Learning Words

Learning vocabulary starts with a child’s first words, and continues into adult life.

Take a look at our leaflet for tips for supporting young children’s word learning
How to encourage your child's language and communication skills: encouraging single words

Sharing stories is a great way to help children learn new words.  When you read to your child, try picking one new word and:

  • Using an action or Makaton sign when you say it
  • Talk about the pictures using the word lots of times, e.g. 'the pirate's found treasure', 'the treasure is in the box', 'he likes his treasure'.  Encourage your child to have a go saying the new word too.
  • Relate the word to your child's other experiences.  When have they seen that thing before?  'Your cousin has a treasure chest money bank', 'We watched the Swashbucklers trying to get treasure didn't we!'    


Stories with Symbols show you more ways to use stories to help young children learn new words. 

During their school years, children learn a huge number of words, needed for learning and for play.  Word games can help to boost vocabulary learning skills:

More game ideas are available at: http://thinkingtalking.co.uk/free-resources-schools-families/

When introducing your child to a new word:

  • Link the word to their experiences, e.g. ‘That’s an eagle. We saw an eagle at the summer fair’
  • Talk about the category of the word, e.g. ‘An eagle is a bird’ or for older children ‘An eagle is a bird of prey’
  • Talk about important parts, or features of the word, e.g. ‘An eagle has big wings and a sharp beak’
  • Talk about any special features, e.g. ‘Eagles are really big, strong birds’ or for an older child ‘Eagles hunt other animals’
  • Use the new word often at other times over the next few days to help your child remember it, for example by drawing a picture of the eagle you saw, looking up eagles online, pretending to be eagles…
  • Remember to teach your child a range of words, including action words (verbs) and describing words (adjectives) as well as the names of things (nouns)

For older children and young people, teach dictionary and thesaurus skills. Check the definitions used in the dictionary are simple to understand, such as in the Collins Cobuild dictionary. Some online dictionaries, such as Merriam Webster, contain simpler definitions for children and English Language Learners

Language concepts are abstract words which can be harder for children to learn. These include position words such as ‘in’, ‘on’, ‘under’, and sequencing words such as ‘first’ and ‘last’. Activities for working on these concepts are available at the Speech and Language Portal - ‘Language activities’ – ‘Working on concepts’.