Michelle Mason, Ph.D.
Vocabulary--A Critical Part of Reading
One area of reading instruction that is not talked about much is vocabulary. However, vocabulary instruction is one of the key components of learning to read. It helps with reading comprehension. i.e. having a strong vocabulary helps children understand what they read.
Hold a lot of conversations with your child, sometimes explicitly teach them something, but other times just have casual conversations. The more you talk to your child, the better they will be at reading. Encourage your child to ask questions! If your child tells you they don’t understand, or seems not to understand something, rephrase or explain in more detail.
Make Up Stories Together
Another great way to develop vocabulary is to make up stories together orally. You can start the ball rolling by saying the setting and the main character. For instance, a grumpy old shoe was sitting in the closet. Then ask your child what happens next. If you are having a difficult time thinking of a story starters, check out this website.
Read to Them
For kindergarteners and first graders, vocabulary is primarily learned and taught verbally. One way younger children learn vocabulary is when you read stories to them. Reading stories to a child at any age can improve vocabulary and be a bonding time between you and your child. The books you read to your child should be at a slightly higher level than the books they are reading by themselves. Children can understand things they hear that they cannot read. When you read stories to your children, ask them questions about what you just read (comprehension questions) As you are reading, also ask them if they know what specific words mean, and, even better, how they know what that word means. Sometimes, they know a word because of previous teaching and experiences. If this is the case, take some time out from reading the story and talk about it.
Have your Child Read Every Day
From second grade on, students still learn vocabulary orally, but they do more vocabulary learning through reading. Read with your child every day if they are younger (K-2). If they are older, once they have read, discuss with them what they have just read. Let them choose their books so they will get the most enjoyment out of them.
To find some vocabulary rich books, I recommend checking books out of the library about topics in social studies and science that your child is studying in school. The easiest ways to know what your child is studying is to ask your child and/or ask your child’s teacher. If that is not possible, just go here, and scroll down, you can find Brochures for Parents/Guardians, which give an overview of what is reviewed in each subject and grade.
Some examples of topics are:
· Kindergarteners should know the purpose of commemorative holidays according to the standards. Some commemorative holidays are: Thanksgiving, Independence Day, Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthdays, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans’ Day). It is easy to find books on these topics.
· In first grade, children learn about earth and space science. There are plenty of fun books and activities to do relating to space!
Fun Activities and Outings
For any age, another way to improve children’s vocabulary is by doing family-friendly activities with them, such as going to museums, aquariums, pet stores, craft stores, parks (go to different parks), go for ice cream, or the beach. Every experience can be rich in language and vocabulary. Later in the day or the next day ask questions about the outing. Ask what was your favorite part.
Even better, go to local museums or activities that have displays about the concepts your child is learning in school. This way, your child is developing vocabulary and learning information.
If you feel like your child needs more help with vocabulary, consider getting them tested for special education services. If you want to learn more about vocabulary instruction and get some more in-depth strategies, check out this website.
What fun things do you do to improve your child’s vocabulary?