Reading Extensively Helps Build Vocabulary- Truth or Myth?

Why not learn one new word everyday or just learn a list of words every week? Does your child have to read extensively to have a good vocabulary?


How do children learn new words?

Before they learn to read, they are dependent on an adult to talk to them, show them things, describe those things with words, describe emotions with words and of course words are also learnt by listening to books being read aloud and stories being told. Somehow once they learn to read, there is an expectation that they must start reading independently. Other sources of words gradually decline or probably even stop. While some children take to reading easily on account of a number of factors such as people at home seen reading everyday, others do not take to reading that easily. Reasons could be many starting with something as simple as they haven't found the right book.


The need for children to have the freedom to choose books, to read and encounter new words on their own.

Over time, in every grade, a gap between those who read outside of school and those who don't, keeps increasing. In every grade, there will be a mix of children with diverse interests and at different reading levels. As children grow older, the gap between the children who read regularly and those who hardly read keeps growing bigger. For any number of reasons, including inadequate reading experiences or learning disabilities, some students are not able to read at grade level. This has a huge impact on their confidence and in their comprehension abilities to adjust to the load that keeps going up every grade. These children sadly do not see themselves as capable of being readers. Worse, they simply resign to accept that they don't like reading and hence will never be able to read the way the other avid readers in class do. Donalyn Miller, the award winning teacher, in her book The Book Whisperer says, "No matter how much instruction students receive in how to decode vocabulary, improve comprehension or increase fluency, if they seldom apply what they have learned in the context of real reading experiences, they will fail to improve as much as they could...Students who do not read regularly become weaker readers with each subsequent year. "


For any number of reasons, including inadequate reading experiences or learning disabilities, these students are not reading at grade level. This has a huge impact on their confidence and in their comprehension abilities to adjust to the load that keeps going up every grade.

The only way to stop the gap between these students and the other proficient readers in class from widening further putting the former at a disadvantage, is to provide the space, time and choice of books to read. It is as simple as that. By giving them a chance to explore books independently without an adult looking over their shoulders to assess their performance, over time enables them to realise that they too can enjoy books the way the proficient readers do. It was just the question of finding the right book.


The only way to stop the gap between these students and the other proficient readers in class from widening further putting the former at a disadvantage, is to provide the space, time and choice of books to read.

Learning new words in a context to be able to use them appropriately in different forms of communication

Communication as a skill is perhaps more talked about perhaps at college or work levels and not much at school level. Even a small child needs words to communicate, to be able to express themselves clearly and be understood correctly. The ability to choose the right words in one's communication grows when one has a chance to witness different words being used across contexts and conveying the desired/intended message with impact. Reading allows the reader the space to observe the use of words and the time to reflect with the luxury of rereading the use of the word in a give context to grasp its meaning. Audio books and podcasts have the rewind option for the same need and can be as good as reading for children who prefer listening to reading by themselves.

Reading allows the reader the space to observe the use of words and the time to reflect with the luxury of rereading the use of the word in a give context to grasp its meaning.

Research (Fielding, Wilson, and Anderson 1986) indicates that sheer volume of reading could make a world of difference. To put this in perspective a fifth grader who reads 25 mins everyday will encounter about 20 thousand new words out of which the resulting net gain could be 1000 words! What's more encountering these new words in a context, helps with comprehension and retention for appropriate use in communication later on.


Reading mustn't only be a time pass activity for the summer holidays. It must be something routine that happens everyday. Even 10 minutes in a child's daily schedule being reserved for reading a book of their choice, will enable to the reap the benefits thereof in multiple ways. If your child's after school schedule is packed leaving no time at all to unwind with a book, you may want to reconsider.

Note: Best to avoid testing your child to see if they have actually read the book. That's the sure shot way of NOT raising a reader.


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