Oral Language: Expanding Your Child’s Vocabulary

In order for children to expand their vocabulary, they need to hear new words multiple times and in different contexts before they can use the words confidently themselves. Consider the words we know as adults. There are some words that we use easily and regularly in conversation. There are other words that we understand when those around us use them, but we rarely or never use those words ourselves. There are also words that are familiar to us, but that we don’t fully understand the meaning of and can’t use independently.

If we want children to build their vocabulary, we need to expose them to new words and also ensure they understand what they mean. Then, they need many opportunities to use the words.  

Lots of Talking

One way to help children develop their vocabulary is by talking to them. Engage children in conversations and be purposeful with your words. Use descriptive language, such as adjectives and adverbs. Instead of simply saying, “Look at the cat outside,” say, “Look at the brown, fluffy cat outside.” Pose questions. Ask your child how he’s feeling, what he’s doing, where he would like to go, what he would like to eat, and other questions throughout the day. When necessary, explain what words mean. Children are less likely to use words if they don’t know what they mean and when to use them. Take the time to explain meanings then remember to use the word again in future conversations.  

Along with talking, don’t forget to do a fair share of listening, too. Children need opportunities to respond, allowing them to practice their vocabulary and experiment with new words they have heard. 

Surround Them With Books

Books are a fantastic way to help children expand their oral language. There are many books geared towards toddlers that display pictures with labels. These are helpful when teaching little ones new words. It is also beneficial to read stories to young children. As you read picture books, talk with your child about what is happening in the book, ask questions, and let them point things out. 

Word Games

Simple word games can help expand a child’s vocabulary. Try playing “I Spy” together. This game encourages children to look around their environment and name objects they see. If they’re unsure of a word, they can describe what they’re looking at and ask for help.

Rhyming words also help children develop their vocabulary. Take a couple of minutes to rhyme with your child while you’re in the car, waiting in line, or out for a walk. Try starting with a simple word, like “cat,” and see if your child can identify a word that rhymes with it. As an added benefit, being able to rhyme can support children when they are learning to read and write. 

Poems, Nursery Rhymes, and Songs

Just as books introduce children to new vocabulary, so do poems, nursery rhymes, and songs. When children learn these, they can have fun reciting them many times. This provides them with opportunities to say the words over and over, helping them to become more comfortable with using them in their everyday oral language. 


Vocabulary worksheets and printables provide children with purposeful practice learning and confirming new words. Worksheets can be thematic, focusing on specific and relevant vocabulary. For example, a summertime worksheet can teach vocabulary like “flip-flops,” “picnics,” and “insects.” In addition to introducing vocabulary, worksheets can provide practice with using words correctly. 

There are many ways to help children develop their vocabulary. Choose from the ideas above and easily incorporate quick, fun doses of word work into your child’s day.





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