The secret of a great vocabulary

vocabulary words

Having a well-developed vocabulary is an essential part of GCSE English. Examiners are looking for evidence of ambitious vocabulary choices in extended writing pieces, and well-selected words can also make a significant difference to the clarity of reading analysis pieces. Students need to show evidence of a mature critical style in order to achieve the top marks, and having an advanced vocabulary will help students express themselves more eloquently. So how do students actively work on their vocabulary? 

The thesaurus 

This should be an essential part of every student’s writing process. Students can use a paper copy, but in this day and age the online world may provide a more accessible option. There are many websites that provide a thesaurus, although students should try to stick to reputable ones such as Collins, Oxford or Cambridge. Students can also download apps onto their mobile devices to help them find synonyms (words that mean the same as each other). Nowadays, students have no excuse for not accessing a thesaurus! 

Use the dictionary properly 

Dictionaries are also vital for building up vocabulary, but many students do not quite understand how to use one effectively. Words can have multiple meanings, and the first dictionary definition entry may not actually be the most appropriate one. Students need to read the whole entry, and then actively consider which definition they require, by looking at the context of the word in the sentence. 

Word of the Day 

Online dictionary and thesaurus sites often give students the chance to sign up to word of the day, where they can receive a new word via email or text message each day. This can be a fun and easy way to build and extend vocabulary. 

Vocabulary Games 

These often work really well as starter activities in lessons, and again they are a quick and fun way to develop vocabulary. Countdown is always a favourite with students, as are games such as Boggle and Hangman. The rise of online learning has necessitated the development of many online versions of these games, but they can still be played the old-fashioned way too. 

Log Book 

As well as collecting new words, students need somewhere to record them. Having either a vocabulary book or a spreadsheet is a key part of a student’s learning equipment, and they need to develop a routine for recording new words when they encounter them. 

The 100 word list 

If your child has high ambitions for GCSE English, then he/she should have a look at the 100 words to Sharpen Your Expression list. Students can use this list to challenge themselves and actively build up their vocabulary. 

Understand Morphology 

Morphology is the study of how words are formed. Having a better understanding of how words work can make it easier to decipher meanings of unfamiliar words. Knowing key prefixes and suffixes, such as pro/pre/anti, can support students and help them decode the words. An awareness of word classes such as nouns, verbs and adjectives can also help students identify the job a word is doing in a sentence and thus get closer to uncovering the meaning. 

Learn another language 

It may seem strange, but often exploring other languages can help students to develop a better understanding of their own language. This is particularly true of other Latin based languages such as French, Spanish and Italian, as the fact that they share a root language means that there will be words in common. A knowledge of words in other languages can help them to recognise unfamiliar words in English, as they can recognise patterns and connections. 

Reading Widely

If your child is really serious about developing their vocabulary in the long term, then it is essential that he/she develops a reading habit. Actively learning and recording new words will help, but students will take in so much subconsciously when they are reading everyday. E-readers can be particularly useful when helping students to develop their vocabulary, as students can look up words in the dictionary as he/she reads. Having to stop reading to go and find a dictionary and look up the word can be frustrating, but with the e-reader, students can extend their vocabulary without having to break their reading stride! 

Are you looking for further English support for your child? Bright Sky Tutoring offers one to one and small group tutoring in secondary English, delivered by qualified and experienced teachers. To find out more, get in touch at

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