Pre-teaching key words and vocabulary

What are words worth?

Learning new words and key vocabulary develops our knowledge as a whole and improves our listening and reading comprehension. As adults, we tend to look at or listen to unfamiliar words and then work out how to say these and understand what they mean using our experience of other words and our existing knowledge. If we get really stuck, we may use a dictionary to help us.

Imagine you’re in a lesson and about to learn a new language for the first time. The teacher is talking to the class in the new language and you recognise some words but there are many more unfamiliar and puzzling words that you just don’t know. Whilst you’re focusing on these unfamiliar words, you’ve missed the next part of the teacher’s talk and are now playing catch up! You try looking at a book for help but have now missed the next part of the lesson. How do you feel as more and more unfamiliar words are introduced? Now you’re being asked to remember or write some of this new information using some of the words that you’ve heard.
Would you feel like giving up?

How would children with special needs feel about this experience?

Children with Global Delay, Anxiety Disorder or Autism wouldn’t need to be in a new language lesson to experience these feelings. They could be in Maths, Science, History, PE or just about any lesson to feel that they’re drowning in new terminology and explanations that are unfamiliar to them. To be constantly out of their depth across many different school subjects and to be continuously playing catch up whether in the class or with additional support after the lesson, doesn’t boost self-esteem, may cause stress and panic and probably won’t make learning enjoyable!

How can we help children feel empowered and ready to learn?

We tend to help children learn new words if they have a weekly spelling test and we’ll explain what words mean to them if they’re unsure. If we also do this for the topics that they’re learning about across different school subjects before they’re likely to meet them, we’re pre-teaching vocabulary to support their learning. When faced with a reading comprehension exercise that contains unfamiliar words which are key to the understanding of the text, we can help. Choose the main 5 or 6 words that will need to be pre-taught. Find out if your child knows these words by perhaps giving them a choice of 3 meanings that the word could mean. Look at the outcome to decide which words you’re then going to choose to pre-teach. Maybe they could match a picture with the correct word to show their understanding. Using the words that need to be learned, make a flashcard or PowerPoint presentation slide showing the word and an image (preferably a photo)to show its meaning. Use a clear image, a bold font and prepare a sentence underneath to show the use of this word in context. Show the word, say the word and its meaning. Have your child repeat this. Discuss whether you’ve ever seen this word before and where, and if you’ve seen actual examples of the word eg: timber house. Sometimes using hand representations or symbols can help those children who are kinesthetic learners remember the word. Maybe highlight any phonic knowledge that may help them remember the word eg: timber house. Particularly useful for younger learners. Look at the reading comprehension together and get your child to spot the words that you’re learning in the text. Maybe even highlight them with a pen. Using the word at least 10 times embeds it in their word bank. Listen to it, speak it, read it and write it. Maybe make a written word bank or computer list under different topic headings to remember the words and refer back to how many new words they’ve learned. Re-testing the words to show that they’ve learned new vocabulary and seeing their scores increasing does wonders for self-esteem!

For more inspiration or to practise reading comprehension, try our activities:

Reading comprehension activities


The template and method that we’re using here to introduce key words for ‘The Great Fire of London’ can be used across many school subjects. Displaying new words along with corresponding diagrams, pictures or clipart either on their bedroom wall, in a topic folder, on a key ring or as a word mat or flashcards for use in school and/or at home, may well give your child the head start they need to settle into learning about something new. You’re giving your child a chance to preview the word, say the word, understand the word and see what the word represents by using these visual aids. Symbols and pictures encourage children to think about the different features of a word, which taps into many areas of their word knowledge.

Writing word mat


Even just being able to say a new word, may make the child more likely to use it in their writing. EdPlace looks at how we can pre-teach key words for a common primary school history topic just before learning about it in class. This aims to raise self-esteem, enable your child to say and understand the words they’re about to meet and encourage them to use it in their writing. It’s worth asking your
child’s teacher what topics they’re going to be learning about each term across different subjects and asking if they’ve any suggestions about key words that they’d like you to pre-teach your child to prepare them for when they meet these in class. This has benefits for your child, the teacher and you! It may be that your child can then say the words or explain the meanings to others in their class when
they’re introduced. How would they be feeling now?

EdPlace has lots of supportive resources for pre teaching and planning activities. 

Take me to free resources


For more information and resources to help with pre-teaching vocabulary and High Frequency Word activities visit: - for information on using a structured pre-teaching vocabulary programme - for help with learning High Frequency Words in KS1 and KS2