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Don’t Go to the Dictionary: Vocabulary Play

When I turned to Peter Sipe’s Some Material May Not Be Suitable for Children in this month’s Glimmer Train Bulletin, I appreciated his awareness of the fact that not all young readers “enjoy” reading: “The best way to become a good reader is to read, but if you have trouble understanding the words, reading for pleasure may make as much sense to you as recreational dentistry.”

But the last thing I expected this 6th grade teacher to then advise me was not to tell students to use a dictionary when they encounter words in reading they do not know: “‘You go to war with the army you have,’ Donald Rumsfeld once told his troops. Children open books with the vocabularies they have. They can strengthen them on their own—just as in Iraq soldiers scavenged for armor to protect their vehicles—or we can help them get the vocabularies they need.”

He doesn’t shun the use of the dictionary, but his sense of instilling vocabulary power through play is one that can make the difference for struggling readers.

Spread the word!