• Dr. V.S. Gayathri

How to Teach Word Meanings to Kids?

A child’s mind is always curious. They want to explore and know about things. Often you have seen them asking you questions and meanings of new words which they hear or read for the first time.



As a parent, it is surely our responsibility to answer their queries in the right way. Even if you do not know at that moment of time, you should never ignore their questions. This will either make them find out in the wrong way or the wrong thing. So, let us explore some simple ways to help their curious minds in the right way.


The most common thing that a child asks is probably word meanings. Research states that language development happens very rapidly in early childhood, mostly in the first two years. Here the family plays a critical role in language and vocabulary growth. Statistics say that children learn new words mainly by hearing them in a meaningful context like relating them to a story’s illustrations or gestures by the speaker.


According to experts, the vocabulary of a young child uses is related to later school success. In fact, having a large vocabulary at two years of age can be correlated to a child’s achievement at kindergarten entry in Reading, Maths, and Behavior.

So, let’s see some of the ways in which you can help your child to know word meanings and keep improving on their vocabulary as well.

1. The first thing is to use the dictionary. A regular dictionary works the best, but if you do not have one, you can use an online dictionary will also do. Always encourage your child to look up the word meaning rather than directly telling them. You might also have to teach them the right way to look up a dictionary.



2. Look for the meaning of the word along with the child. For smaller kids, sit along with them and look for the meaning. This way you can encourage them to learn the meaning at that moment and also see if they are doing it right. Because later they might forget or miss out.

3. Explain the word in a sentence. After looking up the meaning, show them the usage as well. In this way, the child will be able to remember it in a better way and also learn to apply it. For example, you look up the meaning of the word ‘curious’ - ‘eager to learn something new’. Then make a sentence to help them understand better- ‘I am curious to know about my birthday gift’.

4. Ask the child to say the meaning of the word in their own words. Once the child has looked up the meaning, urge them to explain it in their own way. This helps the child to retain the meaning easily. As them to make their own sentence and apply the meaning of the word.

5. For young children show the object. For smaller kids, associate the word (if it is an object) with the actual thing if it is available to you. For verbs or emotions, you can also enact and explain it to them. This helps the child to visualize and remember the meaning. You can also cite real-life examples that they know of to explain the meaning.

6. Ask the kid to draw the picture. Kids retain better through the word-picture association. So, once they find out the meaning, ask them to draw what they have understood. This way you will also get to know if they have grasped the right meaning.

7. For older kids, discuss the antonyms and synonyms of the word. Discussing synonyms and antonyms is a great way to teach word meanings. Synonyms are words with the same meaning as a given word, while Antonyms are words with the opposite meaning. This way they get to learn so many new words as well which improves the vocabulary for the child. You should also try to use synonyms and antonyms of words in sentences or while speaking so that they can identify it with the word meanings they just learned.

8. Remember to use the same word at home in the following week. Don't stop with the dictionary alone for the meaning. Revisit the new words and word meanings learned in a week in the following week. This way your child can recap the information and by repeated usage, they will be able to learn for good. Try using words learned in the previous week in sentences while speaking and check whether your child is able to remember the meaning.


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