Last year I participated in an online writing course. Writers are always interested in expanding their vocabulary, so the course included a featured “Word of the Week.” It didn’t take up much space, but it was an excellent little box that highlighted a new or unfamiliar word and its definition.
Building vocabulary is something which takes time. Learning one new word a week gives students space to assimilate material as they come across it. There are 36 weeks to a standard school year. By featuring one word a week, you cover 36 words in the course of the year.
(One word per week also keeps your vocabulary list short enough to fit onto a single two-column page in Times New Roman 12.)
Word of the Week is Versatile
As a homeschooler, one is always on the lookout for activities which work well for multiple grades. Featuring a word of the week fits in perfectly with the homeschool model. Whether you choose one word each week for all of your students to work on together, or a couple of different words to correspond with a wider age range, having a word of the week is an activity which everyone can participate in, whether the word is dive or diversification.
Of course, if you want to cover more than 36 words, you have several options for variations on the word of the week pattern. Introducing two words each week increases your total to 72, three to 108, etc. Or, you can carry on your vocabulary studies through summer and holiday time to bring your list up to 52.
Choosing Your Word of the Week
Coming up with 36 words that will be challenging, but not intimidating for your student sounds like a daunting task. Noah Webster may have been able to sit down at his desk, dip his quill in the ink, and commence “A: A is the first letter of the Alphabet in most of the known languages of the earth…” and continue on in a systematic fashion until reaching “zygomatic.”
Well, after all, even he probably didn’t write the dictionary quite like that. But the encouraging part for you and me is that there are a variety of resources to simplify the choice of vocabulary words.
Choosing From Curriculum
Lots of textbooks come with their own list of vocabulary words. Grammar, English, and Literature, as well as some unit studies for subjects like History, often include vocabulary lists as part of the curriculum.
Spelling lists can be another great source of words. Picking one word out of a weekly spelling column, and featuring it as a vocabulary word would add a new dimension to both subjects.
Selecting 36 words from an already existing list makes your word of the week tie in well with any subject you want to include it in.
Choosing From the Alphabet
Another simple option is to work through the alphabet. Week 1 has a word beginning with A, week 2 starts with B, etc. This would give you one word for each letter, plus ten extra words. You could do the vowels over twice more; pick letters that are unusual (or common, for the opposite effect); or just start the alphabet over again.
Choosing For Oral Use
As we will discuss in greater detail below, selecting a new word every week is an excellent way to encourage students to apply their vocabulary lists in daily life. If this is the primary way you want to feature your word of the week, keep in mind the fact that certain words lend themselves to daily use better than others. Aspire is quite a short, unpretentious word, with a thousand opportunities for application every day. Anesthesiologist, on the other hand, although a practical description of the person who applies anesthetic in hospitals, has limited openings for use in daily life.
Featuring Your Word of the Week
Once you’ve selected a word to start with, you want to present it to your students in a way that encourages them to add it to their working vocabulary. Displaying the weekly word in a prominent place is a great way to start.
For younger students, decorating the word with markers, stickers, or other craft techniques, might be a fun beginning. The fridge magnets discussed in Five Ways to Involve Under 5’s are another great option.
My Favorite Vocabulary Activity
Depending on your schedule and curriculum needs, you may or may not want to include additional activities to expand on your Word of the Week. It isn’t necessary to do any activities at all, if you don’t want to, or if your main vocabulary studies are already covered in another way. Always feel free to adapt any ideas you find to fit your own homeschool.
For those who are interested, I have included one of the vocabulary activities that I enjoyed most as a child. They were not part of a word of the week system as that is an idea which I came across much later. But it is an activity which works easily with any vocabulary list.
I don’t exactly mean writing example sentences, although I think that was the original assignment. What I enjoyed was writing a sentence for each word on my list, and making the sentences all about the same subject. Sometimes the subject was a story we had been reading recently. Other times, I made up my own story as the sentences went along.
Sentence One: The first little pig aspired to build a house of straw.
Sentence Two: The wolf blew it down, and the pig had to visit an anesthesiologist.
(Admittedly, the second sentence was a little contrived, but then as I said, anesthesiologist is a hard word.)
Anyhow, you see the potential. By assigning a relevant topic, you can use this activity to draw vocabulary words into any subject.
Using Your Word Orally
The core aim of the Word of the Week activity is to incorporate it into your child’s working vocabulary. Challenge your students to find ways to use their weekly word in their ordinary conversation.
Try to find opportunities of using it yourself.
The more you practice, the better you will become at incorporating new words into daily use. Before you know it, your students will aspire to much more than simply using their assigned words. They will be on the lookout for great language in whatever they read or hear. And their vocabulary will grow by leaps and bounds.
See? It really is simple!
How To Boost Your Child’s Vocabulary in 36 Words
Introducing a Word of the Week is a fun way to boost your child’s vocabulary quickly and easily: it’s simple to start, requires very little preparation, and takes only as many words as this sentence—thirty-six!
Since first posting this article in September of 2015, SAW Publishing has launched the Word of the Week (WOW) Program, providing a detailed weekly vocabulary lesson built around the concept outlined above. For more information on this FREE Bible-based vocabulary program, please see the following post:
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