“This book has too many big words!”
We all know what it feels like to be stopped in our reading tracks by an out-of-date or rarely used word. But we also know the value of learning them anyway – our vocabularies grow, we get more out of what we read, new words are easier to decode. Plus, we sound smarter!
At LitWits we find that kids actually look forward to the big words if we turn them into an experience. Tell them, when they come across a brain-twister, to jot it down and keep on reading. We’re going to use those mysterious words to bring their meaning to life. And we start by collecting the worst of big, boring, nobody-uses-’em-anyway-so-why-do-I-haveta-learn-’em words.
Pick the five “worst” words, chosen by vote, and characterize them. Challenge the kids to imagine that word as a person or animal. For instance, your kids might decide that “mellifluous” is a beautiful woman wearing flowing robes who sings lilting melodies. “Critique” is a crotchety French man with a moustache who loves to share his opinions with everyone. Mr. “Arbitrate” is, of course, a judge. The more connections you can come up with together between the word and the character, the more likely you all are to remember the meaning of the word. Drawing or acting out the characters, along with writing the definitions, will help too.
If your kids are having a hard time connecting the new word to its meaning, have a fun “sensational” conversation about it. If you could taste the word, what would it be sour, sweet, salty or bitter? Is it a crunchy word, or a mushy one? Is it sharp and prickly, or soft? We know it sounds silly, but the more dialogue you can generate about new words, in connection to their meanings, the more likely that kids will begin to “own” them. (On the right you can see that we once made the kids eat their words, or at least get a taste of some half-baked ideas!)
Challenge and encourage your kids to use their big words often. Model those words yourself – the kids are listening! Write them with their definitions and hang them on the bathroom wall, on the ceiling over their beds, or across the top of the TV. If you catch them using their new words correctly, either in writing or in conversation, give them a magic semicolon (a dried pinto bean and lentil, of course!) When they’ve collected a certain number of punctuation marks, they can trade them in for a book, or a trip to the library, or some other fun bookish treat.
Jenny & Becky