Vocab nerd discovers five-star app

imageIf you need any convincing, here are my top two compelling reasons to become a family of vocabulary nerds:

1. The ability to capture an exact shade of meaning or emotion with just the right word simply enhances our enjoyment of life. (This is still a valid reason to pursue a skill, right?)

2. In the information economy, good communicators can create a range of unique opportunities. If our kids can’t rub two words together, they might be missing out financially.

Motivated by these ideas, a vocab building scheme emerged in my home which involved lots of legal-pad pages falling off the refrigerator. (Don’t you hate those magnets that can’t seem to hold anything heavier than a butterfly wing?) No more! The advent of a simple, free smartphone app called ‘Quizlet’ helped us to create a relatively elegant system. Here’s how it works:

When it’s time for me to read aloud to my kids, I grab the book and my phone, and cozy up with them on the couch. Sometimes, when we come across a word they don’t know, they ask me to define it. We then pause briefly to create a study card in Quizlet with the word on one side and the definition on the other. Both kids have a list, and I occasionally quiz them. When they finally own a word, we erase it.

The fact that they’re asking for new words makes this system preferable to some isolated vocab activity where words they don’t personally require are introduced seemingly at random. This way, they are learning in context.

Now, there are two caveats that are really important. First, take the long view by resisting the urge to prompt them. Stopping to capture every word that you think they don’t know will transform a beloved bonding activity into a dreaded chore. The idea is that you help them capture the words they want. They’ll soon have a nice list along with an intact enjoyment of literature.

Secondly, make sure they see you capturing your own new words from your own books. Create your list right next to theirs on your phone. After all, the point of an exercise like this is not really to increase their vocabulary in the short term, but to show them they are part of a family that values curiosity and lifelong education for the sheer enjoyment they bring.