Monday, 9 February 2009

And then growing into it... building vocabulary

Building vocabulary has traditionally been done by the teachers simply by giving a class some new words in each session and expecting the words to be memorized by the next session.

This... simply... does NOT work.

For one, it is very difficult to remember words without context and without memory pegs. If it were so simple to remember new words, dictionaries would be memorized without much effort. The fact is that even very good linguists have a good dictionary at hand- infact, the good linguists DO have a good dictionary at hand.

Vocabulary building exercises start with good conversation. The teachers and parents who use more and better words find, sooner or later, their students and children use more and better words.

Follow a theme. This creates a natural memory peg for the brain to remember new information. So one day the teacher ( or the parent) could simply refuse to accept "GOOD" from the class/ child. And insist on defining good.
  • Food is good- delicious.
  • Dress is good- trendy
  • Weather is good- pleasant/ sunny/ bright
  • Mood is good- happy
  • Class was good- enjoyable
  • Swim was good- exhilarating
  • Game was good- exciting
  • Book was good- unputdownable
  • Song is good- melodious
And so on... This is just an example. Other themes that relate to everyday life can be
  • Weather words- pleasant/sunny/ bright/ rainy/ cloudy/ dark/ foggy/ stormy
  • Colours- red- crimson/ burgundy/blood/ brick/ terracota/scarlet/vermillion/ rose
  • Moods- happy/ sad/ excited/ depressed/ devilish/ naughty/ exuberant/ philosophical
  • Journey- travel-expedition- trip- voyage- trek- odyssey- pilgrimage- excursion
Many others can be thought of by an imaginative teacher.

Another method of expanding a child's vocabulary is to read good literature out loud for a class that is not ready to read it by themselves or to allow the class to read when they can. Simply reading is unlikely to have the effect of building vocabulary and comprehension skills. Reading with the idea of writing, say, one new word per page read could do that! If the page does not lend to such an opportunity, encourage the students to pick a word and go to a thesaurus with it to come up with alternatives.

Following the alphabet also is a wonderful way to expand skill of playing with words!

Building vocabulary is a slow and laborious process. It takes a brick, laid on another on another till a building can finally be made out! Teach a single new word each day or each week or even each month, if you have the time. But teach that word with meaning, usage, context, grammar, and throw in a little bit of interesting game play to go with it! Plenty of web sites are now available to help you achieve that without much effort. is an excellent site that allows you to play with anagrams, palindromes, oxymorons etc.

Take the time to enjoy the journey. It will be fun many a time and tiring, too some of the times. It will be exhilarating and depressing. You may love it or hate it, but you will never be able to just ignore it. Once the adventure begins- it is a roller coaster you just don't want to get off. The good teacher will make that happen in any class- irrespective of labels applied to her ( or his) students- gifted or dyslexic, brilliant or average.

So... go ahead... venture out... the adventure is just waiting to happen.

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