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Teaching Tip 13 — The Power of Vocabulary

Teaching Tip 13 — The Power of Vocabulary

Have you ever been talking with friends, and had the sudden uncomfortable sensation of not understanding what they were talking about? What happened? What caused the change from enjoying a conversation to being baffled?

It’s probably the vocabulary.

Any field of interest, such as music, chemistry, French cooking, or football, has its own particular words that have specific meanings. And if we converse with people who use words that we don’t know or fully understand, it’s quite difficult to make sense of the conversation.

It’s obvious that you know this. What may NOT be obvious is that teaching your children new words and their meanings requires intentional effort.

Teaching Vocabulary the Wrong Way

When you hear the word “vocabulary,” do you instantly have that sinking memory of boring, repetitive, even punitive work when you were a student?

“Johnny, you have to stay in from recess and practice your vocabulary words by writing out the sentences on the board.”

“Suzy, you missed 3 words on your vocabulary test. Please write them ten times each.”

In this approach, students can begin to hate these words. And that can’t be good, right?

Whenever education degenerates into mindless, repetitive work with no spark of interest in the student’s mind, it ceases to produce learning.

Teaching Vocabulary the Right Way

So, let’s find a different way, shall we?

How do we open up the world of words, with all its treasures and rich meanings, in such a way that students are fascinated, motivated, and engaged?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Read aloud to your children, especially books that draw the listener into the story. Look for books that have vocabulary slightly beyond your children’s current level, or even way beyond their level if the story is interesting enough. Encourage your children to ask what a word means if they don’t understand it, and watch the dawning comprehension on their faces as they suddenly “get it.”
  • Read funny or dramatic poetry aloud to your children. The way words are used in poetry is powerful.
  • Read famous sections from Shakespeare aloud to your children, and then discover together the meaning of his rich vocabulary.
  • Choose one new word each week from an area that your family is interested in (theology, biology, politics, sports, etc.) and learn it as a family. Practice it, use it, say it, write it, until it becomes your own.
  • And, finally, play with words. Really, play with them! Play with puns, limericks, “Tom Swifties,” and rhymes. Help your children experience the hilarity and fun of words, until they think words are delightful!

Playing with vocabulary in History Revealed curriculum

I’m passionate about students enjoying words as they learn the vocabulary of historic eras, so I incorporated different kinds of vocabulary games—based on 8 Kinds of Smart (or multiple intelligences) into each unit. These are found Phase 2 of the Teacher Guide, under “Practice Vocabulary.” Try different ones until you hit on your children’s favorite ways to play with these new words.

Here are a few examples:

Have students play Charades with the vocabulary list—acting out the words with their bodies. Unit 1, Ancient Civilizations & the Bible

Play Word Skirmish! Team A chooses a player from Team B to define a term. If the definition is correct, that player “captures” a player from Team A to come be a participant on Team B. If the definition is incorrect, the chosen player from Team B is transferred and becomes a participant on Team A. The game continues until all the players have been taken into one team. Unit 6, Romans, Reformers, Revolutionaries

Using the vocabulary words, write a short skit that depicts some event or circumstance from this era. If desired, the skit could be acted out either by actors or puppets. Unit 7,World Empires, World Missions, World Wars

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