4 ways to build your child's word power

Help improve your child's vocabulary for better reading skills

4 ways to build your child's word power

Solid reading skills are vital for success on many of the tests your child will take between Kindergarten and high school graduation. Students need to possess a strong vocabulary and be confident in their ability to discern the meanings of many words.

Yet the benefits of a broad vocabulary go far beyond test scores. Children and adults who have a way with words possess communications skills that are vital for success in both school and life. Here are some tips for building word power:

1. Read extensively. The best way to develop a broad vocabulary is to read extensively from preschool onward. Whether your child is enjoying the adventures of Ernest Hemingway or reading books about his or her favorite subject or hobby, viewing words in the context of a narrative builds an intuitive understanding of their meanings.

Your son might simply shrug when seeing the words "gargantuan" and "gilded" on a vocabulary test, for example, but he'll probably understand the meaning right away if he's reading a passage that notes "With more than 2,200 passengers, including a dozen millionaires, on board for what was supposed to be the fastest-ever Atlantic crossing, the gargantuan Titanic was the most technologically advanced maritime vessel of the Gilded Age."

2. Learn how to "decode" words. While the best way to score stellar results on vocabulary tests is to have a thorough understanding of the words being tested, students can also make a well-educated guess about a word's meaning by recognizing certain clues. One of the most effective strategies is to understand the meanings of common prefixes and suffixes. A few examples include:

Un, which generally means "not," as in unacceptable, unusual and unaware

Re, which usually means "again," as in return, remember and reiterate

In and im, which usually refer to something being "in" or "not," as in ineligible, immutable and implausible

Inter, which commonly means "between," as in interloper, or intervention

Dis, which usually means "apart," as in disassociate, dissension and disagree

Sym and syn, which refer to being "together," as in symmetrical and synergy

Common suffixes, meaning letters at the end of words, will provide clues as well. When you see the letters "less" at the end of a word, the word will often mean something related to "without," as in hopeless, thoughtless and careless. "Ful" refers to being "full," as in hopeful, helpful and thoughtful.

An excellent resource for building word power is www.dictionary.com, a site that enables visitors to check the meanings and spellings of words. The site also has numerous games and puzzles that build word knowledge and vocabulary skills in a fun way. Simply subscribing, for free, to "word of the day" will a introduce a new word every morning as your child logs on to email. Your child can also learn the most common prefixes, suffixes and word roots by typing these key words into the "search" box.

READ MORE: Super Vocabularies = Successful Students

3. Make flashcards of new words. Once your child learns the most common prefixes, suffixes and word roots, he or she can use www.dictionary.com or a regular dictionary along with reading assignments to learn words that incorporate them. Try setting a goal, such as learning five new words a day for five days a week. Once your child finds a new word, he or she should make a flash card, with the word on one side and the definition on the other.

Your son or daughter should then keep the flashcards on hand and run through them often to strengthen familiarity with the words. Setting a goal to learn five new words a day for five days a week can boost your child's vocabulary by 200 words in just two months.

4. Become familiar with vocabulary categories. Students must also understand the various categories of words. Synonyms, for example, refer to two or more words that have a similar meaning. Antonyms are words that have opposite meanings. Your child should also be familiar with analogies, which express a connection between words, as in "bark is to dog as meow is to cat," and "clothes are to fabric as tires are to rubber."

A great way to help your child learn challenging but important words and get past speed bumps to comprehension is to look at homework reading exercises before your child tackles them and help your child pre-learn the words that might create problems. Make a list of these words. Work alongside your child to "decode" their meanings by looking at prefixes and suffixes, and then using them in a sentence or conversation to show the context before he or she starts reading the passage.

If you spot challenging words such as "verify" and "enigmatic" in a passage for example, you can help your child pre-learn the words by using them in a sentence, such as "I'm going to verify that you've completed your homework," or discussing why Arthur Conan Doyle's enigmatic Sherlock Holmes stories are so exciting.

Dr. Raymond J. Huntington and Eileen Huntington are co-founders of Huntington Learning Center, which has helped children achieve success in school for 44 years. For more information about how Huntington can help your child, call 1 800 CAN LEARN.