Christian Homeschool Resources & Homeschooling Advice

Vocabulary: Just Another Bump in the Road?

  • Nancy Sturm Contributing Writer
  • Published Jan 03, 2005
Vocabulary: Just Another Bump in the Road?

Here I am rolling along in the school year, but every so often I keep hitting those bumps. Have you ever hit a vocabulary bump? You know -- I'm putting the kids' school work together for the week, and there -- staring me in the face -- are the words they should be studying. I'm not talking about spelling words. I mean the words that accompany whatever study they are doing at present. I mumble to myself, "Ugh -- what do I do with these silly words?" Looking over my left shoulder to make sure there's no homeschool police watching, I silently sweep them into my pending pile. I'm desperately hoping that the saying "out of sight, out of mind" is really true. Unfortunately though, my pending pile slips off my over-crowed desk and spills all over the floor! As I helplessly gawk at the plethora of papers, that silly vocabulary list just sits there on top staring back at me!

Somewhere, I read about a science teacher who was mad at the English teacher because he thought the English teacher should teach all the science vocabulary. But, the English teacher said that it was not his responsibility to teach science terms because he was not a science teacher. Aha! Just as I thought! Even the teachers can't agree on this stuff! Continuing to read further, I found out that when you teach vocabulary words you have actually taught about half of the course. WHAT! Half of the course! Hum -- maybe I better try and smooth out this vocabulary bump -- just to see if it really is worth the effort.

The next study at our house was a unit on ponds. I racked my brain, trying to come up with creative ways to teach those silly vocabulary words. Then, as we began to incorporate them into our study each day, the most amazing thing happened. I actually began to see results. I was watching my kids grasp new concepts much more easily than before. My six-year-old actually knew what surface tension was! I was sold.

Any vocabulary bumps at your house? Here are some things that we've done to smooth out that dreaded bump.

We have three regular envelopes numbered 1, 2, and 3, which are tacked to one of our walls. Envelope #1 has the vocabulary words for the current study. Envelope #2 has the vocabulary words for today. Envelope #3 has the vocabulary words that we've already done for the current study. Before we begin our current study each day, I have one of the kids take out the vocabulary cards for that day. (envelope #2) We discuss each word -- how to pronounce it -- if it has a root word, or a Latin/Greek meaning -- what's the definition? Sometimes, we act out the word -- or do experiments to see the word in action. We also think up other things that mean the same -- or just come up with an easy way to remember the word.

I divide up the vocabulary cards between the kids before we do any read-aloud for our current study. As I'm reading aloud, each of the kids must watch and listen for the vocabulary words that I've given them. When they hear or see their word, they say it out loud. Then, I will reread the sentence, pausing to allow them to say their word; or they get to read the entire sentence themselves. Not only does this reinforce the vocabulary words, but it also teaches listening comprehension skills.

At the end of each study we go back over all the words and play a game with them. I lay the cards out on the floor with the definition side down. Beside me is a "treat bowl" which consists of small pieces of candy, Cheerios, popcorn, or whatever you have extra of. Just make sure to have a variety of items in the bowl. I start with the youngest and ask her to pick a word. Next, she must pronounce it. Finally, she must give the definition of it. If she gets it right, she picks one item out of the "treat bowl". If she is wrong, my other two kids get to take a shot at it. We keep going until all the cards are finished. My kids think this is a fun game, and they don't even realize that they're learning new words!

I make the vocabulary cards out of ordinary 3 x 5 cards with the lines on one side. I print the definition on the lined side, and on the blank side I print the vocabulary word with colorful markers. Sometimes, if I can, I match the color of the word to what the word means. (example: Algae was printed in green) I also put the name of our current study on the bottom of the card, which helps as another tie to the word's meaning. My two oldest kids write the words for the day down on their "Vocabulary" pages in their notebooks, while my younger one does cut/paste on a sheet of paper for her notebook.

So, what do I do with all these vocabulary cards? I put them in a 3 x 5 file box with A, B, C index dividers. Then, about every other study or so, we go back over the cards and play other games. After doing this for a while and seeing the results, I now believe that vocabulary words are the key to understanding almost anything.

Go ahead; try smoothing out the vocabulary bumps at your house. Think you're not creative? Then ask the Lord to help. His pockets are full of creative ways to teach. After all, He teaches us.

Vocabulary; Just another step on the ladder to success!

Homeschooling, speaking and writing are among Nancy's passions. She has written numerous articles for homeschool newsletters and serves on the steering committee for the First Class Christian Homeschool Co-Op. She gained her CTM in Toastmasters and is the current president of her local club. Nancy lives in Mount Vernon, WA, with her husband of 18 years, and together they have homeschooled their three adopted children since 1995. You can email her at or visit her web site at