How to Improve Your Child’s Vocabulary: Part 3


In my previous post, I have focused on the theoretical aspects of building vocabulary. I discussed the various aspects of understanding words and why they are important. It is definitely going to be tough for a child to immediately remember so many different aspects of one word.

In this post, I am going to focus on a very practical topic – how to create a vocabulary book that helps your child and is practical to use. I am going to use five guiding principles to teach you how to create such a vocabulary book, using the word ‘procrustean‘ as an example.

Vocabulary Principle One: Establish a Clear Definition

To properly understand a word, you need to find out it’s definition. You should use an authoritative dictionary like the Oxford English Dictionary. Using the word procrustean as an example, you can see that its definition is a “system or a set of rules treating all people or things as if they are the same, without considering individual differences and in a way that is too strict and unreasonable.”

Vocabulary Principle Two: Place the Word in Context

To help you understand the word, you need to get a feel of how it’s used. This is just like how marine biologists will dive into oceans to study aquatic life. You can do it by making notes of how it is used or by constructing a sentence that clearly shows the meaning of the word. Using procrustean as an example again, you can use the following sentence, “Even though Jamie’s poem won the top prize at an internationally recognised poetry competition, the procrustean English teacher gave her an F for not dotting the i in her name.”

Vocabulary Principle Three: Make Connections to the Word 

By making connections to the word, you can help remember the word easier. This is especially if the connection is personal. Have you met someone who is completely inflexible and a stickler for rules and regulations? Now tag that person’s face with procrustean in your memory. Or you can tag it with something you are familiar with to make a connection.

Vocabulary Principle Four: Take a Deep Dive

To ensure that you understand the word, it is also important to dive deeper into the word. This means reading up on the origins of the word or finding out the root words that build the word and so on. For example, in Greek mythology, Procrustes was a bandit who would attempt to fit his victims in his iron bed. If they were too long, he’d cut off their feet and if they were too short, he would stretch them out. Thus a procrustean bed means an arbitrary standard to which something is forced to conform.

Vocabulary Principle Five: Grouping Words

This is the most important principle – do not write the words in alphabetical order. Or worse, as you learn the word. These two methods do not help in recollection. Rather, group the words based on their definitions. For example, you can group the words based on emotions or situations. For example, you can group the words kerfuffle, imbroglio, melee, hullabaloo, tussle, donnybrook and spat together as they all mean some form of conflict or fight. This is a proven way of organising words known as ‘semantic chunking’.


Having a strong vocabulary is not the result of reading a lot of books; though many people with strong vocabulary do read a lot of books. A strong vocabulary can be build up via using a vocabulary book – but we must be systematic about it to have the best chance of succeeding.

To help you get a start, a download with four words is provided. You can use this as an example of how to start the vocabulary book. Do note that the context section is left empty as it should be a personal connection. You can download it here.

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