For children to be successful in school, they need a strong vocabulary. This especially helps them to understand what they are reading. Experts tell us that children need to read a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books and to have specific words directly taught to them. They also need to understand how to learn words on their own, and they should spend time playing with language in a variety of ways.
In Narrowing the Language Gap: The Case for Explicit Vocabulary Instruction, authors Kate Kinsella and Kevin Feldman provide a model for vocabulary instruction.
They tell us to:
- Make sure children have the opportunity to pronounce the words they are learning. One idea includes posting the word on the refrigerator, and having parents ask their child to say the word they are “playing with” on the fridge, making sure they pronounce the word correctly. It is best if this is done informally—in conversation rather than making it seem like schoolwork.
- The next step is to make sure the child understands the meaning of the new word. The language used to explain the word should be familiar and easy to understand. If the word of the day is “melancholy” the parent might say, “Marcus seems somewhat _____ today,” allowing the child to fill in the blank. Then the child can come up with a sentence that uses the term appropriately. The parent could also ask, “Do you feel melancholy today, or do you feel cheerful?”
- Next, provide examples of how the word might be used in other contexts. For example, a parent might say, “I got a letter today with some melancholy news.” Then the parent could ask the child what that means and ask him to try to elaborate by making more sentences that use the word.
These strategies can become a game in your household. Vocabulary words can be written on index cards once they are learned. Then the child can choose a card and see if they can use the word correctly in a sentence. Or, children can earn stars when they correctly use a new vocabulary term in ordinary conversation that they think of on their own. Ten stars might earn a special treat such as ice cream or a trip to the local park.
Remember that it takes multiple encounters with a word before it truly becomes a part of a person’s vocabulary. So, continue to use the new words in everyday conversation when appropriate.
There are many websites that will give you a word of the day; you can find them by searching on the web. Or, check out this free "Word of the Day" app for the iPod from VocabDaily.