3 Essential steps to build your child’s vocabulary – GCSE English Language

GCSE vocabulary building

Developing a wide range of vocabulary is essential for succeeding in GCSE English Language. Your child may be developing their vocabulary naturally if they read regularly, look up the meaning of words and memorise them. If they’re doing this, that’s great.

If this is not the case, and you find it’s a battle to get your child to read, let alone take note of words and look them up; then read on. Here are three steps to ensure your child is on track with their vocabulary building for GCSE English Language exams.

Step 1: Be strategic about vocabulary building for GCSE English Language

Learn what kind of language and vocabulary is expected in the exams.
The first step is knowing what’s expected in the exam. Once you know the exam board, have a look through some past papers to get an idea of the tasks involved. There are two papers for GCSE English Language.

For example, in Paper 1, there is a fiction writing task; therefore, it’s essential that your child is familiar with using vocabulary found in descriptive and narrative fiction. You could help your child learn a variety of descriptive adjectives to describe different types of characters and scenes. In addition, help them to write their own similes and metaphors and use other linguistic techniques correctly, such as personification. 

Have a plan and follow it through systematically
Get a list of words appropriate for their level and work through the list over a period of time. So, if your child is in Year 9, work through the word list for Year 9 students. See this list of words for GCSE English.

The aim is to integrate as many of these words into your child’s vocabulary as possible. It’s not just a question of learning the word, it’s about correct spelling, knowing the meaning and how to use the word in their writing.  Make it a manageable task by learning just a few words at a time.

For those who struggle with basic words and spelling then focus more on learning how to spell common words first before introducing new vocabulary.

Step 2: Create a GCSE English Language ‘Word Bank’ 

Reading regularly is a fundamental step to building vocabulary at any age but in particular in preparation for GCSE English. See my post Top 10 tips to get your teen to read.

Once a regular reading habit is established, encourage your child to look up words as they find them in their reading and create a Word Bank. A Work Bank is where they write all their new words down in one place and use it as a reference to remember and practice new words. 

They can start building their Word Bank in Year 9 (or earlier) up until their GCSE exam in Year 11. This will be an essential resource for the future. They can use their Word Bank to complete writing tasks, which will help them gain familiarity with using the new words. 

The idea is that by the time they sit their exam, they won’t need the Word Bank as they would have memorised and become familiar with using the words in previous writing tasks.

However, they may be resistant to the idea of looking up new words and see it as too much effort. If that’s the case, then be sneaky about looking up words.

Let’s have a look at 3 ways to look up words.

Online Dictionary (Sneakiest method)

A great way to look up a word is to look it up online. You can either Google it which generally takes you to the Dictionary or go to https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/. This is by far the easiest, quickest and most effective method of looking up a word.

Type in your word and it will provide you with the meaning, the definition, and a sample sentence, so you can see how it’s meant to be used. The great thing about this is you can also click on the speaker icon to listen to how the word is pronounced.

Electronic bookmarks (Not so sneaky but some like this)

Another way to quickly lookup words is with an electronic bookmark; available from Amazon. Simply type in the word and it gives you the meaning. Some students really like this method. My personal preference is to look it up online in order to listen to how it’s pronounced and also to see a sample sentence with the word in it.

Dictionary (Not sneaky at all, least effective)

The last method is, of course, the good old fashioned dictionary! However, I have not yet met a student who will look anything up in a dictionary, especially if they can use their mobile, PC or even ask Siri! 

Make it as easy as possible for your child to build their vocabulary in preparation for their GCSE English Language exams.

Step 3: Practice using the new words

Integrate new words into a weekly writing practice. Ask them to write a paragraph (one that makes sense!) using all the new words learned that week. This can be a really fun activity to do with some fairly interesting sentences. They can also use the new words to complete any written task they do for school.

You could also start using some of the words at home in your everyday language. This can be great fun as your child starts to become familiar with using a variety of words. Of course, it’s also important to explain when and in what context you would use lengthier words. Differentiating between formal and informal language can be useful here. 

Help them understand, in what context you would use formal language, such as a letter to the headteacher or in a formal presentation; and informal language for everyday use with friends and family.

Over the weeks, months and years they should, by the time they sit their GCSE exam, have quite an impressive vocabulary that they are confident to show off to the examiner!

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