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Just about everyone in education agrees that having a strong vocabulary is vital to a student’s academic success. However, finding easy ways to make teaching vocabulary fun can be tricky. According to research, only a fraction of a child’s vocabulary comes from direct instruction. They learn the rest through natural exposure. 

The average Kindergartener starts school knowing about 5,000 words just from listening. But once a child enters school, most of the new vocabulary he or she learns–which totals about 3000 words by the end of 2nd grade–comes from reading. 

Reading a lot is the very best way for kids to learn vocabulary, but what does that mean for our kids with reading difficulties? Are they doomed to fall further and further behind because they can’t learn new words through reading?

Absolutely not! However, this is why children with learning disabilities must have extra direct vocabulary instruction tailored to their needs and the way their brains work.

Today I am going to focus on research-proven methods for teaching vocabulary. Although there are plenty of strategies out there, the following methods always work best for my kids with learning disabilities to help make those vocabulary words “stick”:

How to Introduce Vocabulary Words During Reading

When you and your student are reading, focus on finding, learning, and reviewing unknown words. This not only helps your student comprehend the text you’re reading, but also leads to a greater understanding of the world itself. Here’s what the strategy looks like in action:

  1. Pause reading and tell the student the word.
  2. Next, talk about the word, giving as much background as possible – a science or history lesson when appropriate.
  3. Demonstrate how to use the word in a sentence.
  4. Then discuss multiple meanings of the word with the student.
  5. Practice visualization. For example, to teach the word “avid,” ask the student to visualize a person that they might know who is an avid reader or avid bowler and then trace the word avid while they imagine the person.
  6. Together with the student, compose a simple definition and have the student write it on the whiteboard.

Now… Drill Those Words!

 

After your student understands the meaning of the vocabulary word, it is time to write down that word and practice it. Time pull out those index cards and markers!

Have your student write the word on one side and write the definition on the back side. You will want to review the flashcards with your student constantly–I’m talking all year!  It’s an easy way to make teaching vocabulary fun for you and your student because they can see the bundle of words they’ve learned growing bigger and bigger.

But you don’t want to just drill drill drill. Both you and your student will get tired of that pretty quickly. Keep reading for five fast and easy ways to make teaching vocabulary fun!

 

How to Teach Vocabulary Words in a Fun Way!

Draw the Word:

Have your student draw an image of each vocabulary word. Make the images funny and memorable so that they really stick into your student’s mind.  You can also put this drawing on their flashcards.

Vocabulary Word of the Day:

This is a really great way to practice vocabulary and include the entire classroom or family in the process. First, post one of the flashcards up on the front door. Every time your student walks in and out of the door, they have to give you the word in a sentence. Encourage the whole classroom or the family to participate–-so much fun!  You can also make it into a Vocabulary Word of the Week if your student (or anyone else) needs extra practice time.

Play Charades

Make a game out of learning the vocabulary words – like playing charades. Take turns where your student has to act out the word and you have to guess it, and then the other way around.  

Write a Story

You can have your student use the vocabulary words into a fun and creative story. This will really help your student spell and practice using the words in sentences.

Adapt Classic Games

Once you have at least a dozen vocabulary words collected, you can a take familiar game like BINGO and use the vocabulary words to fill in the squares. This really makes teaching vocabulary fun because you can always add more words, use the game to review words, and use something tasty for the markers. Check out our Literacy Lunch video to see how to make an Orton-Gillingham BINGO board:

A Word About Audio Books

Listen to audiobooks regularly! Audio books are a natural way to expand your student’s vocabulary through listening. Later, when your student sees same word in print, they will be better able to decipher the word because they have already had the exposure to it beforehand.

Another great strategy for setting your reader up for success is you listening to a novel first, then reading it. It gives them the pronunciation of those difficult to pronounce locations, names and other Proper Nouns that they struggle with when reading.

Your local library will offer free audiobooks with a library card. If your student has a learning disability diagnosis, I recommend connecting with Learning Ally. It is non-profit volunteer organization whose mission is to make audiobooks accessible to all people with reading difficulties.

Next Steps

Effective, fun vocabulary instruction is so important for young readers, but is only one piece of the intricate puzzle of mastering reading with a learning disability. Here are a few other posts that talk about other aspects of reading instruction:

Reading Comprehension: My 5 Step Lesson Plan for Inferencing

How to Find Your Child’s Reading Level

My Favorite Sight Word Activities

Our PRIDE Reading Program incorporates direct vocabulary instruction as part of our research-based Orton-Gillingham. If you’re looking for a comprehensive, affordable reading program designed for students with reading difficulties, click here for more information.


Karina Richland, M.A., is the author of the PRIDE Reading Program, a multisensory Orton-Gillingham reading, writing and comprehension curriculum that is available worldwide for parents, tutors, teachers and homeschoolers of struggling readers. Karina has an extensive background in working with students of all ages and various learning modalities. She has spent many years researching learning differences and differentiated teaching practices. You can reach her by email at info@pridereadingprogram.com or visit the website at www.pridereadingprogram.com

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