Reading to kids exposes them to words that aren’t as common in everyday conversation. They can often learn new words in stories from the context of the words in a sentence.
Take the made-up word “wuggy” as an example. In the sentence, “She smiled and smacked her lips after eating her sandwich, because it was so wuggy,” it’s not hard to make a good guess about what “wuggy” means—probably delicious or tasty.
But for kids, the meaning of a word isn’t always clear from the sentence. Take the sentence, “She gave him a prill to take home.” “Prill” could mean an apple, a storybook or a turtle, but there’s no way to tell that from the sentence.
Explain as You Go
New research has found a way that adults can help children learn new words faster: Explain new words as they come up in a story.
Researchers in New Zealand studied 47 students in the first grade. Students were read 2 different stories 3 times each, with the readings 1 week apart. For 1 of the stories, the children heard an explanation of unfamiliar words. For the other, children received no explanation of new words.
At the end of the 3 weeks, students were tested to see how many new vocabulary words they had learned from each story.
Students learned more new vocabulary words from the story when the meanings of words were explained than they did from the story when meanings were not explained.
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