What is meant by the word gap in schools?

What is meant by the word gap in schools?

Oxford University Press (OUP) has already published an insightful paper covering the topic of the ‘word gap’, in the data collected from 1,300 teachers, 49% of primary teachers said children in Year 1 have a limited vocabulary and 43% of secondary teachers told the OUP that Year 7 children have the same issue. This is a realistic view of what the ‘word gap’ really means.

Children without a strong enough vocabulary will struggle to transition throughout school years, due to a difficulty in understanding instructions and a lack of skill in communicating with others during play and social periods. Their lack of vocabulary can lead to a lessening of self-esteem, confidence and as a result, ultimately lead to an inevitable challenge in achieving at school.


How to tackle the issue of the word gap

In the same OUP report, 69% of primary school teachers believe the word gap is increasing along with 60% of secondary school teachers who believe the same is happening. What can be done to tackle this major issue? The report also gathered a range of advice from the respondents, on tactics to address the issue. Here’s a number of the options that the report laid out:


  1. Being read to is hugely beneficial for children

A huge 93% of primary school teachers surveyed in the OUP paper said the main issue with lack of vocabulary, stems from children missing out on reading for pleasure. There is a higher chance of coming across new words in the written form than there is in spoken language, coupling with the enjoyment of an interesting story can be highly beneficial.

The more varied the reading range, the more flexible a child can become with their own language too. Therefore, it’s good to advance children by reading aloud to them, they may then experience words that they can’t yet read themselves, but it gives them opportunity to find out more about the words being used by adults!

Try some of our reading spines and English skills boxes to engage the classroom.


  1. Spark an investigative nature for words

Make the business of finding new words fun. Always encourage children to find words they don’t understand and have them ask the meaning and why it was used in the context it was. Talk and ask as many questions as possible.


  1. Mix it up with communication

Using more complex language will inevitable inspire on children looking to learn a wider vocabulary, try not to use dry statements e.g. “could you pass me that pen?” and instead try to exaggerate and detail the task for children, e.g. “could you wander over, gently pick up the pen and quickly return it to me?”

Never go with a plain adjective such as; ‘it’s nice’, try to get deeper into the emotion and experience for children, e.g. “this ice cream is incredible!”


  1. Make the dictionary and thesaurus key tools

It’s perfect for children to have access to dictionaries and thesauruses of the right level, at all times, where possible. Improvements to their vocabulary and spelling, will come hand-in-hand with ready access. Write down every word that a child doesn’t understand when you’re reading to them and simply come back to it later. As soon as children have a grasp of basic dictionary skills, they can encounter new words every day using this method!


  1. Check for understanding

Never assume that a child knows the meaning of a word even if they sometimes say it in conversation. Ever had that problem as an adult? When someone asks you what a word means but you can’t actually define it on the spot! It’s the same for children, only with a larger number of words… Take time to put words into different sentences and test their understanding.


You can shop our entire reading, English and dictionary ranges on our website. You can access the full Oxford University Press paper, ‘Why Closing the Word Gap Matters’ here.