What do the following words have in common?
If you said they are all slightly uncommon words that should be part of an educated person’s vocabulary, you are correct.
If you said they are all words of the ilk that might show up on an SAT or similar exam, you are also correct.
And if you said they are all words from the very first song of Hamilton, An American Musical, you are also correct (and most likely as big a fan as I am).
As my family indulges in the music and lyrics from Hamilton, my daughter has learned the words above and so many more. Words like venerated and unimpeachable are now part of her daily speech. I cannot thank Lin-Manuel Miranda enough for opening her eyes to the beauty of the English language. For teaching her (without even trying) that there is a lot more to speaking than “yeah” and “like” and “whatever.”
Get Out the “Authentic Texts”
The lyrics to Hamilton are what’s called an “authentic text”. Basically that means that it was written for any purpose other than teaching language. In order to be an authentic text, a piece or writing has to be presented to the reader intact rather than processed, adapted, or simplified. Authentic texts are the books, poems, articles, stories, songs, and musicals that kids love to read or listen to. They are the pieces of writing that stay with you, the lines that repeat over and over again in your head, and yes, the pieces of writing where the vocabulary itself plays an important role in contributing to the overall beauty of the written word. In fact, research has shown that reading (or listening to) authentic texts is an effective way to boost a reader’s vocabulary because authentic texts “are highly motivating, giving a sense of achievement when understood and encourage further reading. They also reflect the changes in the use of language.”
This is why the stories and articles found in Cricket Media magazines (all of which are authentic texts, naturally) have never shied away from using the big words. If your young reader is indulging in a story in Cricket or Spider or Ladybug, or any of our other magazines, not only are they being entertained by some of the best writers in the world paired with some of the most beautiful illustrations you will ever see, your young reader is also encountering vocabulary words and concepts that may be new or unfamiliar.
The Best Way to Learn Vocabulary
But don’t worry. That doesn’t mean your child needs to come find you and ask what the word means. Instead, our “marginalia” (those little characters who live in the margins) are here to help. As your child reads, the characters who live in the margins define difficult words and give additional context for ideas that may be unfamiliar. No need to reach for the dictionary when Spider or Cricket are around, instead your child can scan to the bottom of the page and get help from a little bug friend. You’re happy, they’re happy, and the bug friend has done his job and is very happy.
As the school year gets underway, we hope your children will read or listen to hundreds of authentic texts: books, magazines, newspapers, articles, stories, fiction, nonfiction, songs, musicals…whatever catches their interest and boosts their reading enjoyment. And we also hope you see a steep increase in the number of new words your young reader adds to his or her vocabulary. Just a few words a day will make a huge (gigantic, enormous, significant, massive, jumbo) difference in your child’s overall word knowledge and will make a far greater impact than any vocabulary worksheet they bring home from school.