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Using Classic Books to Learn Vocabulary

Using Classic Books to Learn VocabularyWhen my oldest child was in second grade, we changed our reading focus.  I had previously focused more on reading aloud historical fiction, but after listening to some talks by Michael Clay Thompson, I decided that going the classic books route would be better.

Classic books increase a child’s vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure naturally.  How?  I guess it relates to the garbage in – garbage out concept.  If high quality sentences and complex vocabulary go into their heads, than high quality sentences and more complex vocabulary are more likely to come out.  That said, I don’t neglect direct teaching on things like writing, vocabulary, and grammar.  But I do like 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.

Soon after I made this switch, I read Tom Sawyer to my 8 year old.  As I read aloud we ran across the word cogitating.  Earlier in the book he had encountered that word and we 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?
Son:  I remember that one.

Mom:  What does it mean?
Son: (pauses for a moment) Thinking
Mom:  You were cogitating on cogitating?
Son: (pauses then smiles) Yes.

That instance was one of many that sold me on using classic literature.  That wasn’t the first time my son had learned new words from just reading.  While I was familiar with many of Mark Twain’s books, I hadn’t read Tom Sawyer.  I was surprised at the richness of vocabulary.  Just one page of Tom Sawyer contained words like:  perplexed, infernal, impudence, ostentatiously, haggard, pathetic, vanquished, and serene.

Fast forward 5 years and my son is exploring lots of classic literature.  I recently put together a reading list for him for middle school through high school.  Most of it is classic literature. My younger son, while a very different learner, is also reading classical literature.  My youngest is an emerging reader and while she isn’t reading classics yet, I read them aloud to her.

Do you have any favorite classics?  Please share in the comments!

One Comment:

  1. I Love this and absolutely agree! We’ve used this method ever since my son was three and asked me to read “The Call of the Wild” out loud to him. He is now seven and has a very impressive vocabulary. Thank you for sharing!
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