Tips for Learning New Vocabulary Words

Vocabulary Skills All Students Should Learn


Vocabulary is a fundamental part of effective communication. As such, there are specific skills that all students should learn to help with reading comprehension, verbal skills and writing. Sometimes words are immediately recognizable and other times they need to be decoded.  While there are many ways to improve vocabulary, by practicing the tips below, students can build a strong foundation that can be used throughout life.

Decoding Vocabulary Words
Vocabulary lists and tests have long been a part of most teachers’ curriculum. When students get a list, they should phonetically sound out the words. If words are mispronounced, teachers or parents should repeat the word correctly for the student.  Determine if the word sounds similar to other words or if parts of the word suggest the meaning of the full word.  Use the new vocabulary word in a sentence to help explain the meaning.  Once the word is understood, writing it down and creating a new sentence helps cement it into the student’s memory.

Looking for Clues
Often students can decipher the meaning of a new word by reading it within a sentence, with the rest of the sentence providing clues as to the meaning of the word. Young students in particular can use visual clues within a picture book to describe what is happening by connecting pictures to words in the book.  By providing the word in a context that is familiar, students can frequently build a comprehensive understanding. This strategy is particularly effective for beginning readers.

Personal Vocabulary Lists
Another vocabulary skill students should learn is to create a personal dictionary. Keep a notebook and a pen handy when reading and write words down that the student does not recognize. Additionally, it may be helpful to look up the definition and include that within the notebook.  Younger students might enjoy adding a drawing of the word as well.  This strategy can help students learn new vocabulary words and reinforce the meanings of words.

When to Skip Vocabulary Words
Sometimes it is crucial to finish a selection, even if some of the words are not understood.  An example would be in standardized testing when it is more important to get as much of the test completed as possible.  If there is a word that a student does not know, it can be beneficial to mark the word and then complete the passage without disrupting the reading selection.  However, after the reading has been completed, go back over the words that were skipped and use other strategies to determine meanings.
Students should work to increase their vocabularies.  By using these skills, they can expand their knowledge.  Practice by reading books, magazines and newspapers.  Learn root words to help understand words that are more complex.  Keep a list of words that are not understood and explore definitions later with a dictionary.  Use sentence structure to decode a word’s meaning and know when to skip a word and return to it later.  By practicing these vocabulary skills, students can become better readers, speakers and listeners.