Some years back, my son moved to Brazil to marry a lovely Brazil college professor. During his time there, my son became fluent in Portuguese, and this became my grandson’s first language. When little Miguel was 2 years old, my son started exposing him to English in preparation for their planned move to the US a year later. When Miguel arrived here at age 3, he had some conversational English, but Portuguese was still his go-to language. One of the first things I taught him was to ask, “what does that mean?” when encountering unfamiliar vocabulary. Now he is nearly 6 years old and his language skills are off the charts, mainly because parents and grandparents speak to him in an adult-like manner and read to him constantly (his favorite activity). He has a deep love for words and is always happy to learn new ones. Here’s an example of a recent conversation as we walked home from the bus stop; mind you, he does know what some of the words mean but enjoys playing this as a game.
- Me: Miguel, I have a proposal for you.
- Miguel: What’s proposal mean?
- Me: It means a suggestion.
- Miguel: What’s a suggestion?
- Me: It’s an idea I want you to consider.
- Miguel: What’s consider mean?
- Me: It means to think about something to see if it is a good idea or not.
- Miguel: Oh, so you have an idea you want me to think about, like “I propose that we go to the Crayola Factory!”
Bingo! By encouraging Miguel to ask for definitions, by using vocabulary and reading books that are above his age level, and by making word-play (puns, riddles, knock-knock jokes) fun games that we play, he has become a very competent speaker of English and has learned a very useful strategy for life-long learning: if you don’t understand something, ASK!
I recently purchased a stand-up book for Miguel from MrsWordsmith.com called “Storyteller’s Word a Day.” The book is kept on an end table in the living room and is the first thing Miguel goes to when he comes over. A recent word was “incessant.” After we reviewed the meaning, he told me that they had a fire drill that week and the alarm was incessant. Then he flipped back a few pages to another word and said, “It was this, too — grating! The noise was incessant and grating!” Pretty good carryover for a kindergartener, don’t you think?
This book would be ideal for SLPs to use in school, as there are words for every day from September to May. Each page has a cartoon drawing depicting the meaning, the word, the definition and part of speech, and an easy to understand example. (That’s as far as I go with Miguel right now). For those who are really into words, the back of the page provides etymology, word pairs, synonyms, frequency of use, and a story starter. Wow! Just think of how many IEP goals you can hit with this! “Storyteller’s Word a Day” is designed for ages 6-13, making it ideal for your middle-grade language students. Also available through this website are a similar book for 3-6-year-olds and an illustrated dictionary. All use colorful, humorous cartoons to bring the words to life.
While this book is new to me, the strategy of teaching students to ask goes way back in my career when I developed a game I call “Hit or Miss” for my language students. I realized that reading comprehension issues are often related to vocabulary deficits AND the student’s tendency to read the word fluently but never stopping to figure out the meaning. I liken this to the students as Swiss Cheese reading: they are solid on a lot of the words but they do have some holes that can greatly affect their comprehension. The “Hit or Miss” game goes like this: As a student reads aloud from his textbook or grade-level library book, he is to stop and ask the definitions of any unfamiliar words and earns a point (a “hit”) each time he does that. If he doesn’t stop at a word that I suspect might be unfamiliar, I will stop him and ask for the meaning. If he does know the word, he gets another point. If he doesn’t know the word, that’s a “miss” and I get the point. After the first session or two, the student nearly always wins because he has learned to ask for help when he needs it. I’ve shared this strategy with their classroom teachers, who have then used it in small group reading instruction — ideal carryover support!