Educated people use a three-tiered vocabulary, according to research* done thirty years ago.
- Tier 1 words include basic words, the working vocabulary of little children. Children do not need to be taught these words; they learn them from interacting with their caretakers and other children. In kindergarten, some of these words are called sight words. Usually these words do not have multiple meanings. Such words include “no,” “dad” and “dog.”
- Tier 2 words include words we use frequently as adults but which little children do not use. These “adult” words can be used in many contexts. They are harder for children to learn since they have multiple meanings. Tier 2 words add detail to our speech and writing and are necessary to learn in order to understand what we read. ”Obvious,” “complex” and “verify” are examples.
- Tier 3 words are used infrequently, but are necessary to speak and to read about particular areas of study. In an English class, such words might include “predicate,” “narrator” and “sonnet.” In a medical journal such words or phrases might include “prefrontal cortex,” “neuroplasticity” and “synapses.” These are often “idea” words used as scaffolding to build further knowledge.
The Common Core State Standards are asking teachers to teach and use Tier 3 words more. Instead of saying the “action word,” teachers say the “verb.” Instead of asking for the “total,” teachers ask for the “sum.”
What this means is that students, beginning in primary grades, are being taught Tier 3 vocabulary words. Children are expected to know what “analyze” and “cite” mean, and they are expected to use those words, not euphemisms, in explaining their thinking or behavior. And when words like those appear on state-wide, end-of-year exams, children are expected to know what they mean and know how to respond accordingly.
You, as parents, can reinforce Tier 3 vocabulary by using appropriate academic vocabulary with your children. Harry Potter is the protagonist of his stories. Three and two are factors of six. Anne Frank’s diary is a primary source. Arthropods have an exoskeleton.
Children need to master certain Tier 3 words in order to understand directions from teachers and directions on tests. We will talk more about these words in future blogs.
*Beck, I. L., McKeown, M. G., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing words to life. New York: Guilford.
So you suspect your preschooler has dyslexia. What can you do?
- Realize that the younger a child is when identified as dyslexic, the sooner help can begin. If possible, you want to identify the situation before the child becomes frustrated and discouraged, and before the child is labeled as “different.”
- Ask your school district to test the child. Because of the child’s age, the district might balk, and say he will be tested when in kindergarten, or first grade, or later. Sometimes the district will become involved if you have some “proof” that the child is dyslexic. This might require private testing at your expense by some recognized expert.
- From the school district, find out what services your child will receive and when.
- If the school district “officially” won’t help, make an appointment with your elementary school’s reading specialist. She will probably have ideas you can start with, and she might be able to lend you materials or at least identify materials that will help.
- Consider hiring a reading tutor, one with experience teaching children with dyslexia. A good tutor will use many strategies, particularly game-like, hands-on approaches that will appeal to a preschooler.
- If someone else in the immediate family has dyslexia, there’s a good chance your child has the same kind of reading problem and can be helped the same way. What worked for your other relative?
- Check out ideas on the internet. Use keywords such as dyslexia, preschooler, reading and learning strategies.
- Begin working with your child yourself. Focus on the sounds of the language first, and make sure your child can hear them and pronounce them properly. Only then match sounds with letters.
- Is letter recognition difficult? Buy an ABC puzzle or letter tiles or a Scrabble game. Use the letters to play games forcing the child to identify letters. Unfortunately, most sources for letters use only capital letters, and it is generally lower case letters which cause problems.
- Work on printing letters properly. If fine motor coordination is difficult, use a computer keyboard instead. But again, most keyboards identify the keys with capital letters.
- Use music. Teach your child the ABC song. Sing songs together which rhyme or read nursery rhymes.
- Teach directions. Up, down. Left, right. Inside, outside.
- You may find it takes longer for your dyslexic child to master certain skills when compared to a child without reading difficulties. Be patient. If a younger sibling is catching on faster than the dyslexic child, work with each child independently and out of earshot from one another. If at all possible, conceal from your child that he is having reading difficulties. Find ways for him to succeed at learning.
How about pulling your child out of preschool, or stopping all reading instruction for a year or until the child is seven or until the child reaches first grade? These are not good solutions. In pre-K students are expected to know their letter sounds and to match them with ABC’s. In kindergarten children are expected to read CVC words, high frequency words, and some two-syllable words. A child who can’t keep up with his classmates develops low self-esteem which can intensify reading problems.
Be proactive. If you think your three or four-yer-old shows signs of reading difficulty, act as soon as possible for the best outcome.
You can teach your child sight words through many methods. Buying or making cards with pictures on them can help make the words stick better in the child’s mind. You can have your child learn a word a day by pointing to the word and having the child say it aloud. Repeating helps the words stick. Many kindergarten classrooms have word walls where the sight words are posted so children can use them when writing.
You can find such words with magnetic backings (or you can make them). Put them on your refrigerator, or in a large metallic baking pan or cookie sheet. Then help your child move the words around to make phrases or sentences.
Games are another good way to teach sight words.
- Make a BINGO sheet with sight words for your child to find and cover.
- Play Concentration. Make a set of cards with two of each sight word. Start with just a few pairs, mix them up and turn them over on a table, and then turn them, two at a time, to see who can find the most matching pairs.
- Play Go Fish with the same set of matching cards.
Some word pairs can easily be confused, so spend extra time on them: of and off; for and from; was and saw; on and no; their and there; them and then; and when, where, what and with.
One caution: Children who learn sight words before they learn phonics may try to memorize all words rather than sounding them out. They may balk at learning phonics. They need to know it is important to be able to sound out words using certain rules so when they encounter new words they can figure them out.
Yes! Sight words (sometimes called high frequency words) are words which a reader can identify by their appearance, even if the reader doesn’t know phonics. They are often little words like “a” and “and.” Some of them follow the rules of phonics, but some don’t.
Why is knowing them important? According to Dr. Edward B. Fry who did extensive research on English words,
- 25 sight words make up about one-third of all words published.
- 100 words comprise approximately one-half of all of the words found in publications.
- 300 words make up approximately 65% of all written material.
In the 1940s, Dr. Edward W. Dolch published a list of about 300 words commonly used in children’s books published in the 1920’s and 1930’s. These became the first list of sight words.
In the 1990’s, Dr. Fry did further research and provided a list of 1,000 words which he called “instant” words.
By knowing these words, a child can read about 75% of almost any book written for children. For example, knowing the Dolch words, a child can read almost
- 88% of Ten Apples Up On Top by Dr. Seuss
- 87% – Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
- 78% – Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman
- 78% – Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman
- 82% – I Want to Be Somebody New! by Robert Lopshire
- 83% – A Fly Went By! by Mike McClintock
- 78% – The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
- 81% – The Cat in the Hat Comes Back by Dr. Seuss
- 75% – One fish two fish red fish blue fish by Dr. Seuss
Lists of these words are available free on many websites. Search for either “Dolch words” or “Fry words.” You can buy cards printed with these words on them.
In our next blog, we’ll talk about ways to teach sight words.