Some children are natural vocabulary lovers. They get excited every time they hear a word they don¡¦t know, writing it down and eagerly expecting to look it up later. They might also enjoy reading and/or writing more than the average child. They might excel on the language arts, writing, and vocabulary portions of standardized tests-The Illinois Standard Achievement Test, the Prairie State Achievement Exam, and the ACT exam.
But what about those students who despise vocabulary? How do you encourage children to love language when they have no interest in it? And what will their disinterest do for their test scores next school year? Instead of finding out the answer to the latter question, use the following activities this summer to foster the love of language in your child, and get a jumpstart on the next school term.
Tag things in your home
To help your child acquire new words in their preexisting vocabulary, label items in your home they are already familiar. For example, although most children use the computer daily, they may not always know the names of the different computer components. You might start by writing the names of each component on a 3X5 index card and then placing those labels on the respective parts. Pretty soon your child will be able to explain that he places his USB drive in the central processing unit of your home computer and reads his work on the monitor. You might also label the various pieces of furniture in your home, especially those your child does not use in everyday conversations. I, for instance, would have turned out more decor-literate if my parents taped the word ottoman on what looked like an upholstered footstool in our living room; and the word curio on the cabinets that housed all our good china.
Use a word-detective notebook
If your child has any interaction with the world through newspapers, television, the Internet, they come across new words every day. Your child, however, won¡¦t retain these words if their eyes only graze them or if they go in one ear and leave out the other. So challenge your child to capture unfamiliar words in a notebook. When your child hears or sees words they have never heard, encourage him to write those words in a notebook. Then, during a predetermined time (i.e., right before bed or Sunday evening), have your child find the definition for the words in a dictionary or at www.dictionary.com and write them down. Over time, your child will learn the meanings of dozens of unfamiliar words. Review the words that your child wrote in his notebook weekly, and challenge him to use the words in a sentence.
Completing this activity will make your child accountable for learning the unfamiliar words in order to make them a permanent part of his vocabulary. You might even extend the activity by having your child write a story or essay using some of the words.
Visualize words for vocabulary mastery
Perhaps the thought of memorizing the meanings of multiple words is overwhelming for your child-or maybe overwhelming for you in trying to hold your child accountable for learning multiple vocabulary words. If so, start small. Focus on one word at a time until your child is a pro at reciting the definition and using it in a sentence. In order to do this, have your child create a visual representation for an unfamiliar word. A visual representation could be any type of picture that symbolizes the word. For example, a visual representation for the word discombobulated-which means confused or frustrated-could be a picture of a child waking up from a bad dream or a heavily-medicated man trying to operate machinery. Once the image is complete, have your child write a caption below it using the word, and place the picture where your child can see it. Encourage your child to use the word each day until the word is a natural part of his speech.
Once your child has mastered its use, move on to the next unfamiliar word, and repeat the process.
China Hill is a curriculum writer for KIPP Ascend Charter School on the West Side.