If struggling readers do not have strong knowledge of the vocabulary they hear in class and see when reading, they cannot become good readers. Below are three easy principles for helping struggling readers develop strong listening and reading vocabularies. Of course, you need to adapt these principles to the developmental level of your child or student. One more “of course”: Make the activities fun and interesting.
Ask Struggling Readers to Go Beyond Dictionary Definitions of Words: If the word’s important, help your child or student discuss its meaning, its parts (e.g., prefix), and its use. If possible, use lots of pictures, diagrams, and skits. If the word is grimace, start grimacing; ask your child or student to start.
- “Knowing a word is much more than simply matching it with a definition. Truly knowing a word means that the word is embedded in a rich concept base and that the reader can use and understand it in multiple contexts. We learn most words by listening and by reading, but vocabulary instruction can also play an important role in expanding a student’s meaning vocabulary…. Students should learn how to determine word meaning from context, but this involves their understanding of context’s limitations. Word meaning can also be enhanced through discussion of morphemes, such as endings, prefixes, and roots. It is important that students be engaged in activities that contribute to active engagement, such as personalizing word learning … and comparing words.” [Caldwell, J. S., & Leslie, L. (2005). Intervention strategies to follow informal reading inventory assessment: So what do I do now? Boston: Allyn & Bacon, p. 116].
Give Struggling Readers Repeated Exposure to Important Words: Provide your child or student with repeated exposure to important words, words you think he needs to learn, remember, and use. Make sure he sees the words in a variety of reading materials and often hears them at home or in class. When he writes, encourage him to use these words.
- “Repeated exposure to vocabulary in many contexts aids word learning. Students learn new words better when they encounter them often and in various contexts. The more children see, hear, and work with specific words, the better they seem to learn them. When teachers provide extended instruction that promotes active engagement, they give students repeated exposure to new words. When the students read those same words in their texts, they increase their exposure to the new words.” [Bonnie B. Armbruster, B. B., Lehr, F., & Osborn, J. (2001). Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read. Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement (CIER), p. 36]
Help Struggling Readers Relate Their New Word to What They Already Know: Ask your child or student how his new word resembles or differs from words he knows. Ask him to associate his new word with what he thinks it relates to, such as “asteroid” reminds him of space. Ask him to use his new word to explain what he already knows.
- “Vocabulary development in any subject can proceed by asking students to reveal any vocabulary framework that they already have. Those known words may help them associate meaning with new vocabulary. In that way, definitions and the particular meaning within a given sentence have a context and a set of relations to build on…. [Have] students … list synonyms and/or definitional phrases that they already associate with the topic….. Suppose, for example, an article on protecting the environment includes the word ‘menace.’ The teacher lists words that students associate with threats to the environment. Associated terms and synonyms are then listed in [a] T-bar chart.” [Smith, Carl B (Undated). ERIC]
This column was originally published by Gary G. Brannigan, Ph.D. & Howard Margolis, Ed.D. in www.reading2008.com/blog . They also coauthored Reading Disabilities: Beating The Odds, a book to help parents identify reading difficulties, understand special education laws, work with schools, and, if necessary, challenge them to get their children needed services. It was listed as one of the three best books about education in 2010 by Psychology Today, and is available at www.amazon.com & www.reading2008.com . Also look for their forthcoming book, Simple Ways To Maximize Your Child’s Potential.