Vocabulary….UGH. An important aspect of education is developing vocabulary skills, but this has to be one of my least favorite aspects of teaching my kids. Because simply looking up a word in the dictionary doesn’t mean that my student will understand its meaning or will be able to use it later. It seems to go in one ear (eye?) and out the other.
The Problem of Vocabulary Learning
Your understanding of what you read and hear is, to a very large degree, determined by your vocabulary, so improve your vocabulary daily. (Zig Ziglar)
I have a firm belief that the best way to learn vocabulary is to read a lot and look up words that you don’t know. Often, simply reading an unknown word in a sentence is enough to give meaning and understanding. Then again, I love to read and enjoy words.
Unfortunately, our kids don’t always share our interests. I have a student that enjoys a good story but isn’t interested at all in language – vocabulary, grammar, mechanics….all of Language Arts seems to be pointless to him. I’ve had to go the extra mile to help him develop competence in the area of Language Arts. His preferred Learning Preference is Interactive, so I look for ways to get him more involved in the specific skill that he’s studying.
We’ve been using Fix It! Grammar for the last couple of years, and it has a vocabulary component using my preferred method of seeing a new word in the context of a sentence. Students are instructed to look up and write the definition for a new word from the daily sentence. Periodic review entails a casual verbal quiz to see if the student remembers the meanings of words that they have looked up in the past. If they don’t remember, no worries, they just look up the definition they wrote down and and review it!
It’s all very easy-breezy and casual, not intended to be stress-inducing at all. But after our first year of using Fix It! Grammar, I realized that the vocabulary component wasn’t doing anything for my son. He didn’t remember any of the words, and even choosing a definition was a problem because he wasn’t looking to see if it made sense in the sentence. After all, some words, like “run,” can be both a verb (“I run down the street.”) and a noun (“I went for a run.”). The definition for “run” depends on the function of that word in the sentence.
And don’t get me started on the process of looking up a previously-written definition. Since they weren’t written in alphabetical order, it was a lot of time-wasting hunting.
I wondered if I could find a way, if it was even worth my time, to make vocabulary learning doable for us. A Pew Research article shares that some teachers “note a potential decline in vocabulary and grammatical skills among their students, exacerbated by an overreliance on automated grammar, spellcheck and dictionary tools built into word processing programs.” I don’t want my son to be part of that decline, so decided to continue to strive to beef up his vocabulary skills.
After thinking about it, I realized that I had three major problems with vocabulary in our homeschool:
- My student didn’t always find the correct definition for a particular word.
- We didn’t have a simple way to look up a previously written definition for a particular word in his notebook.
- My student wasn’t actually learning new words.
A Vocabulary Printable That Gives Practice for Multiple Skills
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Every time I have to look up a word in the dictionary, I’m delighted. (Vivienne Westwood)
For our second year of using Fix It! Grammar, I decided to create a personal dictionary printable for my son to use. My primary reason for creating it was so that it would be easier for him to look up definitions that he previously wrote out. But I added a “part of speech” box for him to fill in so that he would first look at how the word was functioning in the sentence before looking up the definition, giving him a better chance of finding the correct definition. And I also added a section for him to use the word in a sentence himself so that he would actually think about the meaning and not just write down a definition and forget it.
This process has helped, although if I were to do it over again I would require him to also use the word in conversation during the day. We’re actually adding that step for the rest of the school year, so I’ve added “Use vocab word in conversation” to his Homeschool Planet checklist.
So BAM! No more UGH to vocabulary. A student that looks up one word a day in the dictionary, focuses on a particular part of speech and definition, and then writes out a sentence using that word and particular definition properly learns a new vocabulary word and practices dictionary skills and even some grammar with one activity!
I’m offering this Personal Dictionary printable free to you for subscribing to my email list. If you’re already a subscriber (thanks!), just go to my freebies page.