“Why Do We HAVE to Do Vocab?”

Every other Monday morning, as the kids stream into my classroom, and they see a new set of vocabulary words, I instantly hear a moan and they say, “Why do we HAVE to do vocab?”

Improves your reading comprehension & reading speed: Studies show that, the larger my vocabulary register, the stronger my reading comprehension (being able to relate back things that happened) and the quicker my reading speed. For new readers, part of their process is figuring out what words mean–this might require them to use context clues, to look at the pictures, to use a dictionary–and for every word they stumble across and do not know, their reading speed is slowed down. But, if I know the definitions of words, I can relate back (a) what happened and (b) read faster. Especially in a college world where one might be reading 50 + pages per night,  per class, the more words I know, the stronger my reading comprehension, the quicker my reading speed, the less time I spend actually reading, the more time I have for social activities.

To clarify terms of a contract: In our lifetime, we will sign a plethora of contracts–leases, mortgages, job offers, marriage licenses, pre-nuptials–the possibilities are endless. Often times, these contracts are laden with legal jargon that could potentially influence us later on. It’s important that, when we sign a contract, we understand what we are signing–it would be a shame if, in our housing agreement, we initialed to say that our trash would only be picked up on the curb catty corner to the mailbox, not fully understanding what catty corner meant, and having a pile of trash rot for the terms of our lease. Or, to sign our divorce decree that says they would “garnish our wages per paycheck”, only to find out that “garnish” does not mean give you pickles and olives and fancy pieces of lettuce, but rather, take money out before you were paid.

To provide quality directions: In yoga teacher training, one of the items that gets beat into your head is to give direct cues–because most of the time, as a yoga teacher, you are using your words to direct people (instead of your own body), it is important to use cues that directly state what you want your students to do. I remember during teacher training, I one time said, “push your toe over your knee” (when I really meant to say, “send your knee over your toe”), and then was horrified when all the students followed my exact direction, and looked like they might hurt themselves. Even if you aren’t going to be a yoga instructor, we give directions all the time–to our house, to our spouse when going to the grocery store, to our children when packing their backpacks, etc. Having the vocabulary to tell people precisely what we want them to do, where we want them to go, how we want them to do it eliminates potential misunderstandings–and injuries.

Accurately defines diagnosis: A few months ago, I was racing through one of those kid-sized blow up obstacle courses, and somewhere along the way, my leg got stuck on a blow up pillar, my knee twisted, and it was difficult to walk the next day (but don’t worry, I won the relay). When I went into my doctor, she asked me, “is it a throbbing pain? a stabbing pain? a dull ache?”, and in order for her to properly diagnosis my knee injury, I must have the vocabulary to be able to tell the difference between those adjectives–throbbing means I can feel my arteries and veins expanding, stabbing means I can pinpoint a particular spot that experiences a piercing pain, a dull ache means something like a bruise–not sharp, but just uncomfortable. If I answer one way, she might prescribe some R.I.C.E, and if I answer another way, she might send me to the E.R. for some expensive MRI’s and X-Ray’s, which could turn out to be unnecessary if my only mistake is not being able to accurately verbalize the feeling of my pain.

To properly resolve conflict: A 3 year old may say that they are “mad” about everything–“mad” when they find out they are getting a new brother or sister, “mad” when they need to take a nap, “mad” when they get punished for drawing all over the wall with mommy’s lipstick. A 3 year old has a very limited vocabulary, but what they really mean is that they are feeling “jealous” about dividing attention, “tired” when they need a nap, and “guilty” when they get in trouble–and each of these very different emotions would require a different solution. In our adult lives, we inevitably will face conflict with others, so it’s important to have the vocabulary to discern between our emotions so that we can properly resolve a situation. For example, if my significant other forgets my birthday, I don’t necessarily feel “mad”, but rather “disappointed”; if my sister tells my dad my secret, I don’t necessarily feel “mad”, but rather “betrayed”; if my best friend posts pictures of she with another friend, I may not feel as “mad” as I do “left out”, and the emotions of “disappointment”, “betrayal”, and “left out” require a different set of solutions than “mad” does (when I hear “mad”, I just think that the person needs to yell and scream and belt out some Taylor Swift songs).

All in all, while vocabulary may seem painful to learn, it is very important to increase reading comprehension and speed, to minimize conflict, and to accurately and effectively convey our ideas.

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