your child arrive at the simplest definition. A synonym is often the best place to start.  

This article is excerpted from Helping Your Child with Language-Based Learning Disabilities (Strategies to Succeed in School and Life with Dyscalculia, Dyslexia, ADHD, and Auditory Processing Disorder), by Daniel Franklin, Ph.D.; published by New Harbinger Publications (2018). Available at Amazon through this link: Helping Your Child with Language-Based Learning Disabilities. Dr. Franklin is a Board Certified Educational Therapist and the founder of Franklin Educational Services. 

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