Why It Works copy

What does the research tell us about how to best teach vocabulary?

In short, a child’s home lays the foundation for their literacy knowledge, so frequent and varied oral interactions with children are crucial. Reading aloud to them is also irreplaceable, as this exposes children to new words, multiple meanings, nuances and a variety of sentence structures. As children enter school, they are learning an astonishing 2,000 to 3,000 words per year, or 6-8 per day. But these tend to be the more basic word forms such as friend and friendly, and also multiple meanings like the word bear as in: ‘I cannot bear to see the bear in the cage at the zoo’. With the burden on teachers to teach homonyms, core curriculum spellings and other required words, it becomes increasingly difficult to deliver to children the rich words that bring meaning to life - words such as extraordinary and marvelous instead of nice, or malicious and diabolical instead of nasty. These are the words that they will discover in the books they read, and also help them build character and expression in their communications. This is where Mrs Wordsmith can help.

See our complete and comprehensive research brief here.  <LINK to RESEARCH>

What is the recommended age range?

Mrs Wordsmith is aimed at children aged 5 to 11 years but we think Mum and Dad will enjoy it as well.

Are there different levels for different ages?

For many words, especially novel or less frequently used words, there is no specific age of acquisition. That is, no one can claim that the word marvellous is better suited to 9- year-olds, 7-year-olds or even 37-year-olds.  Our target age group is 5-11 because this is a period of rapid word acquisition for children, and because children with poor vocabularies during these early years fall behind in all academic areas relative to their peers who know more words. But words in and of themselves are ageless, so it doesn’t matter if you learn how to use vile at age 5 or 45. The implication is that anyone from siblings to parents can derive benefit from the guided reinforcement of more sophisticated English language.

How can this work in only 10 minutes a day? It sounds too good to be true.

Mrs Wordsmith’s curriculum is based on the mantra of ‘a little bit often’.  Language research shows that cramming is less effective than frequent exposures, particularly with children under the age of 10.  In scientific communities, this is referred to as ‘spaced repetition’, or getting multiple exposures in snack-size bites to improve retention. It is the methodology behind most successful foreign language learning programs. Furthermore, even if your child does not master all of the words (most kids will not), according to vocabulary researchers, even partial knowledge of a word is beneficial. For example, if a child doesn’t know how to use hideous in a sentence, but when hearing it understands that it is a negative word, she has set the stage to increase her understanding in subsequent encounters with the word.

What kinds of words will my child learn?

Everyday conversation does not come close to supplying individuals with the vocabulary necessary to understand what they read, or to write effectively. Consider that even preschool books contain college-level vocabulary, and that found in children’s books is twice as rich as adult conversation! MWS introduces words that enable children to access this more ‘literate’ world of words; one that opens doors to literature and academic life. So instead of relying on trite phrases like, ‘That sounds great’, you may find your child saying ‘That sounds extraordinary’. Similarly, they might ditch words like stinky or skinny in favour of more colorful words like putrid or gaunt. These are not complicated words to say or use, they just do not appear in most spoken English.[l9] [l10] While many of our words include descriptive vocabulary to enrich spoken and writing word knowledge, many boxes are designed around grammatical such themes as Latin roots, prefixes, suffixes, similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia, personification, and so on. We will also create boxes with zany words used by popular authors like Roald Dahl and Michael Morpurgo. Sign up for our email newsletter so we can keep you informed.

Does Mrs Wordsmith’s program cover material my child learns at school?

Box set topics and material are chosen to augment what kids are learning in school, and to encourage a love and fascination of words. In consultation with experts like our curriculum advisor Dr. Lesley Sand (link to her bio) as well as leading schools and teaching staff, we have focused on words that expand children’s vocabulary, thereby enhancing their oral and written communication skills as well as their reading comprehension. But over time, we will also include vocabulary covering other areas typically taught in school, such as history, geography, art, and science. And as we have already suggested, we will incorporate vocabulary used frequently by established authors like Michael Mopurgo, David Walliams, Roald Dahl and JK Rowling to support children with their comprehension of widely-read children's literature.

Will Mrs Wordsmith’s program help with 7+, 8+, 11+ examinations?

MWS purpose is to improve your child's oral vocabulary understandings and use, which will in turn have a positive impact on their reading comprehension and expressive writing skills. By doing so, we'll provide children with an inbuilt and powerful competitive advantage over their peers who know fewer words. However, our material is not specifically directed to any exam preparation.

How long do I need to use MWS to make a difference in my child’s vocabulary?

It is impossible to predict how each child will learn. However, we do know that at least 6 exposures to a word are needed for mastery, or being able to use it correctly in a variety of contexts. Also, frequent reminders at spaced intervals are better than learning all at once. So, throughout each month, children are exposed to and encouraged to use their new words, thus achieving multiple repetitions for sustained retention.
Every box set covers a new set of vocabulary words, but both the narrative and the activities also include ‘old’ words as often as possible. Therefore, the longer your child uses the program, the richer their vocabulary will become. A major benefit of using MWS is developing your child's ‘word consciousness’ or interest and curiosity in words. This is a vital attribute for children to acquire if they are to become independent word learners. For this, our experts recommend you use the product for at least 3 months.

What about children with different learning profiles?

Mrs Wordsmith is aimed at children with varying academic abilities and word knowledge. A large body of academic research concludes that vocabulary instruction is the fastest way to narrow achievement gaps, and when it comes to words, ‘the rich get richer and the poor get poorer’.  See research report. Link. So, it is never too early or too late to increase a child’s word power.

My child is gifted, and reads a lot, so she already knows a lot of words. Does she need this?

For avid readers who already possess an impressive word bank, we have devised the ideal solution to increase their head start further still by enriching their vocabularies with words mum and dad might not even know! For these kids, we have included ‘challenge words’ to stretch their imaginations. So, instead of working with 50-60 core words they may already be familiar with, their focus will include 30-40 more words to inspire and delight. (Such is our love of words that we simply couldn't confine ourselves to serving up only 50 or so words per box.)

Does Mrs Wordsmith program work for children with dyslexia?

MWS is an excellent tool for increasing oral word knowledge of children with dyslexia. Being poor readers who are usually unable to read at a level that matches their intellect, they are confined to reading boring basal readers and will often resist reading altogether. While non-readers will need a ‘helper’ to read the words and/or basic directions, there should be no limit to the number of words they can learn and remember, especially with the illustrations as memory enhancements. Also, dyslexic kids often lack confidence in their academic abilities, and we know that larger vocabularies are associated with increased confidence in children.

Does Mrs Wordsmith program work for children with dysgraphia?

MWS is not specifically aimed at written expression, even though the exercises include writing. While knowing more words will improve both writing and reading comprehension, those benefits are secondary to our mission of opening kids’ eyes to the world of words. This said, students with dysgraphia will benefit from working with a helper, or simply doing the exercises orally, since their poor fine motor skills will not impede their ability to learn new words.

My child is a reluctant reader. I could never get him to do this.

One of the reasons children hate to read is poor comprehension. If they have to skip over several of the words in a passage because they don’t know them, they won’t understand the meaning and end up feeling deflated. And, like kids with dyslexia, if their intellect is higher than their word knowledge, books at their reading level will be boring. MWS can help these kids by showing them that learning new words doesn’t have to be laborious and dull. As a result, new descriptive words will ‘magically’ sneak into their store of known words. And once these kids are hooked, their vocabularies should take a robust turn for the better.

My child just can’t spell.  Will MWS help?

MWS is not designed to improve spelling skills. MWS words are chosen to increase knowledge about words, word forms, and usage. Therefore, they do not follow spelling patterns that would otherwise help solidify spelling knowledge. However, your child will be given the chance to write the words multiple times, so a side benefit may in fact be that they become a better speller.

I am so busy, working full time and barely keeping up the homework. How much adult involvement is required?

The activities are designed so that they can be completed independently by children who are readers.  For children who are still mastering reading, they will need a parent or helper with sufficient reading skills to understand directions and the narrative to assist them.  Plenty of evidence suggests that parental input is crucial to vocabulary development. Therefore, it is always better if parents or a helper spend 10 minutes a day with their children and MWS.

Doesn’t my child learn enough words in school?

To effectively expand their vocabulary, children must learn words both inside and out of school. MWS is not based on the national curriculum vocabulary lists; these are covered during the school year.  Instead, MWS focuses on building word consciousness in children, and also providing unexpected by useful words to enhance their vocabulary knowledge. Their new words will quickly become part of their conversations, and trickle down to their reading comprehension and creative writing efforts.

My child already gets a lot of homework at school. Why do we need to do more?

Our goal is not to create yet another homework task.  Instead, our mission is to bring the family together around the dinner table as much as possible and to enjoy words around mealtimes. For kids who can read, the activities are designed for them to complete alone in about 10 minutes whilst they ‘wait for mum to finish making dinner.’ [l15]

How does Mrs Wordsmith differ from tutoring?

While we encourage tutors to use MWS, we like to say ‘10 minutes a day keeps the tutor away’. MWS strives to put learning into a ‘want to’ rather than ‘have to’ exercise. Tutors by default evoke a ‘have to’ connotation, and are often met with resistance. A ‘want to’ disposition creates a stress-free and open-minded learning environment.  Besides, MWS is a gazillion times cheaper than any tutor we know of!

Are your materials environmentally friendly?

Yes, all the material is printed on recycled paper and where possible we use FSC or Rainforest Alliance certified paper products.

What if my child didn’t learn all the words by the end of the month?

Our goal is to introduce children to myriad new and engaging words, and encourage their curiosity about and interest in words. They will probably not remember all of the words from each box, but we will encourage them to choose and use their favourites. In addition, subsequent boxes will include previously introduced words to keep them alive in children's memory. Parents can also keep the word lists and sticky notes provided in each box, and use the new vocabulary frequently during conversations. And, as mentioned above, research shows that even partial understandings are essential precursors to word mastery.

How can I assess my child's monthly progress?

We will include a fun quiz your child can take at the end of each month. We will also include a checklist for parents if you want to use it to check for how well your kids understand the words.  

Do you offer any Mrs. Wordsmith workshops where parents/teachers can attend?

Yes, please ask your child’s school. We host a free 'How to Improve Your Child’s Writing in 10 Minutes a Day’ seminar on a regular basis.  If we are not currently scheduled at your school, we are happy to come if you invite us.