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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


Tips for People Who Hate to Write

So, writing is one of my joys…but I can’t say I always loved to write.  As I was roaming the web I found an article that gives a number of tips on overcoming one’s hatred of writing.  Frankly, I didn’t find all the ideas that helpful (or recommendable…is that a good work?…sounds fun to me!).  Here’s the article:

Tips for People Who Hate to Write

Tips for People Who Hate to Write. by –Deb on June 15, 2011. Last time we talked about the reasons people don’t like to write. Today, we’re going to talk about ways to help them. Dictate into a recorder rather than typing. Maybe it’s the

The best words of the author are right here–

There’s no denying that proof-reading and basic grammar skills are helpful to a writer, BUT they should never, ever stop you from writing in the first place. Getting words–no matter how badly spelled or how imperfectly punctuated–is the hardest part.

You see there’s the rub!  People get so busy and obsessed about writing correctly and properly that they never get about the one task that is necessary to learn to write!

Allow me to give you a powerful phrase for yourself and for your children as they learn to write:


Honestly, that’s all you need.  I remember writing one time and luckily trying this phrase when I was being critiqued by someone.  It was amazing, but as soon as I said “That’s what the editor is for…,” they magically changed to pay attention to what I was trying TO SAY rather than the exact perfection of how I said it.

There’s my advice…listen to your child’s communication as to his point.  Is it a big deal HOW he says it?  Isn’t that where the learning is…learning HOW to say it better?  Of course, if the IT isn’t worth saying, who cares if it is said well!

Now, you are not free from this point.  Honestly, it isn’t about your child…it’s about you too!  If you have longed to write, get after it.  Just keep saying, “That’s what the editor is for!”  And then, pour all the words you can on the page.  Some thing good is bound to happen in the midst of the drivil…look to the gold, not the dirt that brings it to you!


Fred Lybrand