How to help your child use ambitious vocabulary

Every parent wants to help their child thrive at school, with good reason. It’s been shown that parental involvement increases student motivation, achievement and attainment. Simply by reading this guide and understanding how, what and why your child is being taught at school, you are better placed to help your child make further progress at home.

Get involved!

One of the reasons parental involvement is so necessary is because young people often need encouragement and motivation to help them work independently and stay organised. We need to be furnishing pupils with habits, discipline and strategies for self-efficacy (Hopfenbeck, 2017), so that they can successfully navigate the changing world around them.

It’s long been a claim made by educators that a little attention to your child’s education can go a long way (Pomerantz, E.M., et al. 2007). Although your child might not necessarily show it, receiving positive recognition for their hard work can really drive long term progress.

In 2012, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) carried out an extensive study called Let’s Read them a story! The Parent Factor in Education. It focused on the impact of the Home Learning Environment (HLE) on student progress around the world. Their findings reaffirmed the absolute importance of parental involvement. The highest achieving students were always the ones with parents who stayed engaged in their education, who talked to them about their studies, and who read with them or around them on a regular basis. By frequently exposing your child to new vocabulary through reading or speaking, you can have a transformative impact on your child’s educational outcomes.

How can you start getting involved?

Talk to your children about the world around them. Begin by discussing your child’s interests with them. They are constantly learning about the world around them and making meanings for themselves. Help them to articulate their thoughts and feelings about what is going on around them. The first step to supporting your child is enabling them to have frequent conversations with adults. This will increase the likelihood of them being exposed to tier 2 words and ambitious vocabulary (Beck, 2002). By ‘putting things into words’ (Lipstein and Renninger, 2007) verbally, your child will grow in confidence, particularly in literacy.

The next step is to consider the kinds of words you use with your child. Are they largely positive or negative? We all lead incredibly busy lives, which puts strains and stresses on all of us. Understandably, we can get frustrated with our children. However, if we consider the types of words we expose our children to carefully, we could help them internalise positivity and broaden their horizons (Dweck, 2017). All experience is integral to and interwoven in explicit vocabulary instruction. Therefore, every conversation we have with our children could be an opportunity to instil a growth mindset, which encourages them to be aspirational. By creating situations in which your child can safely interact with adults, you will not only be helping them to broaden their vocabulary, but you will also be preparing them for later life experiences, such as job interviews and general networking (Gladwell, 2008). You will be helping them to become confident, effective users of sophisticated language.

How Bedrock can support you and your child

Bedrock Vocabulary is an online programme that teaches vocabulary explicitly, whilst encouraging reading. We teach students the academic vocabulary they need to succeed in school. Thousands of students around the world are making statistically significant gains to their vocabulary by using our programme.

As things stand, the vocabulary size of a 4-year-old is an accurate predictor of their educational outcomes at 16 years old. There are many different reasons a student might have a lack of understanding around tier 2 words and ambitious vocabulary (Beck, 2002). The main factor is lack of exposure (Hart and Risley, 2003). It stands to reason, if you haven’t come across a word in a range of contexts before, chances are you won’t feel confident understanding it, let alone using it. Bedrock is narrowing language gaps across the board through a drip feed of carefully sequenced online lessons. Each 15-20 minute lesson explicitly teaches between 3-5 tier 2 words.

Research asserts that to commit a new word to our long-term memory we need to encounter it in various contexts (Marzano, 2004) and explore that new word from several different angles. That’s exactly how we teach our students – through the power of practice and regular recaps.

In each digital lesson, students will encounter the target language in aspirational fiction and non-fiction texts. Students then proceed through fun learning activities, games and quizzes that help develop a nuanced understanding of ambitious vocabulary. With this teaching method, we can guarantee that students not only broaden their vocabulary, but also that they will read a range of texts regularly.

Feedback is given at every stage of the Bedrock sequence to motivate and steer students to work independently. The sequence we use is as follows:

  • Complete comprehension questions which check understanding of words (requires close reading of the text).
  • Explore and select visual representations of the words.
  • Develop frame of reference through synonyms and antonyms.
  • Create a metaphor for the word to bank it into long term memory.
  • Recap and consolidate understanding through a range of plenary activities.

The best news is that the more words a student learns, the easier they acquire new words. By expanding their frame of reference, students’ vocabularies will begin to grow exponentially (Hirsch, 2003).

We’ve created a series of talking prompts, offering you and your child some guidance on how you can ensure you are using ambitious vocabulary and tier 2 language at home. Here is how you can get the conversation started:

  • The Bedrock Talking Prompts are a series of questions designed to encourage students to use tier 2 words in everyday conversation.
  • Find a quiet place where both of you will be comfortable, perhaps your kitchen table? Or on the settee (make sure you don’t leave the TV on!).
  • The words are deliberately challenging, so it always helps to double check that you know what the words mean too.
  • Take your time with each question. Remember, they are just prompts. Feel free to probe further for specific details and explanations.
  • To improve their literacy, your child needs to always respond in full sentences, adding specific details and explanations at every stage.
  • Give your child as much time as they need to respond. Your child will need to stop and think about how they will respond. This is fine. It isn’t a race. They aren’t being timed! A slow, reflective and well considered response is far better than a rushed, short and undeveloped one.
  • Feel free to discuss how you would respond to each question with your child. Even if they don’t always show it, they are usually interested to hear more about your thoughts and life experiences. Needless to say, the more times we can get them to listen to and use ambitious vocabulary, the better.

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