Why Rare Words?


Why are rare words so important?

  • Exposure to rare words expands a child’s vocabulary. Teaching rare words is a purposeful attempt at targeting words above a child’s language level. “The eventual strength of our vocabulary is determined, not by the 10,000 common words, but by the rare words that we understand,” (Trelease).
  • The more words a child knows, the easier it is to learn new words. It is easier to learn knew words when you can make comparisons between words that have similar relationships. For example, “cat/ kitten” or “hungry/famished.”
  • The more words a child knows, the easier it is to read. It is easier to read with speed and confidence—as well as understanding (and joy!)—when you are familiar with most of the word you encounter. “Once reading begins, personal vocabulary feeds (or frustrates) comprehension,” (Trelease).
  • A child’s vocabulary upon entering school is the most important indicator of success in school. The more words a child know, the better he or she will understand and absorb what is being taught.
  • Rare words make up more and more of what one must know in order to understand ideas in print.

So what qualifies as a 'rare' word?

 “Rare” words have been defined as the following:

  • Those words beyond the 10,000 most common words (known as the “Common Lexicon”) used in daily conversation
  • Words that are not commonly used in spoken language but often appear in print
  • Words that children are not likely to know at a particular age

    Why is storybook reading so important for learning rare words?

    • High-quality children’s books contain three times as many rare words as everyday speech (and more than TV shows, conversation among college graduates, and expert witness testimony!).
    • Even books that do not have a great deal of text, such as children’s picture books and board books, contain rare words. The language used in storybooks, and even in nursery rhymes, is different from what we use in speech. Adults may not consider these words rare but children would. Reading story books introduces children to rare words and they become part of their growing vocabulary.
    • Children acquire vocabulary more easily when they hear and learn new words in context. For example, words like “rocket,” “astronaut,” “gravity,” and “orbit” are far easier to learn and remember in an exciting storybook with pictures on space travel than from a vocabulary list.
    • Children like to hear the same books over and over. Repetition accelerates vocabulary development by allowing for deeper immersion.
    • Picture books are a great way to introduce rare words because you can often point to the picture to demonstrate or explain a new word.

    “The least expensive thing we can give a child outside of a hug turns out to be the most valuable: words.”  –Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook

    To learn more about the research behind early childhood literacy, check out the resources section of the Calgary Reads website.

    - Aditya Banerjee
    Vice President of Vocabulary
    Rare Words Boutique