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How to help your child understand the vocabulary used at secondary school

When your child starts at their new secondary school, they will come across some new words that they may not have heard before.

At secondary school, there are some new lessons that they won’t have done before or that may have different names to ones they used at primary, for example, food technology or music.

They will be expected to use equipment in some lessons that they haven’t used before, such as Bunsen burners and science goggles. There may be buildings or rooms in the school that they haven’t heard of before, for example science lab.

There might be words they know but that can also mean something different in some lessons.

It is helpful if your child has a chance to hear and learn these new words before they start secondary. It will help them feel more confident about finding their way round and understanding what is talked about in lessons.

How can I help my child understand words used at secondary school?

Use the glossary sheets in additional resources and information below that include lists of words with a picture and their meaning. You can use the picture sheets to play games to help the child learn the new words.

Stick some of the pictures on a wall or fridge

Once you can name them or describe them, put them on the ‘done’ pile and add some more. Can you get them all on the ‘done’ pile before September?


See how many you can name or describe when the ‘quiz master’ shows you them. Can you beat your score each time?

Category sorting

Have a pile of the equipment picture cards, choose 1 and decide whether it belongs to science, food technology, English or maths. If you want to make it challenging, cut off the borders or ask someone to tell you what is on the card so you don’t have a colour clue!


Lay several pictures out on the table. Ask your partner to describe 1 of them and see if you can tell you which 1 you were talking about. You could lay out the subject symbol cards and they describe the subject or you could lay out the equipment pictures and they describe what it is used for.


Put 2 sets face down on the table and take it in turns to turn over 2 cards. If you find a pair, you keep it. Remember to name or describe each card as you turn it.

To make this game a bit more challenging, you can match cards by:

An image of a spatula and a card saying the word spatula

The symbol and the name

An image of a globe in brackets, meant to mean the subject geography, and the words 'a lesson where you learn about the world and how people live in it'

The symbol and the subject description. These cards have a neutral border so the colour doesn’t give you the answer!

Two cards, the first with the word science and the second with the description 'a lesson where you learn things about biology, chemistry and physics'

The subject name and the description

Top tips

  • You can print multiple copies of the pictures if you want to play pairs or cut off coloured borders for a challenge
  • If your child isn’t a confident reader, just read the descriptions to them
  • Keep it fun – a little and often is better than doing a lot at once
  • Don’t panic if they can’t name or describe them all, just hearing them lots means they will recognise them when they hear or see them around school
  • Having the same subject pictures on their timetable can be useful, take a look at our resource about timetables.
  • You can put a small version of the summary sheets in their planners in case they want to refer back to them. See our resource about planners.
  • Repetition is key, the more a child hears the word, the better the chance of them remembering it

Additional information and resources

This resource is a glossary of words you will hear in secondary school: https://library.sheffieldchildrens.nhs.uk/glossary-of-words-you-will-hear-in-secondary-school/

This resource is a glossary of subjects  you will hear in secondary school: https://library.sheffieldchildrens.nhs.uk/glossary-of-subjects-that-you-will-hear-in-secondary-school/

Contact us

For more information please contact the Speech and Language Therapy Service at Flockton House on 0114 226 2333.

Is something missing from this resource that you think should be included? Please let us know

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Please note this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s. The details in this resource may not necessarily reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If you have specific questions about how this resource relates to your child, please ask your doctor.

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