Help your child build a winning way with words

Solid reading skills are vital for success on many of the tests your child will take between kindergarten and high school graduation—including the SAT and ACT. Students therefore 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 pre-school 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, 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 e-mail. Your child can also learn the most common prefixes, suffixes and word roots by typing these key words into the “search” box.

3. Make flashcards of new words. Once your child learns the most common prefixes, suffixes and word roots, he or she can use 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.”

Dr. Raymond J. Huntington and Eileen Huntington are co-founders of Huntington Learning Center, which has helped children achieve success in school for 29 years. For more information about how Huntington can help your child, call 1 800-CAN-LEARN.

From the Feb. 14-20, 2007, issue

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