Teaching vocabulary to children, part 1


        Vocabulary is a building block of speaking and reading. The more words children know when they sit down to read independently, the more successful they will be at that task.

        Parents are in a key position to help children with their vocabulary. After all, parents have been speaking to their children for five years before they ever enter kindergarten. Thatís a lot words!

Four types of vocabulary

        There are four types of vocabulary that we commonly use. I will refer to these in the order that children usually learn them:

        First, we learn a listening vocabulary. These are words that children understand through hearing. They are highly contextualized, so that apple juice, for example, is talked about while the child is drinking or looking at it.

        Second, children develop a speaking vocabulary. They begin to use words that they have heard others speak. This points out the importance of their being exposed to a rich and extensive vocabulary from the adults in their lives. After all, how can children speak words that they have not heard spoken?

        Third is a reading vocabulary. When children read, they must be able to make sense of the words on the paper. The only way that this can happen is if they have heard and spoken the words before. A child who has seen and used a map will be able to sound out m-a-p, say "map," and know what it means because she knows what a map is, whereas a child who has never seen or used one may be able to figure out that m-a-p spells "map," but this is a sound that makes no sense to her.

        Finally, children enjoy developing their writing vocabulary. This most frequently happens after they have seen the word in print. Not only that, but children become savvy in learning where to find these words in their environment. A child who wants to write "milk," but doesnít know how to spell it, realizes that all he needs to do is walk to the refrigerator and find the proper container.

        Parents who understand their role in this process will become effective teachers of vocabulary before their children ever set foot in school.


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