Child-Led Vocabulary That Sticks

Do you prefer learning via audio or video? Scroll to the bottom of this post for my corresponding YouTube video.

I’m sure you’ve all seen them; the long, boring list of vocabulary words to memorize. Sometimes there might be an activity or two to help them stick, but after the weekly quiz, how often do we use those words in our everyday language? How much do we really understand them? Or how many of those words get filed away in the “no longer needed” file in our brains?

I’ve realized that vocabulary, like so many other things, sticks best when we use it in context, when we play with it, and when we have conversations about it. That’s why I created these Word of the Week worksheets for our homeschool.

At the beginning of the week I pick a few words from the book we are reading aloud, or maybe some vocabulary words from our content-based learning like science or history. I write each word in one of the fun boxes on the day one page (somewhere I keep track of the book and page number so we can find the word in context later). Sometimes I leave a box blank in case I have a child with a word he’s discovered on his own that he’s itching to learn about (it DOES happen).

Day 1: Getting to know the word

On Day 1 (or the first worksheet), your child will get to know the word. Once they’ve chosen the word have them write it on the word line. Don’t just stop there. Discuss the spelling or anything you notice about the word. Break it into syllables. Look at what the dictionary has to say about it. Do you see any root words? Talk about all the things you notice.

After you’ve looked at the spelling, read the word in context. Read the book passage it’s found in. You can read just the sentence or the whole paragraph. Any guesses about what the word means? Are there any other words that could be used in place of that word? Have fun with this.

After you’ve had fun looking at the word in context, it’s time to crack open the dictionary (or ask Siri or Alexa or however you look up words). Find the definition that describes the word in the context you just read. That’s the definition you or your child will write on the worksheet.

That’s it for day one.

Day 2: Creating with the word

Today you will move from understanding the word to creating some content with it. Your child will draw the word and create a sentence with the word in it. There are many ways to do this. The key is to find the one that fits your children best. The illustration of the word might be more of a visual pneumonic to help your child remember the meaning, or it could be an illustration of the sentence your child writes. Some like to make the sentence first, while others like to start with the picture. When it comes to this step, the sky’s the limit!

Day 3: Play with the word

This page is pretty flexible, but it can be a lot of fun. Think about the word in context. What part of speech is it representing? Color in the right one, and talk about the parts of speech a little more.

Pull out your handy dandy thesaurus and find some synonyms and antonyms. This can be especially fun. You may disagree with some of the words you find, why? Which is the best substitution in the context of the book in which the word was encountered? Which word could you use in the sentence you made the day before? Can you make an opposite sentence using an antonym?

Not every word will have another word form, but when it does, it’s fun to write them down. Verbs, for example have a lot of forms: walk, walking, walked, etc. Nouns have a singular and plural from. Some word forms change the word altogether like: eat and ate.

Store Your Words

Keep track of all your words in a binder or folder, and every once-in-a-while, pull them out and look through them. This is a great way to review.

Use your words

Pay attention to the words your kids have chosen and look for ways to use those words in your everyday life. You can even make a game out of it see who can use them the most. Sometimes, when my kids have a pretty exciting word, they like to call their Grandpa to see if they can stump him. These types of activities really help the words stick.

Download Your FREE Worksheets Here:

Q: Why only ONE word for a whole week?
A: Because we want the words to sink into a child’s usable vocabulary.

When our brain is overloaded with too many things at once, we may be able to store them for a short amount of time, but they don’t become a part of our active word bank until we have used them again and again. Vocabulary is really like any other skill. The more you use, practice, and understand, the better you’ll get overtime. We don’t want these words to just be one more thing to memorize, we want them to become a part of your child’s life.

Q: What ages can I use these vocabulary sheets with?
A: Any age.

For younger kids, use these pages as more of a teacher guide. Instead of looking at the spelling of the word, look at the initial letter or focus on the sounds of the word or how many syllables it has. Go over all of the answers (except for the illustration) orally. You can write down what your child says for her, or just skip any transcribing altogether.

For older kids, allow them to fill out the worksheets on their own, and then have the come back and share their answers with you. Discussing each page after it’s filled out is CRUCIAL to building the words into long-term memory. You could also increase the number of words your child works on per week, but I wouldn’t do more than three a week. (You could but at that point you risk losing deep understanding and retention.)

For middle and high school age kids, stretch the learning farther to explore the history of the word. What language is it derived from? How do you say similar words in other languages? Have they seen this word used in other places?

Q: What font did you use?
A: With most of my printables I like to use the research-based, Open Dyslexic font. If you have a child with Dyslexia or reading problems, try printing the worksheets on a light colored paper as that may make these printables even easier to read. Find out more about the Open Dyslexic Font here.


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