How to Build your Child’s Vocabulary for the SSAT

As a teacher of the SSAT, I notice patterns in what children typically get wrong. In my experience, the synonyms and analogies sections, portions that are very vocabulary dependent, tend to be trouble spots. I can confidently state that the reason for students’ inadequate performance here is poor vocabulary. The good news is that this can certainly be remedied.

The first thing I would suggest is to not talk to children in a way other than you would talk to another adult. Children may not initially understand everything, but this gives them an opportunity to learn, as opposed to “baby talk”, which robs them of this opportunity.

Another helpful practice is to “live your life out loud”. As you are going about your day-to-day life with your children, you should narrate most of the things you do. Describe things you see, explain how things work, and explain what you do.

Do not underestimate the importance of the family meal. Not only does the back-and-forth conversation at the meal table help the kids socially, it helps them build their vocabulary. Make sure you turn off the television at meal time. Also, do not let your kids eat quickly and then rapidly leave the meal table without a chance to engage in the conversation.

A targeted focus for vocabulary building is helpful. Parents should help their kids find words to describe things they are interested in. This works particularly well once kids hit the age of three and become interested in specialized areas, such as trains, dinosaurs, automobiles, and sports. What this focused interest means is that they will be more motivated to learn vocabulary. When the child indicates interest in a topic, a strategy called “extending the conversation” should be employed. Try to have a back and forth conversation with the child going on for as long as you can about that topic. Many vocabulary words can be learned this way.

I cannot stress enough how important it is for the vocabulary-learning child to read. Also, the particular book, magazine, or newspaper article used doesn’t particularly matter. Remember, children will learn best from what they themselves are interested in.

Games are not only fun, they can also be quite useful. One particularly useful game is “twenty questions”, the game where you allow the child twenty questions to guess what it is you’re thinking of. Not only do they learn whatever word it is you’re thinking of better, they also have a chance to practice vocabulary as the questions move from being general to specific.

Regardless of the subject that is the focus for education, the child learns better if lessons do not end in the classroom. Lessons must continue at home, and the child needs to have a love of learning, whether they know they are learning or not. Learning does not have to be nor should it be an authoritarian-type approach. If these steps are followed, I am confident that your child will do better on the SSAT.