When we look back at our own vocabulary instruction, we probably remember vocabulary words highlighted in bold in our social studies books, or occasionally built into our language arts lessons in later elementary school. What we most likely do not recollect is specific vocabulary instruction in preschool or early elementary. Most of our gains in vocabulary in the early years of our lives came from the oral language around us – - talking with grown-ups and other children, being read to, listening to conversations or the lyrics of our favorite songs.
Vocabulary and Reading
The words that a child has both heard and spoken make up the base of their comprehension when they begin to read. If a child has been limited in any way in their oral language process, reading instruction can be hampered. Many things can affect how much oral language a child is exposed to – - poverty, hearing or learning disabilities, attention deficits, and living in families where English is not the primary language. Even more discouraging, children who begin school with a vocabulary deficit, seem to struggle with a vocabulary gap as they continue through grade school. Fortunately, a Penn State research study shows that specific reading and vocabulary instruction for preschoolers and early elementary students can help close the gap between those with disadvantaged oral vocabulary skills and their more verbal peers.
The importance of vocabulary to reading cannot be overstated. Children who have been read to just 10 minutes a day seem to have much higher comprehension levels as they begin to read for themselves than children who were never read to. And reading comprehension may be the single most important factor in academic success in later elementary school and on through middle and high school.
The importance of vocabulary to reading suggests that formal vocabulary instruction for preschoolers and early elementary students could be beneficial. This can be done by actively engaging young children with words in creative ways. Word games are an especially effective way of helping children interact with new words. The Matching Game on vocabulary.co.il lets children manipulate words and pictures in a fun and pressure-free format. The game has two modes – - a learning mode, and a play mode. There are also fifteen different categories of words to choose from, so teachers and parents can help youngsters focus on a certain theme or subject.
The other games on the site – - Unscramble, Word Search, Crossword Puzzle, and Hang Mouse are also wonderful for practicing with new words and categories. Beside the many word categories available (see Topic Listing), there are also three specific preschool word categories, and three specific kindergarten topics. Each of these would be helpful for teachers looking for fun ways to integrate specific vocabulary instruction into their classwork time.
The categories available in the vocabulary.co.il games are carefully chosen to be varied, and applicable for students. Vocabulary instruction is most valuable when it focuses on words that are useful in writing and conversation, words that will be encountered often, or words that are difficult (homonyms, idioms, rule-breakers). The variety of word topics in the games on this site ensure that each of these types of words are included within the choices.
The internet has opened up a world of possibilities for improving the vocabularies of early learners. By using games such as the ones on vocabulary.co.il, teachers and parents can ensure that their young learners are prepared for the adventure of reading and writing. Our generation may not have had access to formal vocabulary instruction in our preschool and early elementary years, but vocabulary lessons for today’s early learners are as close as the nearest computer.