Everything that we use language for depends upon vocabulary knowledge, especially reading. If a book is full of unfamiliar words, it's likely that a child will not be able to understand it. But children who know lots of words tend to read and use language well, and learn and communicate more successfully. Reading in one's Lexile range ensures that some new vocabulary will be encountered, but the reader will not get frustrated with the text and give up. The reader stands the best chance of learning those unfamiliar words when reading within his or her Lexile range.
Lexile-targeted reading can be a rich learning experience, because one's mind is using all the information in a sentence and paragraph to figure out the meanings of its words. If a child encounters an unfamiliar word in a sentence or paragraph, he or she tries to get a sense of what the word means in order to understand the whole. Encountering some new vocabulary in the context of reading gives a child the best chance of retaining that word in his or her permanent vocabulary memory. And if that reading is in a child's Lexile range, you can feel confident that the text will have just the right amount of unfamiliar vocabulary to foster reading growth without overwhelming the reader with difficulty.
As your child's vocabulary grows, he or she is better able to read harder books, which gives access to higher-level ideas and information. It's hard to go far in school, or in any area of interest, without being able to read well.
Here are some ways to help your child build vocabulary as he or she reads:
- Ask your child, while reading, to place a sticky note on each page of a book that has unfamiliar words. One can also just write the unfamiliar words, and the page numbers they occur upon, in a notebook. You can look them up in a dictionary later, and refer back to the book.
- Play dictionary games with your child. Take turns reading unfamiliar words to each other, and try to guess their definitions just from the sound of the word. Try to stump each other!
- Play a description game with your child. Look at a place or object and say a single word that describes or relates to it. Then your child has to say a different word that describes it, and you take turns until one of you can't think of a word. If you're looking at a tree, you might say "green," and your child might say "tall." Pretty soon, though, you will run out of easy words and have to say "evergreen" and "photosynthesis." This gets both of you to use words that you don't normally use.