By Max Millard
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  1. Create a simple dictionary of frequently used words
  2. Use knowledge of literature and content areas to understand unknown words
  3. Use a standard dictionary to determine the meaning of unknown words
  4. Understand and follow simple multiple-step oral directions for classroom or work-related activities
  5. Recognize categories of common informational materials (e.g., newspaper, brochure)
  6. Materials for in 6th-8th grade reading lessons

1. Create a simple dictionary of frequently used words.

a. For each word in the student's dictionary, there should be both a definition and a sentence that demonstrates its use. It's an important exercise for the students to be able to define a word without using it in a sentence. The sentence should be seen as a further aid to understanding the word. Let the students practice defining words by choosing some common words from a real dictionary and seeing how close they can come to the definition listed there.

b. Each student should make his own dictionary. One of the biggest difficulties in making a hand-written dictionary is adding new words to it. A way to get around this problem is to use 3x5 cards with hole punched in the upper left corner with a hole puncher. Write the word at the top, followed by its definition and a short sentence. Then string the cards on a large paper clip or metal ring. The students should bring their dictionaries with them to every class, and always have 3x5 cards handy to write new words at the top. When they have time, they can work on the definitions and sentences. It's all right for them to continue the sentence on the back of the card, as long as the word itself is prominently displayed at the top of the front of the card.

c. If the students need more space for writing their definitions and sentences, they can use a loose-leaf notebook. This might be good idea for students with a lot of words, or those who can't write small enough.

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d. If the students have trouble writing their own definitions, they may copy the definitions from a dictionary.

e. Whenever a student does a writing assignment, the teacher should circle the misspelled words so that the student will be able to add them to his dictionary if they aren't there already.


2. Use knowledge of literature and content areas to understand unknown words.

a. The teacher can look at some advanced children's books or poems and underline the words that most children in the class are unlikely to know. Then the teacher can read those sections aloud and see if the children can guess the meaning from the context.

b. The technique of guessing at words from their context is especially useful in studying foreign languages. If the teacher knows a foreign language, he can read a passage from a book in English, then say a foreign word in place of an English one. The class can try to guess what the foreign word means. The teacher should use real words. There are a lot of dual language books available for children, including English/Chinese and English/Spanish, so the teacher should be able to find the foreign word quite easily.

c. There are some good stories from the 19th century or earlier available on the Internet, which can be downloaded or sent as e-mail attachments and printed out. Some of the stories may be familiar to the children already, but they include some difficult vocabulary. The teacher can print out some pages of these stories, hand them out, and let everyone in the class turn to the same section and try to guess the meanings. Among those available are "The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving, "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant and "Aladdin" by an unknown author.


3. Use a standard dictionary to determine the meaning of unknown words.

a. Compare dictionaries. Try to get two or three different ones, hand them out to different students, and ask everyone who has a dictionary to look up the same word and read the definition. Foreign-language dictionaries tend to have much shorter definitions.

b. Show the students the entries for some words that have multiple meanings, such as run, roll, fire.

c. Practice the technique for looking up words. If your dictionary has a tab for each letter of the alphabet, teach the students to look for the tab first. Then tell the students what words are at the tops of the pages, and ask if you should go forward or back in your search.

d. When you find the word you're looking for, copy onto the blackboard the phonetic spelling and word origin, and explain why these are important. For example, L stands for Latin, Gk stands for Greek, ME stands for Middle English. The phonetic spelling uses international phonetic symbols that tell non-English speakers how to pronounce a word, and they can help native English speakers too if the word is unfamiliar.

e. Examine the other features of a dictionary. Many dictionaries have an essay about the English language, a guide to the phonetic symbols, a section on punctuation, a style section, and sections for geographical terms, biographical names, and American universities.

f. Here's a neat trick that might get students more interested in dictionaries. Ask a student to choose any word in the dictionary and write it down. Say that you'll be able to find out what it is by asking 15 questions that can only be answered by yes or no. Can any student do it? Let them try. The trick is to open the dictionary right in the middle and ask: "is the word in this half?" If they say yes, divide that half in half again and ask the same question. If they say no, divide the other half of the dictionary in half. You'll find that by asking the same question in 10 times or less, you'll find the page that the word is on. Then ask: "Is it on the left side of the page?" Next, ask if it is on the top half or the bottom half of the page. You're most likely to find the word after about 12 to 14 questions.

By asking the question once, you'll be able to find the correct word out of 2 words to choose from. By asking twice, you'll find the correct word out of 4 words. By asking 15 times, this is how many words you'll be able to find it from:

2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2 = 32,768 words


4. Understand and follow simple multiple-step oral directions for classroom or work-related activities.

a. Writing letters is a good exercise of this type, even if the letters are just written for practice and are never mailed. The students need to include these elements:

? Envelope: write mailing address in center, return address on upper left

? Postage stamp: the students can design it themselves. It must include the amount of postage and the name of the country. Then it needs to be glued to the upper right of the envelope.

? Letter: return address and date in upper right, then greeting, message, and closing.

The teacher can produce a sample letter and make a list of all the elements. See if the students can work on their own and create a letter without forgetting anything.

b. Origami: this is a good exercise in paying attention because the instructions are exact, and one little mistake will mean that it won't work. The teacher can learn a simple origami figure, then hand out a piece of origami to everyone and describe each fold as the teacher makes it in front of the students. The directions must be very clear. The teacher's words are reinforced by his actions, so it will be easier to follow than trying to read the instructions in a book.

c. Drawing pictures: There are some books that teach how to draw certain figures step by step. This is also the technique taught to children at the Chinatown YMCA. If everyone in the class gets a piece of white paper and a pencil, the teacher can draw the picture in front of the class and describe each stroke.


5. Recognize categories of common informational materials (e.g., newspaper, brochure).

a. Daily newspapers: examine the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle and discuss its relevance to the students. For example, the pink section has listings of movies and children's events. The TV section tells what programs will be shown in the coming week. The book review section has reviews of new children's books. The sports section tells when the Giants and A's will be playing, and whether it's on TV or radio. The comic section is fun to read, and has children's activities and puzzles on the last page.

b. Ethnic newspapers: get enough copies of Asian Week to pass around the room. Do the students find it very interesting or useful? What purpose does it serve? Would they like to write for it? If they were to become a journalist, what kind of articles would they like to specialize in? Or look at one of the two black weeklies in the city, the Sun-Reporter and the Bay View. How do the articles differ from the ones in Asian Week?

c. Monthly neighborhood newspapers: look at the Marina Times, the New Fillmore, or any other local paper that covers a certain geographical area of the city. How does it differ from weekly ethnic newspapers and the daily Chronicle?

d. Free newspapers: the San Francisco Examiner is a free daily, and the San Francisco Independent is a free twice-a-week newspaper that is delivered to people's doors. How do these newspapers make a profit if they are free? Discuss the role of advertising in newspapers.

e. Newspapers for a specific organization: the public library's free monthly brochure is called At the Public Library. It's a very useful publication, and the children could benefit from studying it in some depth. It has sections about children's events, teen events, classes, lectures, exhibitions, book sales, movie screenings, and other events.


Materials for in 6th-8th grade reading lessons:

3x5 cards
hole puncher
large paper clips
Spanish/English children's books
text of 19th-century children's stories
origami paper
book: How to Draw Wild Animals
black newspapers