Build That Vocabulary

Don’t underestimate the importance of helping children build their vocabularies!  The more words your student knows, the better reading and writing will be.  Vocabulary knowledge supports reading by improving comprehension.  It makes writing faster, more efficient, more specific and more vivid.  Poor vocabulary will lead to a limited understanding of text and to boring, laborious writing.  So how can you help?

  • Read, Read, Read!  The power of reading is amazing.  When students read, their minds almost automatically absorb new words like a sponge.  This is because the meaning of many unfamiliar words can be subconsciously figured out using context clues.  For example, if the text contained “Peter was likely to be late, and apt to forget his supplies as well,”  most readers will automatically equate apt with “likely.”  This is because of the way the sentence is constructed.  There are two parts, and readers know that they are equal in importance because of the conjunction “and.”  The “as well” phrase shows us that the two parts are closely connected.  Our minds almost automatically realize that apt means about the same thing as likely, even if we are unfamiliar with the word.  It’s a marvelous process, but it can only happen if a person reads and reads.
  • Play Word Games.  No matter what your student’s age is, there are word games you can play together.  From Hangman with the very young to commercial games like Scrabble with middle elementary students on up, word games should be a part of your weekly recreation routines in your family.  When you play word games together, you will be teaching your child new words almost every time you play.  You naturally know more words than most children, and you have them closer at hand, so to speak.  You can call them up more readily.  So, when you play, you will think of words that your child is less familiar with and that will open the door to talking about their meanings and usage.  Some people might worry about fairness when competing against a child.  After all, you don’t want to clobber the kid with your score every single time you play!  If you are playing against a young or inexperienced player, remember that you can modify the rules to favor the youngster if you wish.  You can also limit yourself and play words for fewer points than you might otherwise choose.  For example, in the commercial game of Boggle, three letter words are perfectly legal.  However, they are also often common and easy to read and spell, so your child might be trying to make a lot of them.  Try only writing down words with four or five letters and larger.  These have a higher point value anyway, so your scores may end up in the same range.
  • Converse with your child.  It’s amazing, but children today spend little if any time in true conversation with adults.  Part of the problem is the incredible amount of time spent with electronics.  Part of it is the shrinking amounts of time we actually spend interacting with our children due to jobs and other adult commitments, and part of it is that we parents spend a lot of our interaction time correcting, directing or reprimanding the kids.  Be intentional about actually having a give-and-take conversation with your child each and every day.  It takes practice, but talk about their opinions and experiences, tell stories and remember fun things together.  Talk to your child as you would to a friend or adult loved one, with respect and love, and you will naturally help the little one gain access to new words and ideas as well as hone a vital life skill.
  • Create experiences to talk about.  Sometimes life needs a little bit of help!  Take your child places, do new things together, and share experiences.  You can do chores together, visit the park, go to a concert or hit the museum.  Try the zoo, the library, and the store.  The more you see and do with your child (and the earlier the better), the more you will have to talk about in the days, weeks and months to come.

Building vocabulary is not just a school skill!  The kids with the widest vocabularies have support from all parts of their lives, but especially from home.  After all, your child’s teacher only has access to the kid’s mind for six hours a day, nine months of the year.  That leaves a huge amount of time at home or in other situations.  Take advantage of it!  Be intentional about working with words and watch your child’s reading, writing and grades improve!

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Summer Reading-Ready, Set, Go!

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.
Sir Francis Bacon English author, courtier, & philosopher (1561-1626)

Ah, Summer!  It’s a great time to relax and forget all about school for a while, right?  WRONG!  Learning is a year-round proposition, and your students need to keep their brains active even in the summer time.  Teachers everywhere will thank you if you at least encourage your kids to read and respond to a few books during the school vacation.  Summer reading is actually a vital part of education!  Here are some ideas to encourage your middle and high school readers, especially if they are college-bound.  A well-read student is much more likely to succeed at those high-stakes tests and at upper level classes.  Being widely-read also builds writing skills and vocabulary skills, which are also essential to success.  Check out some of these titles this summer, and don’t stop with simply reading them.

Be sure to insist that your student responds to the book in some fashion, as well.  This is the purpose of the traditional book report, but that’s far from your only option.  Try making a newspaper related to the story, writing a diary for a character or a series of letters between characters, putting on a play, doing a book review, making a time line, filling in a graphic organizer or designing a poster or book jacket.  You could even create a museum display about the book!  Let your imagination run wild to make the most of summer reading, and READ, READ, READ!

  • The Call of the Wild by Jack London (reading level 4.0) is a classic story of a pampered city dog suddenly thrust into the life-or-death world of the Yukon in the gold rush era.  The book will be of interest to older elementary students on up and may particularly appeal to boys with its high dose of adventure and action.
  • Jane Eyre  by Charlotte Bronte is a hefty dose of character study wrapped in Victorian times.  Get lost in the story of Jane’s life and times.  The reading level is 7.9 and the appeal is likely to be high school girls.
  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes is a not-to-be-missed classic.  Readers will recognize a host of sayings that have slipped into everyday language while they laugh at the adventures of Don Quixote and his servant.  For deeper thinkers, it is quite a commentary on the social rules of the day and on chivalry.  The reading level is high at 13.2, but for good readers, it’s not to be missed.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is another classic that your student should read before the end of high school.  The love story is set in the 1920’s and features a wealthy man and his infatuation with a beautiful young lady.  The reading level is 7.3 and the interest level is generally high school.
  • The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe C.S. Lewis creates a fanciful world inside a piece of furniture in this classic fantasy novel.  The reading level is 5.7 and the story is likely to appeal to nearly everyone.  It also makes a great read-aloud book for younger or less able readers.  The book is actually the second in the series, so if your students like it, try to find the rest-they are well worth the effort.

Of course there are literally millions of other choices out there.  Don’t be shy about asking teachers, librarians or book store workers for suggestions that will be exactly right for your student.  Make it a priority and your child will reap huge benefits down the road.