• Question: What can I do to promote my child’s vocabulary development?

    Answer: Try to make your child “word conscious.” Here are some interesting facts and ideas to do just that.

    One of the earliest findings in reading research is the strong correlation between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension (Davis, 1944; National Reading Panel, 2000). Strategic readers not only know how to recognize words but also understand what they mean so they can use them in listening, speaking, reading, and writing situations.

    Oliver Wendell Homes once said, “Once the mind is stretched by a new idea it never goes back to its original dimension.” That quote speaks to the powerful outcome of creating word conscious children. We have all heard unfamiliar words used in conversation and pondered the meaning once the chat ended. Research indicates the brain is curious and has a need to know or figure out different or unfamiliar information.

    Word conscious learners have an awareness of and an interest in new words, their meanings, and their power; students begin to take notice of words they read, hear, and those they write or speak (Armbuster, Lehr, & Osborn, 2001; Graves, 2006).

    When parents and teachers focus on creating word conscious learners many students for the first time are actually motivated to learn new words. Traditional practices (defining words using the dictionary) have done little to motivate students to be word learners; past results at best focused on a passing acquaintance with words. Motivation is everything; people accomplish little unless they are motivated to do so. If students are to achieve academically, they must be motivated to learn and use many new words.

    Approaches to Creating Word Conscious Learners

    Begin now to incorporate some of the following ideas for developing word conscious learners.

    • Word Play and Books – Highlight the use of interesting words in text, point out how authors arrange words to create varied effects and discuss how the writer’s choice of words enhances meaning, promotes curiosity, or creates feelings. Introduce your child to books that focus on word play. Books by Fred Gwynne, The King Who Rained and Chocolate Moose for Dinner, or the Amelia Bedelia books by Peggy Parish focus on hilarious wordplay and zany humor that keeps children of all ages in stitches. Get Thee to a Punnery by ingenious author Richard Lederer offers a humorous use of words representing more than one possible meaning for most content areas. For example, a nickel a grade is more than a centigrade.
    • Research the Origins or History of Words – A great starting point is to encourage children to search for the meaning of words from their daily lives linked to food and/or customs unique to their cultures. For example, a Kolache is a Czech or Slovak pastry consisting of fillings ranging from fruits (including poppy seed, raspberry, and apricot) to cheeses inside a bread roll. Sabotage comes from the Dutch wooden shoe (sabot) which was thrown into the weaving machine by disgruntled workers to shut it down.
    • Parent/Teacher Language – Modeling the use of new or unique vocabulary words is a powerful learning tool. Words can be linked to known synonym or antonym, as well as used in a variety of settings. A middle school principal developed the habit of using interesting words in conversation as he spoke with students in the hall. Students were curious enough to find out the meanings of words used and also began using the words in their conversations. Examples include Prudent Priscilla kept her vocab box in a vault so nobody would steal it, or Our middle school dances are usually a pretty convivial place.
      Surround your child with those “six-million dollar” vocabulary words when you speak to him/her.

    The overall goal of word consciousness is to highlight, celebrate, and kindle children’s interest in words. A few minutes of “word-play” each day is a motivating, yet a simple way to expand vocabulary and improve comprehension. Don’t wait; begin now to create word conscious learners who will enjoy learning words all summer long.


    (This information was provided by Rachel Billmeyer in her book, Strategic Reading in the Content Areas 2nd edition available summer 2010.)