Challenge Students with High-Level Vocabulary

This summer I wrote and published a children’s book. It is entitled The Yucky Ducky and it is a fun, rhyming, Seuss-inspired tale that highlights the importance of good nutrition, contains a healthy dash of girl power, and – most importantly – is a vehicle to promote richer vocabulary with young readers.

I love the fun/surprises inside The Yucky Ducky, but I am most proud of the vocab. Here’s why: this year, in my middle school classroom, I really noticed language issues among a number of my students. Although they appeared to be completely fluent in conversational/social language and the language of my class content, they struggled with more complex words and phrases. Students regularly ummmed and ahhhed when trying to answer questions and frequently asked each other, in their home language, how to say particular phrases. Also, on tests, students knew their stuff, but there were lots of issues with students not understanding what questions were really asking.

With this in mind, I knew that when it came to writing my own book, I would make vocabulary a priority. It was a tricky business as, being based around rhyming couplets, my story had to work on both a sound-alike level and in terms of moving the plot along. There were a few occasions when I second-guessed my word choices, but I knew that I always used high level teacher talk in my classroom to challenge students, so why not challenge my young readers in the same way? Context clues in the story would hint at the meanings of any new/strange words. But, if there was still some confusion, the word choices would provide readers (with the help of mom or dad) with an excellent opportunity to explore new words together.

A former colleague bought a copy and had this to say about The Yucky Ducky:

“My number 1 focus with my class last year was vocabulary. When I realized the gaps they had in understanding and fluency were because of gaps of understanding in vocabulary, I was blown away. This was the first native English speaking group I’ve had in quite some time, so I took for granted that their vocabulary would be high (IMO, this is a societal issue…no one is reading to or talking with their kids anymore…). ANYWAY, I digress…I’m now keenly aware of the level of vocabulary in children’s books, and I’m so super impressed with The Yucky Ducky! I’m looping with my class this year, so I’m PSYCHED(!) to have this book in my toolbox now. I cannot wait to do a close reading study with it.”

It was very satisfying to see that another teacher a) actually bought a copy, and b) actually got what I was trying to achieve.

Even if you don’t buy my book (which is wrong – you should buy it…right now!) keep vocab in mind when choosing books for the young people in your life and when you are talking to them. Don’t be afraid to stretch their minds a little!

Ed Ex!

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