TEACHABLE MOMENTS: Words, words, words

Tommy Fairweather
Tommy Fairweather

The robust development of your child’s vocabulary will pay off handsomely in adulthood. Your child should be building a bank of words because the bank will translate to money later. A recent Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development Blog provides research concerning vocabulary development. The article indicates that it takes from 12 to 20 meaningful exposures to a specific word before that word becomes a usable part of a person’s spoken and written vocabulary. The purpose of this article is to provide suggested words to expose to your child to and ways to make the exposure meaningful.

 In an article in Reading Research Quarterly (Issue 20 Vol. 3, p. 522-535, 1995), the authors (McKeown, M., Beck, I., Omanson, R., & Pople, M.) suggest dividing words into three tiers for teachers (and parents) to be aware of when encouraging vocabulary development. Tier One words are basic words that can be understood by use of a picture or action often learned in normal conversations at home and school. Tier Two words are more abstract and often have multiple meanings that indicate transitions, relate to sophisticated concepts, or reveal subtle shades of meaning. Idioms also fall into this category. Tier Three words are from specific fields of knowledge taught in school. The authors contend that Tier Two words are the most important to teach. Parents should concentrate on teaching these words. A list of Tier Two Words can be found at

One of the most effective ways to increase vocabulary is for you to read selected stories/books that will introduce new words to the child’s listening vocabulary. Encourage your child to choose a book on his/her reading level that is interesting and require the child to spend 30 minutes to an hour a day reading. ( or The whole family can keep track of pages read per week on the fridge. The object is for the child to increase the number of pages per week. Twenty-five books read during the year will expose your child to over a million words.

One literary character, Amelia Bedelia, is quite playful with words in a humorous way, which helps children remember the meanings of words that are pronounced the same but spelled differently. Once your child understands how those stories are constructed, you can encourage the child to write their own stories highlighting the confusing meanings of words. Begin by helping your child make a long list of multiple meaning words. Also, have the child create a book of idioms modeled on Fred Gwynne’s books such as Chocolate Moose for Dinner. Professional looking blank books are available from

A pun is the use of a word that can have a double meaning or the use of two similar sounding words for a humorous effect. One of my favorite read aloud books is Punished by David Lubar. Once you have read the book out loud, the family can practice making puns at home.

Create a New Word List on the fridge. Tape a large piece of paper on the fridge and divide it into the same number of sections as members of the family, dating each week. Members of the family places new words learned in their column. You might even have a competition with a small prize for the person who lists the most new words that week. Everyone can use the dictionary.

Solving crossword puzzles helps students retrieve words from the meanings. There are beginning puzzles from Dover Word games abound for older children (5th grade up). Anagrams, Scrabble, Jr. or Scrabble are a few of these games that come to mind. (I added tp the rules by requiring the word definition, as well as correct spelling.) You can also create your own word games. Reading Rockets site provides some examples. ( A related online game, Free Rice, is fun for older children.

Earnest Hemingway was noted for spending a whole day writing and rewriting a single sentence to have just the right words. The stronger your child’s vocabulary becomes as the years advance, the better his/her speaking and writing skills and the better, thus, the odds of success in adult life!!

Tommy Fairweather is a retired Walton County teacher and educational consultant who lives in Destin.