2014-03-09 / Viewpoints

Chalk Talk

By Edward S. Graham, PhD
Superintendent
Montrose Schools

Study after study supports the notion that a child’s success in school is largely linked to their vocabulary knowledge and skill. Since vocabulary is an essential part of what is considered a person’s “background knowledge,” it plays an essential role on how new information is gained and how the understanding of ideas and thoughts are communicated to others. Without question, words are tools and the lack of these tools greatly inhibits the acquisition of new knowledge and the potential development of abilities in the future. Certainly, helping our children develop a good vocabulary is one of the most beneficial gifts we can ever provide. To that end, here are a few ideas that may be helpful:

The Importance of Reading and Comprehension. Reading remains one of the best ways for children to develop their vocabulary. The key to success in this area is to make sure that children actually understand what they are reading. Far too often, children think that reading is merely speaking the words they see on the page. Reading is only useful when it is comprehended.

Vocabulary Development and Reading Comprehension. As children progress through school, the manner in which we help them must also change. For students in younger grades, take turns reading to them and then let them read back to you. As you go through this back and forth process, be sure to take time to stop and evaluate words and ask them what the words mean. This effort will show your child that knowing a word’s definition and meaning is just as important as its pronunciation.

As children enter upper elementary and early middle school, they should be reading more advanced books. Take a few minutes to skim their books and look for some advanced vocabulary words. Encourage your child to look up specific words and be available as a resource when they find words that are unfamiliar. In addition, encourage your child to write down words that are new to them and help them begin to include them into their conversations.

Hopefully by the time your child is in grade seven and beyond, they will begin reading literary classics. This may be a great time to read these books again yourself and discuss the thought provoking life lessons and issues so often embedded within them. In addition, continue to identify challenging words and quiz your child on their meaning. This is also a great time to model and practice the use of resources such as a dictionary or thesaurus.

Never Underestimate the Importance of a Good Conversation. Children’s brains can absorb so much more that we can imagine. Speaking to them at a higher level will help them grow in their knowledge and use of vocabulary. An investment in this area will pay great dividends as children’s academic success can be significantly accelerated. In addition, there are numerous websites such as www.vocabulary.com that offer lists of difficult words that appear in the most commonly used books in junior high through college, as well as other vocabulary related resources.

Through your involvement in your child’s vocabulary development, you can help provide them with the tools needed for academic and career success. Words are tools – the more words, the more tools they will have to construct a path towards success today and in the future.

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