I've talked about Beverly Cleary's books on this blog quite a bit. That's because the sweet girl (now eight! gulp!) loves them to pieces. Sometimes literally.
She's particularly a fan of the Ramona books, and we've been reading our way slowly through the series, doling them out like chocolate-covered read-aloud treats in between other books. Just today we finished Ramona Quimby, Age 8 (sweet girl's pick, just in time for her own 8th birthday!) the Newbery honor winning Ramona that was first published in 1981.
I've been thinking for a while about ways to begin to do some natural vocabulary building. Well, I'm a big believer in the fact that vocabulary does get built, quite naturally, the more we read -- and listen and converse. I've just wanted to find some more intentional ways of calling attention to word meanings, beyond the bit we do in spelling each week during the school year (where we often discuss word meanings or look a couple of the spelling words up in the glossary at the back of the spelling book). I'm also wanting to encourage more use of the dictionary, and to that end, we recently purchased a beautiful one: the DK Merriam-Webster Children's Dictionary. We snagged a used copy from my favorite bookstore, Half-Price Books. I must say it's amazing what a couple of dog-eared corners can do to bring the price way, way down on a big hardback book like this.
My bright but obvious idea is to have the sweet girl think about words she comes across, especially in the books we read aloud together, that she's not familiar with. Then we can write them down together, in a lovely little composition book, and look them up. I say "we" not in the royal sense; for now this is a joint activity, but I foresee a time when it will become more independent.
I'm not pushing too hard on this -- not making her tell me every word she doesn't know -- because I don't want to take the joy and spontaneity out of our read-aloud time, and because I do think we learn a lot just by seeing and hearing a word in context. But this seems like a natural extension of that kind of learning. We often discuss what we read, which has led to some fun exploration of various topics (like leaning more about animals mentioned in the Little House books, or finding pictures of old automobiles when we read the Betsy-Tacy books). Reading always opens doors to explore further the things we don't know about, the subjects that intrigue us. Why shouldn't it open doors to learning about words that intrigue us too?
Cleary seemed like a golden opportunity to dive into this activity, both because her work is so beloved around here and because she uses such rich vocabulary. And so it was today that we found ourselves looking up feeble and indignant, inspiration and nag. Aren't those great Ramona words?
And it was fun! I planned for us to look up two words. It turned into four because the sweet girl got very enthusiastic. She asked me to just open the book to any page and read her a paragraph (we'd just finished the whole thing) and she'd stop me when she got to a word she wasn't quite sure she knew the meaning of. I have a feeling this exercise is going to be a keeper, and not just with Cleary books. Though I'm glad that's where we started.
Related post (from 2008): Teaching Nouns with Beverly Cleary