Having a stayscation this year? 5 great activities to grow your children’s vocabularies at home.

Staycation – a word used in the media to describe people staying at home for a vacation, rather than travelling abroad. It’s an example of a portmanteau word, which blends two words together to make a new meaning. It’s also a good example of how the English language changes and adapts to new challenges and situations. Like ‘Brexit’.

Children with good vocabularies have better reading comprehension levels. They can understand what they read better and use the information to answer literal and inferential questions. Pupils learning EAL who are proficient in English, i.e. have vocabulary breadth and depth, do well in national tests and often perform above average expectations.

How can you, as a parent and teacher, help your children develop a greater understanding of the English language while they are away from school?

Here are a few suggestions:

Alphabet Game

Having a good grasp of alphabetical order is important for categorising words, writing glossaries and using dictionaries for example.   

  • Choose a topic. It could be breakfast cereals, book characters, fruit, clothes or anything that is part of a larger group.
  • Now start at A (or Z if you feel particularly adventurous) and think of something from your chosen group that starts with each letter.
  • Here’s an example for ‘fruit’: A (apple), B (banana), C (cherry) etc.
  • Work your way through the alphabet. Don’t worry if you have to miss out some letters. You can always go back to them.
  • Alternatively, if you go out for a walk or a drive, look out for road names, shop signs or road signs that match the letters of the alphabet.
Memory game

You can play this game anywhere – on a walk, in the car, at bedtime.

  • Start with a simple sentence:
  • On my walk I saw… or   In the car I saw…  or   In the bedroom I can see
  • Start off the game by finishing the sentence: On my walk I saw… a dog.
  • Now your child, or one of your children, repeats your sentence but adds something else to it: On my walk I saw a dog… and a big lorry.
  • Next, you or another child repeats the sentence but adds another item: On my walk I saw a dog, a big lorry and a taxi.
  • Keep this repetition and adding on until someone makes a mistake, or you get bored. You can make this game more complicated by adding adjectives to describe the things you are listing – On my walk I saw a big, brown, hairy dog…
Opposites

Beginners of English sometimes find it easier to express opposites as ‘not’ something – closed/ not closed; open/ not open/ hungry/ not hungry as they learn one concept before the other.

Knowing a range of opposites is an important part of understanding how words work and of being able to describe things and use words accurately when we speak.

Opposites are also binary – sitting at either end of a concept. When children understand this, they can begin to explore the words and meanings that lie in-between opposites. (See word clines below as examples of this).

Here are some ideas to cut out and match.

Word clines

Clines are another way of grading words.

If you had the words happy, sad and ecstatic you might grade them from sad (unhappy) to happy, then ecstatic (very happy).

Taking a group of words that have similar meanings and grading them like this is a great activity to get children thinking about what words really mean.

If you said, I left the party feeling sad, this would suggest you didn’t have a very good time, whereas I left the party feeling ecstatic suggests it was a great event!

Therefore, choosing the right word to describe the intensity of something is an important language skill to learn because it expresses what we mean more accurately.

Here is an example to get you started.

Collocations – or words that naturally ‘go together’

Collocations are words that ‘go together’. Think about cleaning your teeth. What words would everyone use to describe this process? Toothbrush, toothpaste, water, brush, rinse, spit etc. All these words are generally associated with the ritual of teeth cleaning. However, people may do things slightly differently in other cultures so the words they link to something might be different from the words others think of.   

Here is a link to a few pictures. What words or collocations can you and your children think of that go with the activities shown in each picture?

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