Nurture Communication—Build Vocabulary!

Mar 15, 2019 | Posted by Jennifer


Every year, new words are added to the dictionary. In 2018, for instance, words like “bougie,” “bingeable,” and “predictive” were added by Merriam-Webster. But did you know that behind the scenes there is an even greater exodus of words silently leaving our language? Part of the reason this is occuring, researchers hypothesize, is that people are favoring shorter, easier words to type in texts and emails (Yirka), today’s default methods of communication. The end result is the proverbial, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” Words disappear. While it is normal to have words enter and leave our usage, it is important that we help our students broaden their vocabularies, for in doing so we help our students better their abilities to think, to reason, and to communicate orally and in writing.

One of the ways we can increase our students’ vocabulary is through reading aloud classic stories written at our students’ maturity level. Andrew Pudewa states, “Built primarily by ear, the language database of vocabulary and syntax is what provides the raw material for a person to use words and create sentences; simply put, the better the language that goes into the mind, the better the language that comes out of it.” Reading aloud is an important and fun way to instill a broad base of vocabulary in our students’ brains, but there are other ways we can help that process along as well.

IEW helps teachers and parents instill sophisticated vocabulary in their students in part through its “banned words” lists as described within Teaching Writing: Structure and Style. In that course, educators learn how to ban “boring” words in their students’ writing in favor of more dynamic and descriptive vocabulary. In order to help students replace these words, teachers and students work together to come up with a visible list of replacement words that students can consult as they are writing. For example, the word “good” might be replaced by “beneficial,” “helpful,” “tasty,” or “moral,” depending upon the context of the writing. IEW’s Portable Walls have extended this idea by creating a “wall of words” that offers many substitutes for the word “said” as well as suggestions to replace tired, non-descriptive verbs.

Another popular way to teach vocabulary in IEW is through our theme-based writing courses. Many of our courses introduce new vocabulary words throughout the lessons. To help students transfer the words into their permanent vocabulary, students manipulate the words a number of ways—by inserting them into their writing, by playing games that use them, and by taking vocabulary quizzes. The vocabulary words are specifically selected to fit well into the students’ writing assignments. Also, they are taught incrementally, a few at a time, and are reinforced throughout the course.

Our theme-based books aren’t the only curriculum where we introduce vocabulary. It is also taught in the Fix It! Grammar series of books. In these books, students encounter bolded words in the unedited versions of the story. As the student reads the text, he sees the word used in context. From there, he looks the word up to determine which definition best fits the context of the story and records it in his book of edits. Periodically throughout the course the teacher will review these words to help the student transition to making them a part of his permanent vocabulary.

One more way students learn vocabulary with IEW is through memorizing poetry. Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization is a wonderful way to facilitate this process. Andrew affirms this, saying about poetry that “There is perhaps no greater tool than memorization to seal language patterns into a human brain, and there is perhaps nothing more effective than poetry to provide exactly what we want: reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns.” Poetry is so integral to strengthening a student’s vocabulary and sentence patterns. Andrew continues, saying, “A child with a rich repertoire of memorized poetry will inevitably demonstrate superior linguistic skills, both written and spoken, because of those patterns which are so deeply ingrained in the brain.” As students practice reciting poetry, the vocabulary and language patterns transfer into the brain, creating a rich repository in the student’s mind that he can call upon when he is speaking or writing.

Vocabulary may be disappearing from the culture, but it needn’t disappear from our students’ repertoire of language. IEW offers many ways to bolster it. To learn even more about how the brain best absorbs vocabulary and sophisticated language patterns, listen to Andrew Pudewa’s presentation, “Nurturing Competent Communicators.” During the talk, he delves more deeply into the ways you can instill vocabulary and nurture your own competent communicators in your classroom and in your family.


                                                                                      Works Cited
Yirka, Bob. “More Words Dying and Fewer Words Being Added to Languages in Digital Age:
           Study.” - News and Articles on Science and Technology,, 19 Mar.


Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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