Children begin building vocabulary early. As infants, they start to recognize words from being spoken to. They learn to communicate during conversations with their families as they grow. Toddlers and preschoolers also listen to stories read to them by their parents. By the time children reach school age, they may have a vocabulary of six to ten thousand words. For the majority of children, this vocabulary has been acquired just from the various forms of the spoken word, prior to learning to read.
What happens to vocabulary development when students learn to read? A more significant question—How is vocabulary development impacted for students with dyslexia?
For students who learn to read easily, vocabulary increases as they progress through school. These students become independent readers. Each book or text they read offers new words, that they learn and use in their conversations. Building this larger vocabulary leads to stronger comprehension skills. Good readers are able to acquire three to four thousand words per year.
Because dyslexia is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition, students with dyslexia spend their time and energy learning to decode. Reading does not come easily or quickly. With the increased time spent with the actual process of learning to read, students have less exposure to new vocabulary. They simply aren’t reading as much as their peers. The result is that their vocabulary growth rate is impaired.
How do we help dyslexic learners increase their vocabulary?
While students are learning the reading process, parents can create opportunities for them to learn new vocabulary. This can happen through reading aloud together, audio books, direct instruction, multisensory activities or games, technology, and everyday conversation.
Read Aloud with Family:
Listening as someone reads aloud benefits children of all ages. Families can choose books, magazines or online articles that interest each member, because they are not limited to a particular reading level. Reading aloud can be highly interactive. While reading together, parents can pause to ask questions about specific words and help connect their children to past experiences. This creates increased comprehension of the text.
Like reading aloud, students can listen to books well above their reading level. Audio books provide children the opportunity to independently access new vocabulary.
Families can build vocabulary lists to explore meanings together. Once words and definitions are identified, students can create stories with the new terms, which can be dictated to a parent or computer. Families can then read those stories together.
Multisensory Games and Activities:
Students can draw pictures of terms they are not familiar with. Drawing pictures allows the meaning to be stored in a different part of the brain and creates a visual association. Acting out the meanings of words, with a game like charades, also increases memory for new vocabulary.
Dictionary and thesaurus apps allow students to independently access vocabulary. Students can dictate into an app, which can then read the definitions and synonyms to them. Once a student learns this skill, they can look up any unknown word they encounter.
Conversation is an easy place to expose children to vocabulary. Parents should speak to children using varied vocabulary and include high level or more technical words, rather than watering down the content.
Students with dyslexia will benefit greatly by providing any of the above opportunities for increasing vocabulary. This will further support them as they develop their reading skills and once they are proficient readers, they will have far less of a gap in their vocabulary knowledge.
Elizabeth Hipwell, M.Ed.
Director of the Dyslexia Center
Certified Barton Reading & Spelling Tutor
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Dr. Karen. (2020, February 22). Vocabulary development in the school-age years. Dr. Karen Speech and Language. Retrieved October 23, 2021, from https://drkarenspeech.com/vocabulary-development-school-age-years/.
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