It really is possible to improve vocabulary for Verbal Reasoning, writing and comprehension by regularly using a dictionary and thesaurus to increase word knowledge.
These two books are easily and cheaply purchased in compact forms and they provide indispensable word tools – every pupil should have their own copy of both. If you are buying a thesaurus ensure that it is arranged alphabetically in an A to Z edition rather than the more complicated version that is arranged into ideas/concepts. Pupils who like to use a computer for their work can access dictionaries and thesauruses online or as tools in Word-processing programmes.
Increasing Word Knowledge
We all know how useful a dictionary is to provide us with the meaning of a word but they can also tell you where the word came from, the pronunciation, what part of speech it is (noun, adverb etc.) and how it can be changed into a new word by adding prefixes or suffixes. How about playing dictionary games with your family in which someone uses the dictionary to find an unknown word and writes down the real definition and everyone else writes down a fake (and funny) definition? Try to fool people with your fake definitions and you’ll learn the real one in the process. There are many ‘word bluff’ games on the market that use this idea.
A thesaurus will not only tell you what a word means but will also provide many alternate words that can be used in place of the chosen word – these are synonyms. For example, if you looked up the word ‘great’ you would find many suitable synonyms for different contexts: enormous, immense, prodigious, outstanding, renowned, eminent, excellent, tremendous etc. You would also find words with the opposite meanings to your chosen word – these are antonyms and some of the antonyms for ‘great’ are small, poor, unimportant etc., depending on the use of the word ‘great’.
Why is it important to know synonyms and antonyms for the 11+?
These skills are tested in English and verbal reasoning by all examining bodies. In addition, some selective schools’ entrance exams will include a writing composition. Replacing simple vocabulary with a good synonym will greatly improve your writing, making it more ‘colourful’ and using antonyms helps to emphasize your point; show contrast; or explain exactly what you mean.
Resources for building vocabulary
Online Practice Papers
Exams by CEM tend to have a large percentage of synonym/antonym and other vocabulary questions so no matter which exam provider you are preparing for, making use of CEM-style practice papers is a great way to build vocabulary (along with numeracy and non-verbal skills).
There are ten CEM-style (mixed subject) practice papers in My 11PLUS (to find these, simply type ‘CEM’ in the search box on the Test List) which are very handy as part of exam preparation. Some of these tests are printable.
Remind students to note down any words that they were unsure of so that they can look them up. Making a ‘word bank’ of synonyms and antonyms will improve vocabulary as will matching pair games where you can either match synonyms together or synonyms together with their antonyms.