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Monday, February 18, 2008

Vocabulary Development Is Key to Understanding Higher Level Language

In therapy, I talk a lot to my students about being flexible with language. You may not find much on flexibility with language if you did a search but I think it is one of the most important parts in developing higher level language skills. I just started using the term "flexibility with language" and the kids seemed to get it. I use the term to refer to the ability to look at language in different ways……

  • to understand language can have different meanings in different contexts
  • to know how to use to use language in different ways to convey a variety of different meanings.

This is all part of developing higher level language abilities. Developing a mature vocabulary is just a first step toward efficient higher level language skills. Below are some simple suggestions to encourage strong vocabulary development during the middle school years.

Vocabulary Development Ideas
After a certain age, children primarily expand their vocabularies through reading. For a child with language or reading disabilities this usually does not come naturally. Children who do not like to read or are not encouraged to read will also have difficulty expanding their vocabulary skills. Without good vocabulary development, students will have little understanding that a word may have two meanings and various spellings. They will not realize that every little change, in how a word is used, can vary the meaning or the message conveyed.
A poor vocabulary affects all areas of language and learning. During the middle school years, a student’s vocabulary should grow by leaps and bounds. Around 7th grade text books become more technical and teachers naturally step up their own use of language. Conversations with peers are becoming more mature and topics kids talk about are more controversial. Without good vocabulary skills, kids will have more difficulty understanding the subtleties or humor in language.

Things to do at home with your middle schooler to encourage vocabulary development:

  • Obviously, encourage your child to read. If your child struggles with reading, consult with their teacher about appropriate books at their reading level.
  • Vary their reading material. Magazines are wonderful and often peak a child’s interest. Comic books, have your read one lately? Comic books often appear juvenile but some contain a lot of higher level vocabulary and language.
  • Talk to your child about current events. Provide some explanation about what is going on and why. Talk to them about your opinions and ask them theirs. Driving in the car is a great time to do this because you have a captive audience.
  • Talk about different categories of words. Homonyms, homophones and Homographs to be specific.
  • Homonyms are words that sound alike but are spelled different. An example would be: the word bark-the bark of a tree or the bark of a dog
  • Homophones are words with two spellings and two meanings but only one pronunciation. An example would be: buy/by/bye
  • Homographs are words which have one spelling but two pronunciations and two different meanings depending on how the word is used. An example would be: Let’s wind up the kite string before the wind gets too wild.
  • Do crossword puzzles together and explain answers
  • Books on tape are real good. Just keep in mind that reading is still important
  • Watch movies with subtitles on when possible. Overwhelming for some kids multi-sensory approach for others.
  • Keep checking back I will occasionally add other ideas.

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