The importance of vocabulary has always been apparent in the English classroom, but its value in facilitating better academic prospects as well as better life chances is becoming more widely appreciated. Speech, language and communication specialists, Emela Milne and Victoria Honeybourne, provide a starting point for English teachers looking to teach vocabulary directly.

by Emela Milne and Victoria Honeybourne
5th October 2015

Why is vocabulary important?

The importance of vocabulary cannot be over-emphasised. Indeed, vocabulary skills at age five have been shown to be one of the strongest predictors of success at GCSE level and beyond. It is through vocabulary that we store and learn new concepts and ideas. How students organise their vocabulary and link information affects their ability to use those words accurately and appropriately in speech and writing. Vocabulary covers the words we use, their meanings and associations. This goes beyond the dictionary definition to include all the wider connotations of a word created by our personal experiences and the contexts in which we know it.

Consequences in the English classroom

Many students, not only those with identified speech, language and communication needs, have a relatively limited vocabulary which can affect both their understanding and use of language. Studies have shown that reading comprehension and vocabulary knowledge are strongly correlated. In the English classroom this means that students may find comprehension of texts difficult, as well as having difficulty expressing their opinions accurately and producing interesting, lively pieces of writing. There is, however, evidence that students with weaker vocabularies are able to make progress in catching up with their peers through direct teaching and support.

A vocabulary for describing people

The accompanying resource is aimed at improving students’ vocabularies when describing people, in terms of appearance, personality and feelings. These skills are needed on a daily basis in the English classroom: to comprehend texts; to discuss characters in detail both in speech and writing; and to write from different characters' points of view. On a wider scale, the ability to discuss feelings, emotions and personality is essential for students to develop personally and emotionally, to gain a sense of self-identity and to learn how to regulate these emotions.

(This article was first published on 05.10.15 as a newsletter.)

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