Estimates exist that vocabularies can consist of 60,000 to 80,000 words or more by graduation from high school (Bloom, 2005; Miller and Gildea, 1987). We can’t possibly teach this number of words. Fortunately we don’t have to. This is due to the fact that teaching vocabulary relies on three equally important modes. 1) Discovering which of the words that are considered appropriate for a child’s age and abilities have not been learned; 2) Meaningful exposure; 3) Providing opportunity for meaningful use. Formal language testing may uncover some words within specific areas that are problematic, but criterion testing is important to determine a significant quantity of these words. Discovering these words may be more important, if not equally important, as actually teaching these words. This is because of the sheer quantity of words that children are expected to learn. We can’t teach them all, but we can provide exposure, opportunity, and critically – acceptable expectations.
For use in my own teaching, I’ve compiled lists of words for each of various language areas that SLPs typically address. The words that I’ve chosen are considered high impact and foundational for further learning. The key “curriculum” vocabulary words are almost entirely nouns and verbs. Other words are usually addressed when specific language deficits are addressed. The order comes from developmental data, state goals, benchmarks, and often educated guesswork. There is a variable developemental order for each linguistic unit. A preponderance of unknown words equals a deficit area. A preponderance of known words equals an area thay is likely not considered deficient. Many language categories are divided into basic, early elementary, later elementary, and advanced. Here is how this looks with adjectives, as one example:
Basic: ahead, alike, afraid, bad, behind, big, fat, funny, good, great, etc.
Early Elementary: angry, better, best, beautiful, bright, closed, covered, dizzy, etc.
Later Elementary: crooked, dull, equal, exact, gorgeous, grumpy, handsome, level, etc.
Advanced: backward, precise, rectangular, slanted vast, etc.
Division into linguistic units such as adjectives is done merely to facilitate teaching. This facilitation is possible because of tendencies in children’s unassisted learning. Without help, a child with a few errors in one area tends to have errors concentrated in that area. Because there’s a potentially infinite number of adjectives, the grammatical class of adjectives is considered open-ended, which is the reason for each division’s “etc.” ending. Once it is discovered which words a child doesn’t, but should, know, this information can be passed on to parents, teachers, and to the students themselves.
Many grammatical categories are considered closed-ended. A developmental hierarchy can be established for them as well. Here is the closed-ended class of conjunctions:
Common Coordinating: and, but, so, or
Common Subordinating: after, because, before, for, if, so, unless, until, when
Less Common Coordinating: nor, for, yet
Later Developing Subordinating: although, as, as if, once, since, than, that, though, till, whenever, where, wherever, whether, while
Correlative: both/and, either/or, just/also, neither/nor, not only/but also, whether/or
Coordinating conjunctions tend to develop prior to subordinating, because they generally signify a simpler relationship. Conjunctions that are common tend to come before ones that are not common as they express more frequently occurring concepts. Using and to talk about the coexistence of two things occurs more often than using yet to talk about the differences between two things. It should be stressed that these are tendencies, and not set in stone. But, as with developmental articulation tendencies, these too can be used to our teaching advantage. As with articulation normative data, the hierarchies are not meant to be followed rigidly. They are only meant to provide flexible guidance.
Generally, especially with semantic areas such as categories, functions, similarities and differences, and unlimited word categories, such as adjectives, nouns, verbs, and adverbs, there are more words to be learned as the child advances in age. As students get older, the vocabulary gets more focused within various subject areas. There is a large amount of words that an older student interested in math should know specific to math compared to a student expecting to go into health care. As with younger students, the only way to address an older student’s specific language needs is to start off by determining what words that student should know.
For vocabulary word lists, presented in developmental order, for a wide variety of language areas, please refer to my other site: freelanguagestuff.com.