Students benefit greatly from building their vocabularies, but what words should they study? Workbooks and lists can present lots of good words, and students often perform well on quizzes. But does this give them ownership of the words? A month later, will workbook words show up in their writing? Rarely.
Wouldn’t it be better for students to study vocabulary from their current reading assignments? These are the words they need now!
For example, let’s say a 5th grader is reading Number The Stars, by Lois Lowry, and comes upon: Ellen stood on tiptoe again, and made an imperious gesture with her arm. How does the student navigate the word imperious? Well, sadly, it may be skipped over. But if the student had studied it in advance, and learned that the Latin root imper means “power, command, leadership,” and that imperious is cousins with imperial, emperor, and empire, well, now instead of a mysterious dark clump of letters, we have a lighthouse on the page!
Or how about an 8th grader reading To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee? Miss Maudie’s benevolence extended to Jem and Dill, whenever they paused in their pursuits.. What is Miss Maudie extending? If benevolence had been studied in advance, this would be simple to sort out. Just remembering cousins like benefit and volunteer unpacks all the meaning one needs. Miss Maudie is being thoughtful, volunteering to be good. This what benevolence is about, and this is how word ownership really gets going!
Born into the fast-paced world of digital devices, today’s students are used to language being immediate: texting, tweeting, Instagramming- it’s all about fast, fast, fast. But the need for the thoughtful and deliberate development of ideas and stories is never going away. Studying vocabulary from literature not only improves word retention, it also draws the students more into the flow of the text, and helps them appreciate the art of choosing just the right word!
Word Voyage includes hundreds of literature vocabulary lists from classic and popular titles, plus a service to add new lists on request. What are your students reading?