Monday, July 23, 2012

Encourage Children's Literacy by Word Collecting

by Susan Stephenson,

One of the biggest favours we can do our kids is to develop an appreciation for words in them. Activities that do this can be as simple as sharing a song, joke, chant or nursery rhyme. Or why not include more focussed language activities where kids become Word Collectors?

Here are some ideas you might like to implement with your students/children:

*Buy or make a special word collection book. Decide if you want to organise it alphabetically, or according to themes etc.

*When kids are little, collect words that start with or contain a letter or sound the child knows. "Oh, there's a G. That's in Grandpa."

*Collect common words that conform to a pattern. When kids are in the early years of school, we call these "word families". They can search for examples of "-ate" words or "-oo" words in print or the environment, and record them in their books.

*Collect unusual words that conform to a certain pattern. Reduplicatives or echo words delight kids, words and phrases like chick flick and booboo, mumbo-jumbo and higgledy-piggledy. Or you might want to collect very long words or short words.

*Collect physical words. Look around and find examples of words in old magazines, cut out the ones you like and arrange them in your word collection book. Or take it outside and collect words with a camera.

*Collect any words when a child doesn't understand the meaning, and record both word and meaning in the word collection book.

*Collect words from other countries. To help kids gain a little understanding of other cultures, chose one topic and research words across several different languages for that topic.

Here's an example: Have kids brainstorm all the words for animals and the noises they make.

#The duck - quack
#The cat - miaow, mew
#The chicken - cluck, cheep

Look at how to say that in some different languages. For instance, in French, the duck says, "coin", in Japanese, "ga ga", and in Finnish, "kvak". Here's Michael Rosen interviewing Derek Abbott about animal noises in other languages in the radio program, Word of Mouth.

The above is a great activity to try if you're travelling overseas with your kids.

*Collect "ear candy " words. What's ear candy? It's what author Lynn Plourde calls poetic devices. Can kids find examples of alliteration? Onomatopoeia? Record them in an "ear candy" page in their word collector book.

*Collect words that just appeal to you and your child. Ask them about their favourite words, and why those words resonate with them. They might like to accompany each with a thumbnail sketch.

*Investigate word origins and derivations with your kids. Many words have a fascinating history. You might consider subscribing to some Book Chook favourites: Anu Garg's Word a Day, and World Wide Words. Both have archives that are fascinating places to browse. Your (older) child might like to add investigated words to a word collection book.

Play word games, take notice of words in your environment, fool around with language, read aloud, sing, chant, above all have fun with words in everything you do, and your children will be well on the way to becoming word collectors themselves. If you have more ideas, please add them in comments below.

You might also be interested in Book Chook Favourites - Word Play, Save the Words, Book Chook Bag of Tricks, Word Games for Kids - KeyMaba, Word Fun at Only Connect, Blurt,  Review Boggle Flash, Review, Orijinz, and Messing about with Words to Increase Literacy.

Have you downloaded my free pdf, Literacy in the Playground? It has lots of chants, skipping and clapping games your kids will enjoy.


  1. Love it, Book Chook! Some great ideas here. Love the idea of "ear candy". Similarly, I often refer to words "that make my ears happy". (Thanks to Donna Rawlins who often speaks of images that "makes her eyes happy".

  2. @Sue Whiting Thanks Sue! "Words that make our ears happy" is even clearer for kids I think. And I am so stealing that expression about "images making our eyes happy". That's exactly how it is!

  3. Can I recommend two books about collecting words? Max's Words by Kate Banks and illustrated by Boris Kulikov, and this newer one, I just read a review of yesterday:

  4. I love the idea of word collections. I'm still using the rather boring (for kids) term vocabulary. From now on I'll ask my students to collect words. I'm sure that will be more appealing than doing vocabulary. JB :-)

  5. @Jb Rowley I think you're right, JB - being Word Detectives is another idea they might like.

  6. I love this but I wouldn't know where to start on how to catergorise them. Although, I guess that's endless isn't it. We could start on the alphabet and then more on to rhyming words or animal words or just words we enjoy saying. Some wonderful ideas in here Susan!

  7. @Penny Exactly! Ask Miss Possum how she wants to group them, too. She might want a page for sparkly words, or words about princesses etc. Grouping words in itself is such an interesting activity, because kids discover words can be in more than one group, and they start to think about why we need to categorize in the first place.


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