Friday, February 6, 2009

Building your child's vocabulary

Vocabulary skills are critical to success in school and life. The type of language we use influences what jobs we get, where we attend college, even who we eventually marry. Even if parents don’t read to their middle school child every night like they used to in elementary school, you can still help with vocabulary development. The following article which appeared in the SEDL Letter October 2007 contains some tips that can help parents help their kids in school. (Note: Where the author uses “teacher” substitute “parent”.)

““Text talk” is an approach to vocabulary instruction developed by Drs. Isabel Beck and Margaret that focuses on teaching words from stories and poems read aloud to students. It takes advantage of young readers’ listening and speaking competencies to boost vocabulary development. Just reading aloud isn’t enough to improve vocabulary, but teacher-student discussion about the story, book, or poem can improve both comprehension and vocabulary. Teachers can help students understand what new words mean by providing student-friendly definitions, discussing the word in the context of the story, and relating the word to situations with which students are familiar. Teachers can also ask open questions that allow students to make connections among ideas presented in the reading and conduct activities that enrich student understanding—in other words, provide opportunities for children to reflect on what is happening in the story or with the language. Beck and McKeown (2001) noted that teachers also should encourage children to use the words after the initial discussion: “If children do not think about and use a word after initial instruction it is unlikely to become part of the vocabulary repertoire” (p. 18). An example of a text talk lesson that focuses on vocabulary follows:”

1. Read aloud the story Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White.
2. Contextualize the word within the story. * In the story, Wilbur was enthusiastic about making new friends.
3. Provide a student-friendly explanation of the word.
* Enthusiastic means you are happy or excited about something.
4. Have children say the word. * Say the word with me, enthusiastic.
5. Present examples of the word used in contexts different from the story context. * Someone might be enthusiastic about seeing a new movie, or someone might be enthusiastic about going to Disney World.
6. Engage children in activities that get them to interact with the word. * Share something you would be enthusiastic about. Try to use the word enthusiastic when you talk about it. You could start by saying something like
“I would be enthusiastic about __________________.”
You could then say to a student, “Show us how you might act if you felt enthusiastic about ___________________.”
You could ask students: Would you be enthusiastic if
• You could get a puppy?
• You had to go to the doctor for a shot?
• Your best friend was coming over to play?
7. Have children say the word again. * What’s the word we’ve been talking about?
Based on the work of Isabel L. Beck, Margaret G. McKeown, and Linda Cucan, Bringing Words

Teaching vocabulary is not a difficult process and it shouldn’t be entirely left to the teacher. You can do it while watching TV, driving down the road, or while at a restaurant. Every new word you help your child learn improves his or her odds of being successful in school and life. Thanks!

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