lit·er·ate adjective \ˈli-tə-rət also ˈli-trət\
: able to read and write
: having or showing knowledge about a particular subject
Words are wonderful things. They are fascinating in their formation, and their use, and the feelings they convey. Somehow, by combining squiggles and shapes that people have come to understand and write as letters, we can form all kinds of words. Then we can use these words to express ideas, opinions, and stories. The facts that we write about, and the tales that we tell, can trigger emotions from deep within.
word noun \ˈwərd\
: a sound or combination of sounds that has a meaning and is spoken or written
Yes, words are wonderful things.
Every year during high school we studied from a book called Word Wealth. There are similar versions today – twenty chosen words each week, learning about their meanings and nuances, synonyms and antonyms, root meanings and history, and so forth. Somehow our teachers made this fascinating to me, and I came to realize that by learning one word I was able to have an understanding of a whole family of related words and phrases.
in·spire verb \in-ˈspī(-ə)r\
: to make (someone) want to do something : to give (someone) an idea about what to do or create
: to cause someone to have (a feeling or emotion)
I was hooked.
In one of my early teaching assignments I worked in the same grade as a teacher who recognized my interest in words. When she was puzzled by the meaning of a word, or if she was writing and needed just the right term, she would come to me. I would often tell her how to decipher a meaning of a word by using its parts. Or I might define the root word and remind her of words she already knew – related words that shared that the same base word. Once or twice I laughingly told her she could use a dictionary – but she said she learned more from listening to me.
un·der·stand verb \ˌən-dər-ˈstand\
: to know the meaning of (something, such as the words that someone is saying or a language)
: to know how (something) works or happens
Thanks to those teachers that long ago had shown me the joy of studying words.
The teachers in my most recent school had a spirited discussion about vocabulary instruction. Their opinions ranged from using a program similar to the one I had in high school to introducing only two – three new words a week (!!). It was also suggested that the words taught to students should tie into social studies and science units.
short·sight·ed adjective \ˈshȯrt-ˌsī-təd\
: not considering what will or might happen in the future
: made or done without thinking about what will happen in the future
As if other words don’t have value on their own.
I was saddened, and I tried to express my own beliefs – that words are valuable in and of themselves, and that we can all become more literate just by knowing more about words. More about their meanings, their histories, their strength. But I am not sure all teachers share that thinking. Sadly, they did not all learn about the potency of words when they were students themselves.
chal·lenge verb \ˈcha-lənj\
: to arouse or stimulate especially by presenting with difficulties
Let’s change that, shall we?