Dear Teacher

Online tools to strengthen vocabulary

Question: My child, a sixth-grader, loves technology. She also has a weak vocabulary. Are there any ways to combine building vocabulary and technology?

— Multitasker

Answer: It is very important for children to have a good vocabulary. Academic success depends on the ability to understand what is read. Having a good vocabulary is one of the keys to comprehending material, especially new material.

Most children have a sufficient everyday vocabulary to communicate fairly easily with others. However, the language of textbooks and classroom work is a far more difficult vocabulary to acquire, as it involves language not ordinarily used in daily conversation. Fortunately, there are ways to expand your daughter’s vocabulary that involve technology.

You might start with having her explore word games. This way she could be having fun and at the same time expanding her vocabulary. Your daughter might search with you online for vocabulary games. You should search together to make sure appropriate websites are chosen.

One that you might consider looking at is It has a fun quiz that older elementary students can use to improve their vocabulary online. The quiz gives four potential meanings for a vocabulary word, and students select the one they think fits. It’s ideal for elementary students because it provides a hint for students who have no idea what the word is.

Another great tool that will help your child immediately look up a word she does not recognize in her reading is online reference tools. She will be more likely to use this type of tool rather than a print dictionary. Many of these tools are free. Explore several with your daughter. Some can be mounted on the browser toolbar for ease of usage.

Because students who have the best vocabularies are those who have acquired it through reading widely, encourage your daughter to read books that appeal to her online. Many e-books have dictionary help that offers not only the definition of a word but also its pronunciation.

Your child should also begin to use the vocabulary help that is offered on many websites. For example, there is a word wizard that pops up when students are reading Scholastic News online. It is also possible for her to hear the articles being read.

Finally, for your child to increase her vocabulary, encourage her to listen to audio narration of books, especially those that will let her have access to dictionary definitions of words that she might not know. And it would be wise to ask her teachers about websites that the child can use to increase her vocabulary. They are likely to have some excellent suggestions.

Readers: Your children are slightly more than halfway through the school year. Take the time now to evaluate exactly how they are doing. If they are having problems in any of their classes, there is still plenty of time to turn things around. Begin by talking to their teachers. Find out exactly what help is needed to get them back on track and where it will be available — school, tutoring, learning center.

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