Fun and easy ways to build your child's vocabulary

What is Vocabulary?

When teachers and speech-language pathologists talk about vocabulary, they are referring to the set of words that a child knows and understands. Vocabulary can be split into two types: receptive and expressive vocabulary. A child’s receptive vocabulary includes all the words a child can understand when they hear or read them. A child’s expressive vocabulary includes the words the child uses when they speak.

What should my child’s expressive vocabulary be?

Vocabulary development does not stop once a child starts talking. In fact, children's receptive vocabulary and expressive vocabulary expands once they start reading and going to school. The chart below shows typical vocabulary development across several ages. It is important to remember that these are just average estimates and each child has their own style and pace of development. If your child’s language development is closer to this chart then there is no need to worry! It’s only when a child is far from knowing this many words that one should begin addressing the issue and consult a professional speech-language therapist. 

Why is vocabulary development important?

Vocabulary and semantic skills work together to help a child express themselves successfully and in a way that is understood by others. In order to communicate and express their thoughts and needs a child must possess a store of words. For a child to use words accurately they must understand what the words mean. A diverse vocabulary store can aid a child in learning new information at school or in the homes. 

There might be 3 ways in which a child might have a problem expressing themselves or have limited vocabulary:

  1. A child may know a lot of words but might struggle to understand and use these words appropriately, 
  2. or a child might know fewer words but is secure in using them appropriately. 
  3. A child may have appropriate vocabulary that they understand and know when to use, but they might struggle to recall words when needed.

A child who has difficulties recalling or accessing a word or problems with appropriately expressing themselves can get frustrated. This frustration can cause further problems with social communication. Difficulties with vocabulary and semantics can also impact a child’s academic and social development.

How can I Improve my child’s vocabulary:

When it comes to working on vocabulary improvement strategies there are two main parts to it: a) choosing the right words and b) ways of teaching these words to children. It is very important to select meaningful words. A good way to do that is to look at the students' curriculum and choose subject-related academic vocabulary. After you have chosen words your child/student needs to work on, follow the steps  mentioned below to deepen their vocabulary knowledge.

  1. Introduce a child-friendly definition

    Definitions available in the dictionaries or online might be a bit difficult for the child to understand and usually are not effective in learning new word meanings. It Is important to come up with one- or two-word child friendly definitions when you encounter new words with the child.
  1. Using the Frayer model

    Using the Frayer Model is an effective strategy for encouraging a deeper processing of word meanings. The Frayer Model is a graphic organiser that helps students determine or clarify the meaning of vocabulary words encountered while listening or reading texts. 

  1. Expand meaning to new contexts

    Once a student-friendly definition is created, offer other examples of the use of that word. Additional examples and explanations might build depth of meaning of the new words. Engaging in discussion about the word with the child gives them the opportunity to engage with the words in a meaningful way. 
  1. Use semantic mapping

    Take the target word and brainstorm all the words or phrases related to it (Think of words that: describe the target word, are synonymous to the target word, or have any relationship to that word). The purpose of creating a map is to visually display the meaning-based connections between different words and phrases or concepts. Doing this makes it more likely that the child/student will remember the word and its meaning in reference to the map that is already stored in their brains.
  2. Context Clues

    Find words in the story or passage or where you encountered the word which might give clues to derive meaning.
  3. Provide multiple exposures to the words.

    Use the word in daily conversations to improve the depth (how well its understood) of vocabulary knowledge.


Games and activities that can help with vocabulary development:

Reading books

Reading is crucial for speech-language development. Introduce your child to books from very early on. A consistent habit of reading improves vocabulary by a lot. Using books with colourful visuals and dynamic creatures attracts children to develop a reading habit. At bedtime do dramatic readings of books with your child to keep them interested in reading. 

In addition to that, let your child pick their favourite book and make them read multiple times. This repetition will aid vocabulary learning skills of the child. Allow the child to pick out a favourite story that they love repeating. Try pre- and post-reading explanations and activities to make it easy for your child to understand and make sense of whatever they have read. 

Sorting Activities

The sorting activities help with speech-language development. When a child sorts different objects into different categories based on their characteristics, it is easier for them to learn and store new vocabulary. Try out object sorting games in our learning library to improve your child’s vocabulary.

Vocabulary BINGO

Create BINGO sheets with the words that the child needs to work on. Say the words one after the other in a randomised order and have the child cover each one up as they hear it.  Or, give them a definition and have them  figure out what word you are describing. If you are having trouble creating a bingo sheet you can find free printables here or buy your very own sight words bingo game.


Create or find worksheets that have many different pictures of common vocabulary words or words from the school curriculum. As the child’s vocabulary starts to improve then move to sheets with increasingly difficult words. You may find resources online on platforms such as teachers pay teachers.

Real Objects or Demonstrations

Bring in real objects that represent the words or demonstrate the concepts that you want your child to learn.  For example, if you are working on categories e.g food you can bring a bunch of toy food, real food items and have the students sort them and talk about them. 

Outdoor sports and games

Some Games and sporting activities outside of the therapy sessions might provide an opportunity for children to practice vocabulary skills in a fun and engaging way. For example place picture cards at the opposite ends of the ground and have two children line up and tell them each a word to find or have them race to find that word and bring it back to you. Whoever gets back first with the correct card wins. You can also play catch while practicing different words and their definitions. 

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