Children with dyslexia often have trouble pulling out the right sounds when they are speaking. It’s not that they’re not smart and don’t know the meaning of words, it’s a problem of getting out the word with the right sound combination. They may say, “It’s on the tip of my tongue,” and what comes out will be a different word than intended. For example: A little boy was crossing the street with his dad and saw several people jaywalking. He looked up at his dad and said, “Those Presbyterians should be more careful.” Of course he meant pedestrians, but the wrong word came out.
If there is an overall theme to building word power for children with dyslexia, it is this: context matters.
They will more likely understand and remember information by relating facts to larger ideas. In order for information to be understood and remembered, it needs to be attached to an idea.
Many children with dyslexia are kinesthetic learners; they are ‘picture thinkers’. Therefore, learning a new word might involve having the child make a three-dimensional modeling-clay or play-dough representation, either symbolic or realistic, of the word. The process of creating the image, stores the word’s meaning in a different part of the brain, generating a visual association. For example: the word ‘through’ might be represented with play-dough by creating a train track with a train passing through a tunnel.
Acting out Words
Children with dyslexia also benefit from acting out words. Having to bring a word to life is a little like a game of charades. It requires an understanding of the word in a deep way, and involves grasping the meaning of the context of the word.
Include in Adult Conversations
Another way to build vocabulary is to bring children into the conversational world of adults. Being included in adult conversations at the dinner table, in the car, or while the family is discussing an important issue benefits all children. Conversational inclusion is particularly valuable, however, to children with dyslexia. They are the hunters and gatherers of the oral world. Because it is harder for them to access knowledge by reading written information, they typically develop strong listening skills. Engaging in sophisticated discussions helps them build their knowledge and word banks while developing transferrable conversational skills. Talking with adults challenges children to use higher-level critical thinking skills and vocabulary. Children with dyslexia crave context. Conversations with adults offer them a context for ideas and words, two currencies that they will trade in throughout the remainder of their lives.
Intentional Lines of Questioning
Lines of questioning are likely to lead to rich conversations. If you ask for a retelling of events or for a summary of the day, you challenge them in two important ways: word retrieval (remembering the best word to describe things) and sequencing (ordering events). Ask how they feel about an issue, why they thought a problem occurred, or why they did or did not like something. This line of questing helps children to think critically. They are required to make connections between their life experience and the experience of others, make predictions, and organize their thoughts. Plan to include new vocabulary words that you can easily introduce into conversations with your child. Talking with adults offers children an opportunity to practice their oral expression, clarify application of new words, and ask questions in a safe environment.
Hunter-gatherers need fields and forests teaming with life. They need opportunities to hunt down a new word, expression, or idea; an exciting new conquest. When your hunter-gatherer brings home a new conquest, celebrate!