Vocabulary Games

Throw away those flashcards and enjoy some easy vocabulary games that build vocabulary naturally!   They key here is YOU, the parent. Your child can't truly learn vocabulary without you.

1. Reading

Reading is BY FAR the best and easiest game for vocabulary development.

Children's books are full of pictures with a variety of new words (nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs). 

How  you read is critical. Just reading a story straight from the book isn't the best strategy. You MUST interact while reading. The technical term is called "shared reading."

Click here for more information on how to read to your child.

2. Play house, farm, school, store

Playing with one of the toys listed above is a great way to introduce new vocabulary words and show how words relate to each other (categories).

For example, if you are playing with a farm, you can introduce new animals to your child and talk about how the toys are "farm animals," not pets. You can talk about where farm animals live, sleep, and eat.

Your child will learn which animals go together, where they live, and how they are similar and different. Click here for more information on key aspects of vocabulary.

3. 20 Questions

This classic game "20 Questions" is a WONDERFUL language game for older toddlers up to adults! It incorporates categories, descriptions, and associations.

How to play 20 Questions: One person thinks of an object and the other person has to guess what it is by asking questions. If you want to be strict, you only have 20 guesses/questions.

MY TWIST: Don't use yes/no questions. Yes/no questions are dead end questions. For younger children, allow them to ask....what color is it? Where do you see it? etc...

ANOTHER TWIST: Give 20 hints about the mystery object to your partner instead of asking questions. I like this one for younger toddlers.

4. Treasure Hunt

This is one of the more exciting vocabulary games. Go on a treasure hunt! What child doesn't love treasure hunts?

How To Play: Hide things around the house and have your child find them. 

My Twist: Give only descriptive clues. For example, if you hide something under the couch say "the treasure is under something we can sit on. It is big and fluffy." The purpose is to indirectly teach your child about "description." See below for more information.

Why Is Vocabulary So Important?

Vocabulary or more accurately "word knowledge" is the foundation for all communication. It the basis for our expressive language (speaking), receptive language (understanding spoken information), reading, and writing abilities!!!

Word knowledge is about understanding the whole concept of a word and how it word relates to other words. Many children with language delays have incomplete word knowledge.

Vocabulary Example

Being able to point to a dog in a picture doesn't mean your child necessarily knows what a dog is. 

For children under 5 years of age, it is important to know:

  1. Category - What group does it belong to?
  2. Function - What does it do?
  3. Association - What goes with it?
  4. Description - What does it look like?

Complete definition of a dog:

  • A dog is an animal (category)
  • It barks, runs, eats (function)
  • It is furry, hairy, big or small (description)
  • Leash, food bowl, bone goes with it  (association)

Older child?

For children over 5 years of age, check out vocabulary games for adolescents. 

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Bridget is an ASHA certified, practicing speech language pathologist. She is passionate about providing parents with information on child speech and language development as well as provide functional, easy activities to do at home! Parents have the power to make a real difference.

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  1. Justice et al. Learning New Words From Storybooks: An Efficacy Study With At-Risk Kindergartners. Lang Speech Hear Serv Sch.2005; 36: 17-32. Retrieved online on 8/1/2013.