How to Improve Your Vocabulary With One Book

1100 wordsSummer’s here.  More time for relaxing, reading, and learning.  Yes, even though school is out and vacation is on, you’ve got to keep challenging your brain.  

Of course  reading by itself will increase your vocabulary, but you can also take a more focused approach.  Let me introduce a wonderful book.

A long time ago on this blog, I mentioned my eighth grade English teacher, Mrs. Giles, the lady who instilled a profound respect for grammar in my 13 year-old-self.  She terrified me, but I learned a lot.  

One of the things I clearly remember from middle school academics, besides diagramming sentences (does anybody do that any more?) was that we didn’t have spelling lists; we had vocabulary words.  We used a paperback “text” called 1100 Words You Need to Know.  Five new words each day, with a review on Friday.  

What kind of words?  Exactly the ones you come across in literature, periodicals, and, if you are of the right age, the PSATs and SATs.  For example: voluble, eschew, and repudiate.

I kept 1100 Words through college, until the edges curled and the cover ripped.  When my son entered middle school, I remembered the little gem of a resource and hoped I could find one.  My ratty copy had somehow disappeared.

Luckily, it’s still in print!  I ordered four copies from Amazon, one for each child.  

I love the book because it’s so easy to work with.  Each day, you read a short paragraph with five new words in it.  You glean the meaning of each word based on context clues, then complete brief matching and fill in the blank activities.  There is also an idiom introduced and explained each day, like “the writing on the wall.”

On day five, you complete a review.  There are additional activities at the end of the book.  Everything is short and quick, but necessary, because if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.

I just love note cards... color coded
I just love note cards… color coded of course!

At first, my son did the matching and fill in the blank activities for each day on our way up to soccer practice.  But then I realized that he went through the exercises quickly and wasn’t necessarily retaining much.  So, this summer, he will start making flash cards to use in the future.

I haven’t told him that part yet.  But five flash cards a day?  How bad can that be?  Maybe I’ll just have him make cards for the ones he doesn’t already know.  I hate busy work as much as any kid.

And when PSAT time rolls around, he’ll thank me.  In fact, after the first day of words, he said, “This is kinda fun.”  You see, he looks like his father, but inside, he’s a word nerd like me.

I also ask him to quiz me on the words each day, just so I can prove my word nerdy-ness to him, as well as review those tough ones I’ve forgotten.  🙂

How do you learn new words?  Have you ever used a book like 1100 Words?

I hope you’re having a great start to your summer!


Julia Tomiak
I believe in the power of words to improve our lives, and I help people find interesting words to read. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Google+. Member of SCBWI and


  1. I sincerely appreciate this information, it really assist people to improve their English vocabulary. please continue with your excellent work Julia, I love it.

  2. I have my bachelors and the only thing that’s preventing me from doing my masters, is because I am afraid that my grammar and vocabulary is not on a Master’s level. Do you have any suggestions?

    1. Great question. You definitely shouldn’t let grammar stop you from pursuing a Master’s degree. I bet you could find grammar review books or even some grammar courses online- I’ve seen basic writing courses for free or very cheap. I’m going to do some research and get back to you. Also, your comments didn’t initially show up because you are “new”- now that I’ve approved this comment, you should see future comments publish right away. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a question!

    2. Mesha, I’ve done a little research and talked to some friends. First, a great, concise book that’s a quick read is The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. It covers the high points of grammar. I also currently use Grammatically Correct by Anne Stilman from Writers Digest Publishing. For free online courses on writing/ style, check out OWLY, offered by Perdue University as well as writing courses at Coursera.
      Hope this helps!

      1. I ordered The Elements of Style and a few other books that were recommended on Amazon with good reviews. I will go on-line to that website that you recommended. Thank You for your help. I will keep you informed on my progress. Once again, Thank You!

          1. I posted a comment on Facebook. Can you tell me if my grammar is correct.
            Thank You!

            I’ve been told, by mentors, that forgiveness is something that you do for yourself, and not for others.
            I am grateful,for the obstacles that I have faced, throughout life’s journey. I am not perfect, but I have realized that, I am still a Child of God in progress.
            Forgive! Grateful! Love!
            Be Blessed!

          2. I’m not an expert, but here’s what I suggest: you can leave out some of the commas. Specifically, the ones after “do for yourself”, “I am grateful”, “I have faced” and “I have realized that”. In writing, we don’t insert commas where we might pause when speaking. We usually use commas to set apart clauses. The one after “I am not perfect” works because it links two independent clauses (two sentences that could stand alone if the conjunction “but” wasn’t there.) Hope that’s not too nerdy. It’s after 8pm, and I’m getting flaky.

  3. I haven’t seen this book, but I love the concept! I have a book on SAT words, leftover from prep classes. Somewhere in my stack I have a book called Word Stems, and THAT has been a great resource. We can always use vocab helps!

  4. What?? I have never even heard of this book. A travesty. Hmmm… I am such a word nerd, I may just have to order this for myself:) I loved my old dictionary, and I don’t know what became of it. Need to order a new one of those too!

  5. This sounds like a great resource! We had a vocab list every week in AP Lit class, with a quiz each Friday. It was really helpful when the P/SATs rolled around. And, to this day, I credit the vocab word ‘fecundity’ for helping me score a 5 on my AP English exam!

    1. I had to look up fecundity just to make sure I knew it- I’m sure it’s one of those 1100 words! And so everybody knows, fecund = prolific; fruitful in offspring or vegetation, also intellectually productive. I feel a post coming on…
      Thanks Nicole!

  6. FYI- We had to teach diagramming sentences at the school where I taught in Georgia! It’s totally useless and not a good way to learn grammar; I was always so frustrated by it!

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