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Book Club for Kids is a podcast where middle school readers discuss the books they love with host Kitty Felde. The author answers questions. A celebrity reads from the book.

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Tips for Creating Lifelong Readers

Filtering by Tag: vocabulary

Tip #70: In the Beginning Was the Word

Kitty Felde

New Orleans readers

My mother always told a story about tete-a-tete, which as a young woman she pronounced "teety teety." These were the days before YouTube. Today you can type in an unfamiliar word and hear pronunciations. Mom was still embarassed half a century later.

Embarassment over vocabulary can stop a reader cold.

Freda Carraway teaches 9th graders with reading deficiencies at A&M Consolidated High School in College Station, Texas. Some read at a 7th grade level. Some read at 1st grade level. Her strategy: start with vocabulary.

In elementary school, kids are taught to "use their context clues" when they encounter a new word. But Freda says that often translates into: "I don't know a word, I skip it." Freda says when a student gets to the bottom of a page and they've skipped five words, that means there's five sentences on that page that they didn't understand. "So I retrain them to notice what they don't know." In other words, using metacognition to give kids a strategy to succeed.

When students encounter a word they don't understand, Freda has them stop, take out their vocabulary log, and write it down. Then, she has them immediately find the definition - ask a friend, Google it, ask a teacher, or even use the dictionary. "Whatever you have to do to understand that sentence right now," she says. "Not later." 

Reinforcement is key. The reader may understand the word in the context of the book ("Yay! That's a win," she says), but may not remember the word forever. So Freda helps the student find a personal connection with the unfamiliar word - link it to a familiar word, draw a picture of it, or just talk to her about it. "You're going to have some sort of hook to hang that on in your brain," she says.

That expanded vocabulary gives a reader confidence, she says.

There are a number of studies that look at the relationship between reading and vocabulary. And Reading Rockets has a number of articles and videos about teaching vocabulary.