Building a Personal Dictionary to Grow your Child’s Vocabulary

Spelling tests seem to be a “one and done” concept for many children. They study and study from Monday through Friday morning, memorizing those 10-20 words with the hope that they can make a 100 on the test. Some students memorize the words and then they are forgotten by the following week because a new set has taken their place. Others will store the words in their memory and from then on, can spell them correctly in any writing situation.

Beyond learning spelling patterns, these tests are designed to increase your child’s vocabulary; to expose them to new words or remind them of the texts read during the week. So, let’s use these tests to our advantage by creating a personal dictionary each time there is a spelling test.

Most students will revert to words they are able to easily spell when they are writing essays; i.e. using “happy” when they really are “excited”. Sally doesn’t know how to spell “xsited” so she just puts “happy”. With a personal dictionary, she can search for the word she wants to use and boost her writing to the next level. Teachers looooooooooove when their students go beyond the basic terminology and use those “dollar words”.

How to set up a personal dictionary:

-Get a composition notebook, staple some construction paper together to make a small flipbook, or have a folder with brads where papers can be added.
-At the top of each page have your child write one letter of the alphabet.
-Look at this week’s spelling list. Talk about the words and get their definitions. Listen to what your child’s definition is because that is the way they are going to remember the word.
-Ask your child if this is a word that they would want to use again. This is an important step because it helps your child establish ownership of their dictionary, prioritize their terms, and lets them know they have control of it. Most of the time adults tell them what to do; so this is big. You may be thinking, “This is a great word. Just put it in there for later. You really will want it.” but hold off soliciting your thoughts in the beginning.
-If they deem a word important enough, have them find the letter it corresponds with in their dictionary.
-Write the word under the letter. Make sure they are writing the words in columns because the hope is to have enough room to add many words (like a true dictionary).
-Next to the word, ask your child if they want to put their definition or draw a picture to help them remember what the word means. They may have a mixture of both, and that is ok.
-Continue to do this with each spelling test.

Now What?

Now that they have a growing personal dictionary, they can bust that out when they are asked to write in their journal, asked to write an essay, or when they are working on homework and they aren’t sure what a word means. (maybe it was a previous spelling word. Look it up to see!)

By the end of the year your child will have an amazing set of words that are tailored to them. These words are unique and are an example of how your child thinks and wants to communicate themselves in writing. This is a great way to retain vocabulary terms to increase their language. As an added bonus, your child is also building sight word recognition.

Happy Writing!!

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