Sunday, December 9, 2018

Never Too Old (or Young) to Learn a New Word

Today I've just remembered an old vocabulary-building trick that I used years ago--using a 3x5 index card as a bookmark, and writing vocabulary words from the book on the card as I come across them. That's the gist of it.

I have several steps to choosing, recording, researching, and memorizing a word.
  1. Choosing: Words can be either words that I simply do not know, or they can be words that I know but want a clearer definition for. As an example, in my current reading I have chosen the verb "cohere." I know the meaning but usually see the adjective or adverb derivative, not the verb form. Therefore, I have chosen the word in order to deepen my understanding, not to introduce myself to a new word.
  2. Recording: On a 3x5 index card, I draw a line parallel to the left edge, about 1.5 inches to the right of the edge. In this space, I write words I choose and the page number where each word is used. That way, I can return to the author's usage of the word, both to increase my understanding of the text and to increase my familiarity of how the word is used.
  3. Researching: I reference a dictionary, either an online source or my Webster's hard-bound, unabridged dictionary. All the familiar information is available: meaning, examples, variations, to name just a few. I write the definition to the right of the word in the remaining four inches of the index card.
  4. Memorizing: Repetition over time is key to memorizing, so I refer to my list as I return to reading the book, looking over the words and definitions. Another powerful memorization tool is to use the word, so sometimes I'll create sentences that use the word. "The facts suddenly cohered into an understanding of what had taken place."
I'm glad I remembered this technique. When I taught, I used this as a means of vocabulary development for my students. It was more meaningful for them since their words were self-chosen and came from books and stories they had selected themselves. Words the students chose were a part of their lives, and this increased motivation. It was a bear to evaluate, though, because every student required individual evaluation time.

I've also just realized (or remembered) that I included this technique in my book about writing, I Write: Being and Writing. The book is divided into three sections on the writer, the process of writing, and the written word. I placed this little vocabulary building technique in the second section. I believe that the path to being a good writer includes being a good reader.

Right now, I'm reading Cheryl Strayed's Wild: from Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail, and I can't wait to find my next word.


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