8 Mar 2013

How to Improve Kids' Vocabulary in their Writing


Learn to love the red pen!
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Kids hate making mistakes, and they dread the red pen so they stick to the same old safe words. They may know a lot of difficult words, but they're worried they won't use, or spell them correctly.

As a teacher, if I had to choose between:
1. work with only simple words, everything spelled correctly;
2. work with simple words correct and lots of tricky words spelled incorrectly;
I'd choose number 2 every time.

To get Level 6, and B and above at GCSE, kids need to use more complex vocabulary. So how can you encourage them to do it?

If you already made a bookmark of tricky words with your kids, from their own reading, now is the time to use it. The more they use their new words, the better.

Up to Age Nine
Sit with them as they're doing their homework:
1. Get them to tell you the answer orally. This lets them organise their ideas, and use words they know (but can't spell).
2. Write the spellings of tricky words, and ask if there are any more they need you to spell. Use scrap paper.
3. Encourage them to write in pencil or use washable blue ink in a fountain pen so they can correct it with an ink eraser.
4. Proof read the work, looking for mistakes. Encourage them to do this for themselves - and show you which words they're not sure about.

Age Ten Plus
Pick a piece of work they've done and talk about word choices: encourage them to swap simple words for more complex ones. This is a lot easier if they've typed the work. Show them how to use the thesaurus and spell check function on Word.

Another good way to boost vocabulary is to increase the level of detail. You can do this through asking your child questions about what they've written. They then add in the extra information.
1. Creative Writing
Pick out one of the nouns (objects, people, places, things) in something they've written. Ask them what it looks like/smells like/feels like. They then add in some description. Use the thesaurus.
2. Essay
Ask them questions about one of the statements in their essay. Get them to add in more explanation, and be more specific. Suggest more complex phrasing for them to use. Do this, rather than write the essay for them; your child will soon pick up the technique.

Steal Phrases from a Newspaper, Magazine or Internet Article (for an essay), or from a Novel
Your child can then copy (or modify) these stolen phrases. This is fine - as long as it's one or two per essay. As they get more confident, they can modify and play with the stolen words and phrases.