Skip to main content

Building Vocabulary in Your Homeschool


Word Power is Academic Power

Vocabulary is a collection of words. Some words we can only guess approximate meanings in context. Other words have roots or prefixes that give us clues which we can use to make guesses. The words we have truly mastered are those that we can not only read and understand but also use correctly in our own speech or writing.

Of course, vocabulary skills are not just for the standardized tests that are so important for college admission. A fluent vocabulary is also a marker of a good communicator and a skilled writer. Vocabulary truly runs the gamut of the language arts curriculum - reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

Consider how you want to tackle the teaching of vocabulary in your homeschool. There are several approaches, and you may find that your chosen method changes over time as your children's needs change.

Creating a Word-rich Environment


Research has shown a distinct difference in the vocabularies of children from poorer homes versus those with working class or professional parents.

The gap is astounding and is directly related to the home environment, specifically the words used in the home.

In the study, the parents in homes below the poverty line spoke less frequently to their children, used fewer words when they did speak, and also used a total of fewer unique words.

The working class families were significantly higher on all accounts. But the professional families had the highest rates of vocabulary size and talking to their children.

The parents of the working class and professional class children were not deliberately teaching vocabulary. Using those words, and lots of them, was simply part of their normal life. And it rubbed off naturally on their children.

Moral of the research? Talk to your children.

Don't baby talk. Don't talk down to them. In fact, go ahead and use those words that they might not understand. It's by hearing new words used in context that children can add new words to their own vocabulary.


So the research shows that informal vocabulary learning is effective. If your home is word-rich, it will rub off on your children.

Generation Cedar has a relaxed approach to teaching vocabulary. I love her perspective. But don't let the simplicity of it deceive you. In order for this type of relaxed method to work, your home must be very well soaked with conversation and books.

In this natural approach, rather than memorizing lists of words, a child hears words used in context. After repeated exposure, the child grows to use those new words correctly in his own speech and writing.


New words can come from conversation or from books. That's why reading aloud to your child is so vital for his education. Read all kinds of books -- easy books, hard books, and everything in between. Don't assume that a book is too hard until you've tried it out on your children. Your reading aloud enables them to understand a book they could not comprehend from reading on their own.

And that means that reading aloud to your children doesn't have to stop when they begin reading independently. Keep reading to them, even in middle school, even in high school.

But don't turn a reading session into a vocabulary drill either. Constantly stopping to discuss words will ruin the flow of the novel. Read more about how to handle new vocabulary words in your read alouds at The Heart of the Matter.

Scroll to Continue

Playing word games like Boggle and Scrabble are great vocabulary opportunities. In my family, we tend to "invent" new words, hoping to score points. When we find the words in the dictionary, it's a great discovery and often adds a new word to our vocabulary. Another fun activity is solving and then creating Hink Pinks.

Other informal ideas are selecting word-of-the-day from your reading or from a purchased calendar. Try to use the word in normal conversation and see who can use it the most frequently. Roan shares some great tips for reviewing vocabulary with her children informally at The Homeschool Classroom.


Dictionary and Thesaurus - Reference Skills

Part of creating that word-rich environment is having the tools a word-smith needs, primarily a dictionary and a thesaurus. Be sure to teach your children how to use a dictionary. And then use it. Pull it out when you encounter a new word. That word can be added to a personal glossary, a homemade dictionary, or a word-of-the-day chart.

My daughter enjoys reading on her Kindle because the dictionary is integrated into each book. Just place the cursor over the word, and definition will appear at the bottom of the screen. Clicking the controller will take you to the dictionary entry if you want more details.

With a do it yourself (DIY) vocabulary plan, you will need a technique for reviewing words. Vocabulary: Just Another Bump in the Road? has some very practical ways to make that happen.

Vocabulary ties into grammar since the part of speech of a word will control its usage. Part of a vocabulary study would be different forms of a word, for example a verb form, an adjective form, and a noun form.

According to research by Dr. Robert Marzano, vocabulary is learned within a framework of 4-14-40. After a mere 4 exposures to a new word, the most gifted students will master a new word. An average student needs to work with a word up to 14 times to be able to use it fluently. In contrast, the lower-achieving students require up to 40 different exposures to a new word to master it.

Application? Provide repeated exposure to new words through reading, listening, writing, games, and exercises.


Tips for Studying Words

1. Use drawings and mnemonics devices, created by your children.

2. Use graphic organizers and notebooking pages, especially to show the relationships among words -- synonyms, antonyms and ranking.

3. Play games or make acrostics with new words. More vocabulary notebooking pages can be found at The Notebooking Fairy.

4. Choose vocabulary projects from this long list at National Capital Language Resource Center.

5. Solve and create analogies.

Options for Direct Instruction in Vocabulary

1. Greek and Latin Roots

2. Workbooks

3. Unique Approaches

1. Greek and Latin Roots


Research shows that children learn more words faster when they study root words, prefixes, and suffixes. The fancy word for this skill is morphemic analysis, but it simply means that based on meanings of parts of words, students can better guess the meanings of new words.

Prefixes, Suffixes, and Root Word Printables

First School Years -- crossword puzzles, flash cards, quizzes, and worksheets

BBC Prefixes & Suffixes -- factsheets, worksheets, and quizzes

Reaching for Roots printable graphic organizer

English From the Roots Up

Reviews of English From the Roots Up - And More

Vocabulary Notebooking Pages


2. The Workbook Approach

Workbooks have some advantages.

There is a wonderful comfort in always knowing what to do next, lesson after lesson. Just keep turning pages in order until you've completed the book.

For busy homeschool moms, workbooks can fit a real need for independent learning so mom can work with other children or get lunch on the table.

The exercises and quizzes give immediate feedback as to mastery. If the score was low, you can go back and review or reteach.

If you want to work on adding vocabulary words but don't know where to find words or don't trust a more informal approach, workbooks are a good option. We have used all the books pictured here at some time to supplement that word-rich environment of great conversation, word games, and reading aloud that is the home.

Scholastic Vocabulary Workbook

Wordly Wise Series

Curriculum Reviews of Wordly Wise - And More


I've created an entire page devoted just to Analogies for Homeschool. Every child should know how to solve and compose analogies.

3. Unique Approaches

If you want something planned out but not as strict as a workbook, try this fun cartoon style of learning. The visual aids are sure to appeal to visual learners. With the examples in this book, a child would understand how to create his own mnemonic devices for remembering future vocabulary.

As a supplement, watch the vocabulary videos at VocabAhead.

Reviews of Vocabulary Cartoons


Lorelei Cohen from Canada on September 04, 2012:

Language really is a constantly learning process that I don't think ever stops.

Mamaboo LM on August 02, 2012:

I love your lens. I've been homeschooling for many years, and while my children's vocabularies are larger than most, there's always room for growth and improvement. So thanks for your lens, keep up the good work, and be blessed!

jloof05 on July 01, 2012:

Thanks for sharing these wonderful resources. I too use the word of the day.

JoyfulReviewer on October 08, 2011:

Thank you for putting together these wonderful resources!

JanieceTobey on April 20, 2011:

Blessed! Thanks for the vocabulary suggestions!

julieannbrady on October 30, 2010:

My dear, this is a lovely page you have crafted. Since I majored in English, I cater to improving my vocabulary. Thanks for the beautiful lesson plan.

Jeremy from Tokyo, Japan on October 30, 2010:

What a wonderful set of resources you've introduced here! We use/have used some of the vocabulary techniques you've mentioned, but I'm always interested in fresh ideas.

Sandy Mertens from Frozen Tundra on October 30, 2010:

Nice selection of resources.

Evelyn Saenz from Royalton on October 28, 2010:

Wonderful resources for building vocabulary. I love the Wordly Wise series which is from the same publishers as Explode the Code.

anonymous on October 27, 2010:

I sure wish I'd had your expertise to draw from when I was homeshcooling my children I've been doing some of your quizzes and boy are they a surprising challenge! I talked a lot to my kids and still do with my grands, so I've gotten something right!

Related Articles