Learning vocabulary (ages 11-14)

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Learning new words is not always easy - but there are ways that parents can help.
Here are a few ideas and suggestions that might be useful for your children.

Help your child to use a dictionary

Using a monolingual English dictionary is a great way to learn and understand English words. The Oxford Essential Dictionary is ideal for children with basic English. The definitions are simple and clear. There are lots of illustrations. You can see the spelling of the word, check the pronunciation, and also see examples of how the word is used. This video shows you how to make the most of using a dictionary with your child.

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Here are some practice worksheets that can be used with the Oxford Essential Dictionary.

Keep a vocabulary book at home

Find a notebook that your child can use as a vocabulary book at home. Get your child to copy certain words from their school vocabulary book (if they have one) into the home notebook. They can be favourite words, difficult words, words to learn for a test, words starting with B etc. Try recording the words in different ways – there is no need always to write the meaning of the word in your language. Your child could also:

  • draw a picture of the word
  • write a synonym of the word
  • write a dictionary definition
  • use the word in a sentence
  • write the opposite of the word
  • use different colours (blue for nouns, red for verbs, green for adjectives, etc.)

Use a book that is small enough to fit in a jacket pocket – then your child can look through the book whenever she/he likes, e.g. in the car or on the bus.

Learn together

Take an interest in your child's learning. Learn the new words together. Provide plenty of encouragement. Talk about the words that you have learned when you are together – when you are in the car or at meal times perhaps.

Make practice enjoyable

If you are going to learn with your child at home, make it as interesting as possible. Try out different activities. Look for ways of practising vocabulary at home in a fun way. Do not do too much at once – do it often, but keep it short. Here are five simple games to start with:

Word Chains

Moving around can make practice less boring. Play Word Chains. Try to get ten words right without making a mistake. Mark out a path of ten steps on the floor or on the stairs. Call out a word from the vocabulary book in your language. Your child must say the word in English. If the answer is correct, they can take one step forward or climb onto the first stair. Then ask the next word. If the answer is wrong, they have to return to the start. Continue until your child has reached the finish line.

Vocab Football

This is a simple vocabulary practice game. It is similar to Word Chains above but uses a board. Download the board and print it out. You'll need two counters. Who can get their ball into the goal first?
Vocabulary Football (PDF, 87KB)

Mouthing words

Choose a set of words from your child's vocabulary book. Practise saying the words aloud with your child. Then play the game. Take it in turns to mouth a word silently: move your lips but do not make a sound! Try to guess the word. This game can be fun to play – and it really helps improve pronunciation.

Draw the word

This is a simple game using pen and paper. Choose a word from your child's vocabulary book. Draw the word on a piece of paper. Your child has to recognise it - and say the word in English. You have one minute for every word. Take turns.

Pelmanism

Make a set of word cards. Choose eight words to practise. You need to make two cards for each word. Write the English word on one card; on the second card, get your child to draw a picture of the word, or write its meaning in your language. When you are ready, turn all the cards over on the table and play pelmanism. Take it in turns to turn two cards over. Try and find the matching pairs.

Food for thought

Meal times are a great time to practise vocabulary. Everyone is together around the table. Let your child teach the rest of the family some new words in English. It can give you something to talk about while you eat. Have fun saying the words in English. Remember not to put pressure on your child. Keep it relaxed and fun.

Online practice

There are plenty of websites that can help teenagers practise English vocabulary. If you want to create your own practice activities, you could try using Quizlet which allows you to create virtual flashcard word-sets of the vocabulary you need to learn. There are learning activities, tests and games – and you can even download an app and practise on your smartphone.

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