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Building your vocabulary (middle school)

Do you remember your first word? Maybe it was ‘dada’ or ‘mama’ or ‘electroencephalogram’…. No? Just me then. But more importantly, can you remember the reaction to you saying that word? Probably not – but it probably went along the lines of your parents cartwheeling through the house shouting ‘my baby’s a genius!!!’.

Well fast-forward a few years and you’ll find that it can actually be the same with examiners and teachers as well. Now don’t get me wrong, examiners don’t see the word ‘dada’ and scream with joy before scribbling ‘A+’ onto your paper – but they are impressed by students with an impressive vocabulary. As a baby, you know no words – and so the first ones you use stand out and gain praise. However, as you get older, you know a certain number of words – but going beyond that will always have the same impressive effect. What we’re talking about is building vocabulary and taking on new words that other students your age may not be using.

The easiest way to learn new words is to be exposed to them. That means putting yourself in a situation where new words and phrases will be flying at you left, right and centre. The only place where this is usually the case, is in books – or in a library where the short-tempered librarian also happens to be the Russian dodgeball champion 2016.  However, after a long day at school, having the energy to read and do it well can be quite tricky; here are some tips to help you out.

Eat the Elephant

Now, this may sound a little unnerving, especially for those of you who indeed have a pet elephant sitting quietly in the corner of your room looking a bit nervous; but fear not – this is just a metaphor. If you had to eat an elephant, you’d feel pretty daunted. However, it could be done – but only if you ate it a piece at a time. It’s the same as books – picking up a 500 page novel, and seeing it’s 500 pages is usually when we decide to put it straight back down again, but if you pick up the same book and decide to read for only 15 minutes – that feels more doable. Across a whole week – that’s nearly two hours of non-stop reading, on top of all the reading you already do at school! So – read in small pieces and you’ll find that over time, they all build up!
Ask then Apply

Whenever you come across a new word, first try and guess what it means by using the words before and after as clues; when you look up the word later, if you find you were right, the word is more likely to stick in your brain because you spent time working it out! Once you understand the meaning of a new word, you should then try and apply it as much as possible – maybe associating it with people you know, places you’ve been or situations you’ve encountered. By slotting in a new word with memories you already have – it becomes easier for the brain to welcome them into the vocabulary family.


A new word is for life, not just for Christmas. Keeping new vocabulary alive in your brain is all about using it constantly, so make sure you do. Maybe you swap out an old, overused word for a new one that sounds better and has a deeper meaning. The more new vocabulary is used, the less easy it is to forget.

So – to summarise, building your vocabulary will always come in handy, in school and across your life. Whether it’s books, magazines, newspapers or online articles, break the reading into pieces, challenge yourself on new words and use them constantly – because a brain full of vocabulary is a brain full of value.