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How to Teach Word Meanings

 

Here’s a post I responded to about learning word meanings:

Need a suggestion… my 9 yr old learns differently. I pulled her from PS after finding out that her work was being done for her…gotta kept the schools test scores looking good! I’m trying to pick about 4/5 words for her to learn the meaning of each week. They come from the McGuffey readers. She reads very well but just can’t understand the meaning of words. Take the word “smut”. She can spell it fine. Trying to teach her to search in the dictionary and write down a brief meaning. I choose the meaning—dirty, soiled spot– and used my finger to trace an imaginary dirty spot on my shirt. Her mind doesn’t seem to retain what I say. Next word was –bind- looked it up and read meaning, to tie up with a rope. Then I talked about actually doing it such as in a cowboy movie or playing cops/robbers. Just doesn’t click with her. Help!!

As I’ve pondered this for the past couple of days (bit of a puzzle), I now have a couple of thoughts I hope will help:

    1. The child is only 9 and has come out of a system that hasn’t been helpful to her. If you were telling us about a 13 year old, I’d immediately say you need to find someone who can help. However, 9 doesn’t seem like a big deal.
    2. Looking up word meaning and trying to remember them works against our brains (I might be controversial here!). Word meanings are ALMOST ALWAYS context dependent. In other words, how is it used in a sentence? For example:

 

*What do we have to eat tonight?

*What do we have to eat tonight?

 

What is the meaning of ‘have’ here? If it means ‘available’ then the sentence goes one way…if ‘have to’ means ‘obligation’ then the sentence goes another way.

My thought is to spend more time having her read aloud and work on word meanings in context. Build on successes and easier words so her confidence grows. A word like ‘smut’ is pretty abstract (not really a common 9 year old word). If she can make sense of, “The goat jumped over the fence and ate the daisies,” — I think she’ll be on course! If she can’t tell you what a goat is…what jumping is…and that a daisy is a flow– then go get help. If she can do these, just keep adding from where she is currently.

My guess is she needs to grow her confidence based on little successes. Once she ‘knows’ she can do it, then the sky’s the limit.

God bless,

Fred Lybrand

www.homeandschoolsuccess.com