Thursday, June 25, 2009

Don't worry so much about the words

When I went to my first Slushbusters meeting long ago, before we were the group we are, or even had a name, someone criticized one of the words I used as being too big for kids to read. I disagreed. I think one of the greatest things kids can get from reading is a better vocabulary. This week I learned that some of them feel the same way.

This summer I'm co-leading the girls' book club at the library. The girls, ages 9-13, read and discuss books just like an adult book club. The adult group leaders picked the first book, Tuck Everlasting. Twenty girls showed up to talk about it! At the end of the first meeting the group voted from a list of books and chose the rest. The library provides a free paperback copy of the next book to the first thirteen girls at each discussion meeting. We meet every week, and on alternate weeks we either watch a movie (based on the book we just read) or do a craft. This gives them two weeks to read each book. The boys have a group of their own, with guys leading the group and a different list of books.

As they read, the kids look for words they don't know. At the meetings we make a list and read the definitions aloud. Then they vote on their favorite "hardest word." They agree to use it in conversation as often as possible to really learn it. The following week we have a quiz. Whichever group scores highest on the word quiz overall wins. Boys against girls is a great motivator, but they were pretty enthusiastic about the words from the beginning. Remember, it's summer vacation. They're participating because they want to read the books and learn the words.

What were the words? In Tuck Everlasting they found melancholy, disarray, deprecation and indomitable. The girls chose disarray to be the word they learn. I don't know the boys' whole list, but the word they chose from The Invention of Hugo Cabret was horologist.

I'm pretty sure I've never used any of these words in my writing, but at least now I know I can, and the kids will be just fine.

Lisa must have known this all along. She's the only Slushbuster to have used words in her work that I had to look up.


Lisa said...

Michelle, what an awesome thing your library is doing. I would have loved to have been a part of something like that when I was a kid.

And I am all for using new words in our writing. I once had my librarian tell me to open to a random page of a book and read it. If there were 5 or more words I didn't know on that page, then the book was too hard for me, and I should choose another. If there were only 4...slog through it, kiddo!

Tess said...

Great point. I once had someone say that to me and I brushed it off right away. Honestly, all the best books have some challenging words in them.

When you dumb down your vocabulary, you loose dimension and voice.

I think kids like to feel smart and my 10 year old just read the entire Fablehaven series and is half way through Harry Potter now and loves them. He figures out the meaning of the words based on how they are used.

And he feels SMART. That's cool stuff.

Lisa said...

Tess, I totally agree. I just read The Willoughbys, by Lois Lowry, and she uses all sorts of fun words like odious, lugubrious, ignominious, irascible, and indolent. This is a book for 9-12 year olds. Exactly the kind of book I would have loved reading. What fun words to learn!

Christopher Goodwine said...

Great program! I was blessed with a wonderful library as a kid, and I've never forgotten the value of that.

What an odd thing to say, though. What better source of childhood vocabulary-building than books with words you don't know? Read and learn at the same time? UNHEARD OF! When you don't know it, just look it up. But then again, I was *that* kid. Yeah, the one with the dictionary in his bag.