Why Schools Are Not teaching Vocabulary Skills and What You Can Do About It

Posted by Tiara Swinson on February 05, 2019

vocabulary building at homeWhen students learn solid vocabulary skills in elementary school, they are forming the building blocks of language learning for the rest of their lives. As students move through school, vocabulary skills become increasingly important as they begin to read and write more complex books and articles with more complicated language. Unfortunately, many schools are not teaching the vocabulary skills students need to help them be successful as they encounter more complex language.

Why Aren’t Vocabulary Skills Taught?

Often in classrooms, vocabulary skills get left behind and students are simply given a list of words and definitions to memorize. This is an extremely ineffective way for students to learn; it does not promote long term retention, and it doesn’t give students the skills they need to decipher new words when they encounter them on their own.

One of the best ways for students to learn new vocabulary is through context in classroom texts. The problem with this method is that it is much more time consuming than simply giving students definitions to memorize.

In addition, it is easier now more than ever to quickly find the meaning of unknown words using phones and computers. Teachers as well as students have begun to rely on this more, rather than using vocabulary skills.

Good Vocabulary Skills

Following are core vocabulary skills students should learn in school:

  • Context clues: using the words around an unknown word to decipher its meaning

  • Root words: learning the meaning of common root words to figure out the meaning of larger words that include a root word

  • Suffixes and prefixes: knowing the meaning of common suffixes and prefixes

  • Word relationships: understanding the nuances of words based on how they relate to other words

What Should My Child Be Able to Do?

More specifically, students should master the following vocabulary skills at each grade level:

  • 3rd Grade: identify meaning of prefixes and suffixes; decode multisyllable words; determine the meaning of words using context clues; use known root words to decipher the meaning of new words; begin to understand the difference between figurative and literal language

  • 4th Grade: determine the meaning of words in a text; learn and use subject specific vocabulary words; begin to become independent in deciphering the meaning of new words; use dictionaries, glossaries, etc. to determine the meaning of words

  • 5th Grade: understand how language functions in different contexts; interpret figurative language such as similes, metaphors, and idioms

  • 6th Grade: interpret figures of speech, such as personification; use relationships between words to better understand meaning; distinguish between connotations and denotations

  • 7th Grade and beyond: identify patterns of word changes; understand nuances of words with similar definitions; understand how language functions in different contexts

How Can I Help My Child?

If your child is falling behind, you can help them by reading with them. When they encounter words they don’t know, help them figure out the meaning by using context clues.

You can also practice building vocabulary with word games such as Scrabble or Boggle, as well as with a variety of word apps. By helping your child build a strong foundation of vocabulary organically, you can help them be more familiar with root words, prefixes, and suffixes.

Math Genie's reading programs are designed to help your child get excited and curious about reading and language, so they can be a great asset as well. They can help your child master sight words and learn vocabulary skills that they will continue to use throughout their life. 

Topics: Reading Comprehension, Better Reading, Vocabulary Building, Elementary School

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