Building Vocabulary with Classic Literature

When my oldest was 8 years old, I read Tom Sawyer to her.  I had recently moved into the train of thought commensurate with the ideas expressed by Michael Clay Thompson. He believes that if children can learn words like Tyrannosaurus Rex, they can learn complex vocabulary.

I started to focus on reading classics to my children.  Classics are designed to increase vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure naturally.  How?  I guess it goes back to the garbage in – garbage out concept.  If I put high quality sentences into their little heads then high quality sentences are more likely to come out.  

That said, I didn’t neglect direct teaching on things like vocabulary and grammar.  I liked to utilize natural ways to learn in order to reinforce what is taught directly.  Take a quick look at Michael Clay Thompson and his views on vocabulary.

Back to Tom Sawyer….anyway, I was reading Tom Sawyer to her one day and I ran across the word cogitating.  We had encountered that word earlier in the book and stopped briefly to discuss what it meant before continuing with the story.  So when we ran into cogitating again our conversation went something like this:

Mom:  Cogitating – do you know what that means?
Kid:  I remember that one.
Mom:  What does it mean?
Kid: (pauses for a  moment) Thinking
Mom:  You were cogitating on cogitating?
Kid: (pauses then smiles) Yes.

That was one of many moments that sold me on reading the classics to my kids. That wasn’t the first time that my kid had learned new words just from reading.  

While familiar with some of Mark Twain’s writing I had never read Tom Sawyer.  I was surprised at the richness of vocabulary.  Just one page of Tom Sawyer contains words like:  perplexed, infernal, impudence, ostentatiously, haggard, pathetic, vanquished, and serene.  

Now my 8 year old often needed me to stop and explain what was going on.  She didn’t get every word or every idea expressed, but that is okay.  Challenge is a good thing.

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