A little while back, I was listening to my daughter read her take-home reader from school. She was able to read all the words, including the word, harmless, which appeared within the text. After about the third time of reading harmless, she asked: “What does harmless mean?”
I had just assumed she knew the meaning. She had, after all, been able to read the word. But a lightbulb went off in my head. A child might be able to read a word, but if they don’t know the meaning of the word, then it will impact their ability to comprehend the book.
So I explained the meaning of harness in a simple way, and we went on with reading the book.
Since then, I began learning about the importance of teaching our children and students new vocabulary. In this post, I’m going to break down two ways you can do this.
Strategy 1: Reading books aloud to children
Reading books with children is a delightful way to help them learn new words. Here's how you can do it:
Pick fun books: Choose books with exciting stories and pictures that your child enjoys.
Read together: Read the story out loud to your child. Use different voices for the characters and make it fun! It is good for children to hear what fluent, expressive reading sounds like.
Chat about words: While reading, stop and chat about interesting words. Ask questions like, "What do you think 'mysterious' means?" or "What's an 'adventure'?" See what the child/children know about the word, and build on it. It is helpful to use the word in a sentence example.
Encourage questions: Tell your child it's okay to ask questions about the story or any word they don't understand. It makes them curious and helps them learn.
Read again: It's okay to read the same book more than once. Re-reading helps your child remember new words.
Strategy 2: Explicitly teach interesting vocabulary
Teaching your child new, interesting words is like giving them treasures. In this strategy, you aren’t just choosing words from the books you encounter, you are actively looking for interesting words and teaching them to the children.
I created a resource for this exact purpose that can be used with your students at school, or with your children at home.
It’s a PowerPoint that features 50 interesting words to explicitly teach children.
Each word has 7 slides dedicated to it:
o Slide 1: The word is introduced, and a sentence example appears.
o Slide 2: A child-friendly definition is given along with a matching picture.
o Slide 3: Synonyms are listed so students can connect this new word with words they already know.
o Slide 4: A question is posed for students to reflect about. They then discuss with a partner.
o Slide 5: Students are to share with a partner what the word means in their own words.
o Slide 6: Students are invited to think of a sentence, using the word.
o Slide 7: Assessment check-in– Students are given two possible meanings for the word and they are to show which one is correct by using their fingers. It is also a quick way for the teacher to assess if the students understand the meaning of the word.
Are the children expected to read these words? No! The purpose of this resource is not for the children to read the words.
Many of these words are not decodable for them yet. The purpose is to develop their vocabulary. That means to expose them to new words and explain what these words mean. This is so when they do encounter these words in everyday conversation or read-alouds, they know what the words mean. Remember, a strong vocabulary leads to strong comprehension.
To check out this resource for yourself, click here!
In a nutshell, building a strong vocabulary is a fantastic gift you can give to children. It helps them in school, with friends, and in life. So, read and discuss exciting picture books with your child and introduce them to exciting new words. It's a wonderful journey of discovery that will help your child grow and succeed.