Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Vocabulary Building Ideas for Reluctant Readers

Readers, new and experienced, often run into difficulties when they aren’t familiar with the vocabulary used in their reading. They may be able to decode the words (sound them out) but if they don’t know what the word means, they’re going to have problems.

Running into unfamiliar words occasionally is a good thing – it’s what helps us grow as readers. Running into them repeatedly makes us want to just set the book down … permanently.

The two most powerful tools for increasing vocabulary are conversation and reading. Don’t hesitate throwing in some challenging words when you converse with your children. They’ll either figure them out in context or ask you about them. And when they use a word you’re unfamiliar with (lots of kids’ slang is a mystery to us adults …) don’t be afraid to ask what the word means. By modeling this asking behavior, your children may be more willing to ask when they don’t know a word.

Reading, of course, can give a huge boost to vocabulary. This is when read alouds are especially powerful. Come across an unfamiliar word? Try to guess the meaning from the context and then look it up if you’re still not sure.

Struggling readers seldom learn new vocabulary as they read. This is because so much effort goes into the actual work of decoding words and making sense of the sentences. This is not a good time to ask your child to stop and look up words. It will most likely make a difficult task harder. Just tell your child what the word means, or if you are unsure, why not offer to look it up yourself?

Here are some other suggestions for vocabulary building at home. Consider trying one or more of them.

Present words in related groups. Our brains like new information to be organized. Try brainstorming words that fit in categories.

Games are great! For these games, create a list of target words (school vocabulary, fun words, whatever you like) and post them for everyone to see. A thesaurus is great for this.

• Whoever is it chooses a word from the list and starts drawing.
• The other players can guess at any time but can guess only once until everyone has had a chance to guess. Then they can guess again, if no one has guessed correctly
• Once someone guesses correctly, both the drawer and the guesser get a point.

• Same rules as in Pictionary, except you act the word out instead of drawing it.

Vocabulary Bingo
• This works best with more than 2 players. Collect words to learn/reinforce, plus their definitions (ex. agrarian: having to do with farming or rural life) or sentences that include them (ex. A farming community is an ______ community. [agrarian])
• Write the words in random order on bingo sheets (paper marked into grids of 9 or 25 squares).
• Write the words and their definitions (or fill-in-the-blank sentences) on index cards.
• Take turns being the caller (important!). The caller reads the definition and the others mark the words on their bingo cards.
• The first one to get a vertical, horizontal or diagonal line of markers wins. Markers can be squares of paper, buttons, coins, whatever.

Go Fish Games (basic rules)
• Together, create cards by writing pairs of words that mean the same on index cards.
• Play Go Fish, except instead of asking “Do you have a 3?” you’ll ask, “Do you have a word that means the same as (or is a synonym for) happy?”
• Same as above, just create pairs of antonym (opposites) cards.

WEBSITES This site has a ton of games, so explore to find the ones your child likes.

Sheppard Software This is a commercial site, but there are plenty of free games. The grammar games at the top are quite instructional and way more fun that grammar class. Again, I suggest you do these together, to increase the fun.

Free Rice This is a very cool vocabulary website and one I’ve been playing for years.

I hope you find some fun ways (fun is important!) to ease more words into your child’s vocabulary. Chances are you’ll learn new words too! —Gail Terp

Gail Terp is a retired elementary school teacher. She writes childrens’ books. Connecting kids to books they love is her passion. Gail’s blog—Best Blog for Kids Who Hate to Read—is a 3-day-a-week blog: Monday - Books; Wednesday - Parent Post; Friday - Fun Stuff. Follow her on Twitter @gailterp

Langley’s Letter Dolls (seen above) are available on Etsy and at their own website.

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