8 Tips To Boost 11 plus Vocabulary Skills

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December 12th, 2022Last updated: May 3rd, 2023

In this blog, Caroline sets out the importance of children having a broad vocabulary and how this can strengthen their 11 plus English and Verbal Reasoning preparation. Using her 8 Top Tips, over time, your child's language and communication skills will be supported and enriched.

One of the key elements that benefits children the most is having a rich and robust vocabulary, improving all areas of their communication: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Vocabulary growth does not just happen over time; children need exposing to new challenging vocabulary and be encouraged to practise, enabling them to express their ideas and understand the world in which they live.

Vocabulary knowledge is directly related to school achievement and critical to a child’s success. Research has shown that children need to understand 98% of the words they read in order to understand what they are reading.

Vocabulary is often one of the toughest aspects of the 11 plus exam and, if language is limited, can be a barrier to accessing English and Verbal Reasoning questions. Although the 11 plus exam comes in different formats, depending on locality or individual school requirements, testing always focuses heavily on vocabulary: both meaning and understanding.

Candidates will need to:
• Interpret vocabulary and have a strong understanding of words for comprehension tasks
• Show recognition and comprehend the meaning of individually-highlighted words within sentences
• Choose or match correct synonyms and antonyms
• Complete sentences by selecting the ‘best word’ from options given
• Spot incorrect spellings or errors in tricky words
• Have a secure knowledge of grammar terminology
• Use imaginative and interesting vocabulary for effective creative writing

Your child will, therefore, need to have a diverse vocabulary to draw on for each aspect of their English exam. If called for interview, it is important to communicate clearly and use diverse vocabulary. This will enable your child to convey their thoughts and ideas in a coherent way.

8 Tips To Boost vocabulary skills

1. Read, read and read!

Words stick in your head when you read them or hear them used. Children should continue to be read to at this age, alongside reading by themselves, allowing for discussion and questioning of the vocabulary read, and encouraging growth in contextual understanding. Audio books are another great way of exposing children to language and vocabulary, especially when time is limited.

2. Variety is the spice of life!

Reading material should be as varied as possible. Mix fiction and non-fiction, try out different authors, genres and books from different cultures and become acquainted with the ‘Classics’ as these tend to have archaic and more challenging vocabulary which is often tested through the 11 plus.

3.  Talk

When talking with your child, do not be afraid to use ‘big’ words.

Children are naturally curious and will enjoy using new and interesting vocabulary. When your child asks the meaning of a word, use words that they already know to explain and illustrate it. When they get the idea, ask them to describe it using their own words and give an example of the word in action to see if they really understand.

Encourage your child to make up oral stories and ask them questions to prompt or introduce new vocabulary.

For example.     

Child: “The pirate found an island….”

Parent: “Was it a tropical island or a deserted island? What could an
alternative word for ‘found’ be?….discovered/unearthed?”

Reinforce learned vocabulary by using it in daily conversation around the house.

4. Games

Word games like Scrabble or Boggle are great ways to build spelling and vocabulary skills. Crossword and word search puzzles are another way to teach spelling and flex your child’s synonyms and antonyms skills.

Think about subscribing to ‘word of the day’ feeds.

5. Journaling

When your child is reading, either by themselves or with an adult, encourage them to have a notebook with them to jot down interesting and challenging vocabulary and phrases. This helps to broaden their language and allows them to have a record of new words that they have learnt. This will also aid their creative writing, as they use ideas from successful authors.

6. Practice

Take time to use 11 plus vocabulary lists and practise the vocabulary any place and any time! However, be sure to break it down into manageable chunks (around 10-20 words each time) as the list is long. Mix the list up to include easier words, commonly misspelt words and some difficult ones. This will help your child get used to the assortment of words. Try to vary the learning. Using oral and written techniques, encourage your child to put the word into a sentence to confirm their understanding. It is also a good idea to encourage them to find synonyms and antonyms of the words they are learning too.

A dictionary and thesaurus are very useful to aid learning but do ensure that your child can put the meaning in their own words and not just copy the dictionary definition.

Make flashcards and use post it notes to aid word retention and recognition, placing them around the house.

7. Mini tests

Every other week, construct a little test to ensure the new words are embedded. Remember, good vocabulary needs development over time and children need frequent exposure to words. Just learning new words once will not be enough.
Some words have more than one meaning so where this is the case, learn each different meaning.

8. Don’t forget spellings!

Knowing how to spell words and spotting mistakes in words is a key skill to be practised for 11 plus exams and assessments.

Focus on a few words a day.

• Use the ‘Look, cover and write’ method
• Orally spell the words
• Write the word in fun colours or shapes to make them memorable
• Spell the word as many times in 30 seconds
• Use mnemonics or fun ways to help remember tricky ones (ie-one coffee, two sugars-for ‘necessary’)

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