Category Archives: Language Arts

Why You Should Expand Your Vocabulary

expand your vocabulary

Do you find yourself utilizing the same word repeatedly? Do you have a hard time expressing yourself clearly? Have you ever wanted to find a more direct way to speak or convey your thoughts to others? All of these happenings and thoughts could be clues that you desire to expand your vocabulary.

But these aren’t the only reasons people should actively work towards refining and expanding their language ability. In fact, they only scratch the surface in terms of reasons for anyone to actively seek to improve their communication skills and expand their vocabulary. From advancing your communication skills, to connecting to people, to having a deeper understanding of the world around you, there are practical and beneficial reasons for actively expanding your vocabulary.

Words Are Our Tools

“Words are instruments, they are tools that, in their different ways, are as effective as any sharp edge or violate chemical. They are, like coins, items of great value, but they represent a currency that, well spent, returns ever greater riches.”

Tim Radford, Address Book: Our Place in the Scheme of Things

Words (after individual letters) are the basic tools humans have for conveying our messages to each other. The words that we choose to use and the way we string them together make all the difference between a message being clearly received by the recipient, or not. The idea that words can be used as social tools is explored in the linked psychology paper.

Think about a time that you had to have a difficult conversation with someone – perhaps with a boss or a loved one that you were upset with but didn’t want to hurt. When it was your turn to speak, did you angrily say whatever words came to mind recklessly? Or were you careful, pausing before speaking to ensure your message was delivered gently? Believe it or not, even if on a subconscious level, you understood in these situations that your words were powerful and had the ability to either make or break the situation.

Salespeople are a group of people that are acutely aware of the power of words. They are trained, or some instinctively know, to stay away from words that sow doubt in the minds of their buyers and will tend to use words that breed positivity or make a buyer feel good about what they are buying.

In each of these instances, the respective speakers are aware of how their words can affect the outcome of the situations in which they are participating. Whether it is completing a sale or having a heart to heart with a loved one, or conducting a professional conversation at work, the words used during these conversations are important, and most people understand this – even if it isn’t something they actively think about.

Expanding your vocabulary to be able to use the precise word needed in any given situation can greatly increase your chances have having the situation work in your favor.

“Language is the key to the heart of people.”
― Ahmed Deedat

When working to connect with people, the words that we use can help bring those connections closer.

Perhaps you have heard the idiom, “you are speaking my language.” There is so much truth to that phrase and there are instances where knowing the vocabulary of the person with whom you are speaking will undoubtedly help you to connect with that person and ultimately achieve whatever objective you are seeking.

Perhaps it is simply to make new friends, court a significant other, complete a sale, or successfully deliver a persuasive message to different people, speaking the language of the people with whom you are trying to connect can lead to better results.

One of the best ways to “speak the language” of your audience is to learn the basis of their language – their vocabulary. So if that person is into music, social justice, manages a company or had a different point of view than you, you need find the way they speak or think, and cater your message to that way of thinking. That task will include needing to understand their vocabulary and the concepts to which they subscribe. But of course, their concepts might be explained using specialized jargon – jargon that you would need to know in order to connect with your audience.

If you want to connect with different people, for any reason, expanding your vocabulary to knowing and understanding theirs is the first best step.

“So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won’t do in your essays.”
― N.H. Kleinbaum, Dead Poets Society

As the late, great Robin William’s character Mr. Kleinbaum so eloquently proclaimed in the above quote – using less advanced vocabulary is in some ways an act of laziness. Especially given the technological advances that have flourished since that inspirational film was released.

Finding the exact word needed to properly convey one’s thoughts is easier than ever now that the internet and Google have been invented. And when it comes to wording a message in the exact way needed to meet an objective, taking a few seconds, or minutes, to search the right word is the least that could be done to get the message right.

Sometimes, crafting a message, even in everyday discussion, can be a labor of love. Adequately preparing can reap rewards ten-fold.

Do your self a favor, take the advice of Mr. Kleinbaum, and use the appropriate advanced word to further your message. Take the time to expand your vocabulary and you can’t go wrong.

“A man with a scant vocabulary will almost certainly be a weak thinker. The richer and more copious one’s vocabulary and the greater one’s awareness of fine distinctions and subtle nuances of meaning, the more fertile and precise is likely to be one’s thinking. Knowledge of things and knowledge of the words for them grow together. If you do not know the words, you can hardly know the thing.”
― Henry Hazlitt, Thinking as a Science

It can be argued that the more words you know, the more minutely concepts could be understood which ultimately results in a more robust knowledge base. Just like words are the basic building blocks of communication between humans, they are also the basic building blocks of our knowledge and our thoughts. The higher level verbiage we use translates into a higher level thoughts and thought processes. These higher level thought processes can lead to an expanded understanding.

One example that illustrates this point is the way most science text books are set up. At the beginning of every chapter is a list of vocabulary words that will be utilized during the chapter study. Understanding the meaning of those words and the context in which they are used will help a student to understand the material better.

While it is true that everyone has different learning strategies, I am hoping that I presented enough evidence here to support the idea that expanding your vocabulary is a beneficial activity that can help enhance your life in many ways. From creating or deepening personal relationships to achieving goals and having a deeper understanding about the world around you, expanding your vocabulary is the best first step anyone can take to increase their knowledge.

Do you agree? Do you think it is beneficial to expand your vocabulary? Why or why not?

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Filed under Language Arts, Learning Guides, Vocabulary Words

How to Participate in a Book Club

So you joined a book club, now what?

Perhaps a friend or coworker suggested a book club for you, or there is a book that you have wanted to read for a while and coincidentally an organization is running a book club with your book of choice, so you signed up.

But now the pressure is on. What is the best way to participate and contribute to the book club?

First and foremost, unless you have signed up for a particular duty related to the book club, your main goal for the book club should be your own personal enrichment. It is okay to be selfish with this! You want to get the most out of this book club for yourself. If you do this well, you will find that oddly, it could help others in the group.

What Tools Do You Need

  1. Time – This seems obvious, but be sure to give yourself time to read the book, but also enough time to digest what you read. I will detail this further later in this blog.
  2. Physical notebook or digital notebook – you want to use this tool to gather your thoughts about the reading piece.
  3. The book- you don’t necessarily need to purchase it. You can borrow from the library or a friend.

Get the Most Out of It

“To read without thinking is like eating without digesting.” –Edmund Burke

  1. If your book club provides guide questions, by all means use them! You want to read the guide questions before each chapter. Then, while reading try to find the answers to those questions. Doing this could prepare you for the discussion when the book club meets.
  2. When you are reading, if there is something that really moves you, take a moment to write about it in your physical or digital notebook. Perhaps it is a line that makes you think deeply; or it resonates with something that happened in your own life. Either way, when what you are reading evokes a strong emotion in you, take the time to explore that emotion and write about it. You should notate the particular quote that had an effect on you, along with the page number. The write your thoughts. Some writing prompts for that activity are as follows:
    • This quote made me (angry, sad, happy, nostalgic, etc.) because……
    • This quote reminded me of a time when x happened to me……
    • This saying reminded me of my (friend, family member, loved one, etc.)
    • This quote reminded me of a scene in another book I read. Compare the two.
  3. Write down any questions you have. Maybe something that a character does makes no sense to you. Write a question about it. Maybe you question why the author made a particular choice? Write that question down and bring it to the discussion. You never know, someone else in the group may have the same questions.
  4. Summarize each chapter when its done. If you take no other notes, a great way to take organized notes is to simply summarize each chapter once complete. Doing so can help you navigate through the book quickly while discussing.

What if you Didn’t Read the Book?

Don’t panic. It’s okay – it happens sometimes. Still attend the meeting. If you are put on the spot, just be honest. But listen to what other people have to say about the book. Even though you didn’t read it, listening to other people’s insight can still help you have an understanding of the themes and lessons learned through the story or narrative. And perhaps it will motivate you to read the book. 🙂

I hope that this covers the basics of participating in a book club. If you have any questions or need some further advise, feel free to comment below.

Happy Reading!

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Filed under Language Arts, Reading

How to Overcome Reading Challenges

One of the biggest challenges I have heard people express about reading is being able to stay focused to complete the paragraph, page, chapter or – the entire book. Even if it is a book or article that covers a topic that readers have an interest in, they still can’t seem to find a way to stay focused.

If this describes your reading experience, don’t worry – you are not alone.

The good news is there are several strategies you can utilize to break through this reading setback.

  1. Set your reading environment. If reading is truly a challenge for you, take the extra step of making your reading time and environment conducive to your goal. Sit somewhere that is comfortable and quiet. Make sure the electronics are off or set on silent. Perhaps you could put some peaceful instrumental music on low volume for background noise, if you feel it won’t be a distraction for you. Have any beverages such as coffee, tea, water – or wine if you are of age, and your snack of choice within arms reach to limit any need to get up in the middle of your reading session.
  2. Set your reading intention– Before you start reading, close your eyes, breath deeply for a few breaths. Tell yourself, either in your mind or out loud, “I will read 10 pages today,” or whatever the goal is for the reading session. Say it at least three times. Open your eyes and get to work.
  3. Use your finger to guide your eyes. This may seem like a juvenile method, but it really works well. Sometimes our eyes are lazy. It is so easy for them to wonder to any little distraction that makes its way into your reading environment. By using your finger as your guide, you are forcing yourself to stay focused on each word as your finger passes it. If you are new to reading, do this exercise for short time. For example, perhaps just have the goal to do this with three sentences at a time. Then work your way up to a paragraph at a time. Then two paragraphs and so on until you feel comfortable with it.
  4. Use guide questions – Now that we have found a way to keep our eyes from wandering, we have to find a way to keep our mind focused. Guide questions are a great way to do that. Generally you want to read guide questions before you start reading. The goal is to find the answers to the guide questions while reading. In this way, you are giving your brain a job to do. Reading then becomes a way to find specific information, rather than an activity of deciphering what feels like random information.
  5. Creating questions– If guide questions are unavailable, create your own questions. This can be done by turning chapter heading and subheadings into questions. Then dedicate your reading time to finding answers those questions. Additionally, you can use the 5W questions (who, what, where, when and why) plus how, to create questions for yourself before you begin each and every reading segment. When you take this route, sometimes you will find the answer and sometimes you wont, but either way, it gives your mind a job to do while reading, which can make it easier to focus.

If you aren’t a fluent reader, getting into reading may take some intention and work. However, once you overcome those challenges, reading can be rewarding. Being able to learn on your own time is empowering as is using your brain to complete all the complex processes involved in learning new information through reading.

I do hope these tips work for you! Feel free to comment your experience below.

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Goosebumps Book Club 2020

Learning w/ Leigh and Sub Culture present the Goosebumps Book Club for readers grades 3-5.

What better way to introduce the next generation to the excitement of the 90’s than through reading R.L. Stine’s beloved series Goosebumps in a sandwich shop that is so 90’s their menu is bound by a Trapper-Keeper?

The schedule for the book club meetings are below along with links to register for the individual club meetings as well as affiliate links to purchase the books.

October 21Welcome to Dead House – suggested sign up by October 12

November 30Stay Out of the Basement – suggested sign up by November 15

December 28 Say Cheese and Die – suggested sign up by December 12

We will kick off the book club on October 21st at 7pm at Sub Culture on 260 Newark Ave. Jersey City, however we encourage everyone to register by October 12th to give enough time to read the book.

This hybrid in-person/zoom event will have a cap of 6 in-person attendees until further notice.

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Filed under Favorite Reads, Language Arts, Reading

Happy Black History Month!

Happy Black History Month!

Happy Black History Month, everyone! With this February being a leap year, we get one extra day to enjoy great novels, poems, plays and essays written by authors such as Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison and Frederick Douglas, Barack Obama, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Angie Thomas, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Christopher Priest and many, many more. I am very excited!

This February, commit to celebrating Black History Month! Take time to read a book, poetry, essay of a new Black author – or your favorite author. Below you will find a list of books, websites, plays and events happening in February 2020. In honor of Black History Month, I have gathered some resources and compiled the below list describing how you can celebrate Black History Month:

  1. Read!! – Read as much as you can. All different genres – both fiction and non fiction. Below are Booklists to get you started.

2. Write about what you read! Whether you write a full essay in your journal or on your blog, post about it on facebook, twitter, instagram, snapchat, or text a friend or participate in an online group – react to what you read.

The response should explain how the particular writing changed your perspective or made you feel. Or you can compare what you read to a similar experience yours. There are no real parameters or requirements for the response. Just your personal reaction to what you read, in what ever form that takes.

3. Go to one of these events:

4. Tell a friend!! The works of literary art and historical documentation are important for everyone to read, understand and appreciate!

So how are you celebrating Black History Month? Learning w/ Leigh is offering a book club for children entitled African American Heroes. I hope to see you there.

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Filed under Favorite Reads, Reading

News Literacy Skill Building

As with any learning goal, working towards becoming news literate is a self-propelled process that takes commitment and vigilance.  Plotting out a strategy or to-do list can be a helpful guide to move through the layers of understanding.

Before you embark on this journey, however, understand that becoming news literate isn’t a simple skill that can be applied absent mindedly, like learning how to ride a bike or make a grilled cheese sandwich. Going though the process of becoming news literate will involve first facing the fact that, most likely, there will be a process of unlearning. Given how polarized Americans are, there is a good chance that some of the beliefs you espouse are biased.  And that is okay. We all have been influenced in one way or the other over the last decade or so. Just know that while working to be news literate, you may have to face your own bias. Be ready.

Now that you know what you are going to face, how do you create a learning strategy to master news literacy? Well to start off, you need to know where you are to understand where you have to go. The first step would be to assess your current level of news literacy.

STEP 1: What is my current news literacy skill level?

When it comes to learning anything new, any teacher, tutor or coach will want to assess a new student’s baseline. They have to understand where the student’s current skill level lies in order to come up with a learning strategy.  You will have to do this for yourself. Luckily,  there is a neat online tool to test your current news literacy level. Take this quiz prepared by The News Literacy Project. It is a 12 question quiz that focuses on what reports and photo journalists are allowed to do, their sources, how to spot ads and other aspects of understanding digital information. Once you have your results the quiz will help you identify in what areas of interpreting digital information you can use assistance.

STEP 2: Where can I obtain more information?

Now that you understand where you are, it will be easier for you to know in which direction your self study needs to go. The good news is, many universities and non partisan organizations are working to fight fake and biased news and provide a plethora of information to review. Some of those organizations are outlined in a previous blog post Basic News Literacy to Combat Fake News.  For the most part, each source provides steps to take when confronted with a information that seems outrageous or questionable.

The site on which you took the original news literacy quiz is another great resource: newslit.org.  They have great articles, other quizzes, news and statistics for those learning news literacy skills.  Also, be sure to sign up for their news letter, The Sift for current examples of fake, biased or misinformation. The news letter is a great way to stay up to date on the latest falsehoods sweeping the nation.

STEP 3: Classes

If you have come this far in your journey, and still want to continue, taking a class may be a good idea for you.  Coursera.org offers a course that is developed and taught by professors from State University of New York and the University of Hong Kong.  This is a 13 hour, six week course that dives into such topics as “Where can we find trustworthy information?” and “How to apply news literacy concepts in real life?”

The course can be found here: https://www.coursera.org/learn/news-literacy

You are able to either audit the course for free, or pay for the course in order to earn the certificate, and have your assignments graded by professors, etc.

Some other online learning options include the linked resources below:

Journalism School

Digital Resource Center

STEP 4: Apply

Now that you have gathered all the tools and knowledge available at this time, it is time to apply what you have learned.  To be accurate, application should be attempted after each news literacy lesson. Seek and Find.

This, quite frankly, can be the exhausting part at first until it becomes second nature. However, if you are committed to training your brain to strain the opinions, falsehoods and bias from the information you consume, it is necessary.

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Filed under News Literacy, Reading, Summer Reading Reading Guides

Basic News Literacy to Combat Fake News

The phrase “fake news” has entered American lingo with the same force as the person who proliferated it took over the Republican party in 2016. Google Trends shows that the term had an exaggerated spike in search frequency starting in October 2016 with the peak of the search term occurring in February 2017. While the frequency has never reached the climax it did in February 2017, the search frequency is still significantly more elevated since 45 began his campaign for the presidency than anytime before that.

The increased search frequency of fake news online appears to play out in reality as well. It seems that when people of different ideologies have a disagreement, evidence presented by one party will be called “fake news” by the disagreeing party.  Or more commonly, people will label statements as “fake news” if they personally don’t agree with the statement, regardless of the facts surrounding what was said.

The phrase has been referred to as a phenomenon. It has been studied by MIT, the results of which were published in Science magazine and reported in The Atlantic. It has prompted leading universities such as Penn State, University of Michigan, University of California – Santa Barbara and even Harvard University to either post an article or dedicate several pages of their websites to defining, understanding and, basically, fighting against the spread of fake news. Even news distributors such as Huff Post and Fox News have either dedicated pages or aired segments of their website to “Fake News.”

What impact does this have on society? The proliferation of the dissemination of false and misleading information begets the requirement of being news literate. Being able to discern between biased and flagrantly incorrect data is the key to accurately understanding the world around us and the events that take place within it. The following steps will help begin the journey towards news literacy.

    • The first step is to understand what defines fake news. The University of Michigan provides a thorough definition. Essentially, its complicated and the linked guide categorizes 7 types of misinformation. Review the characteristics of each type and actively look to find them in your online travels.
    • Get your emotions in check. Remember that articles are purposefully crafted to evoke an emotional response to throw off the reader’s logical thinking. Many times, the inflammatory title has little to do with the story. Let your emotions flair, then let them go and look for the facts.
    • Ask questions! Almost any credible fake news guide available will undoubtedly advise to ask questions. This fake news guide from Harvard University provides some excellent questions to start asking when reading online content.
    • Seek independent unbiased news sources. Tall order. I know. But there are some out there:
      • First and foremost is the trusted C-SPAN.  It broadcasts live from the floors of Congress.  A great activity is to actually watch what happens in government and C-SPAN and then watch how the media reports on it.
      • Another independent news source, though it focuses on news local to NJ, is NJ Spotlight. This news service provides daily coverage of events in Trenton in a way that doesn’t focus on the partisan aspect of politics, but instead the facts. Very refreshing. They also host round tables and panels with local officials and moderate political debates.
      • NPR can be trusted for producing high quality content. They are an independent and non profit media company that provides written articles, radio programs, podcasts and live events.
      • Reuters proclaims on its about page to operate on the principals of independence, integrity and freedom of bias. This is an excellent source to search a particular topic after reading an inflammatory article.
    • Sometimes, not sharing is caring. One basic rule of thumb, which we have all broken at least once or twice in our lives, is do not share anything out of outrage or anger.  It’s okay to be outraged; its okay to feel anger. However, as mentioned previously, some articles are designed to make you angry. Its important to do due diligence prior to sharing the possible fake news content.

Being prepared to deal with the onslaught of content, information and opinions people face each day requires a skill that can be easily acquired if one gives a concerted effort. Try to consciously practice one technique at a time until it becomes second nature.

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“Who Decides the News?” and Why it is Important for Readers to Understand This

Tragic news about the site moderator.

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Better Your Writing: Step 3 Map out the Topic – Outline

So, for the past couple weeks you have been writing to your heart’s content and at the same time exponentially increasing your terminology for everything in your environment.  Awesome!  I am sure you have strung together sentences with words you never imagined you can join. And I hope you continue to let that writing fire burn.

However, now it is time to switch gears from using the creative right side of your brain to the more logical left side of your brain– but don’t worry, your creative self will still need to make an appearance every now and again.

The first action you want to take is to look through your journal and decide which entry inspires you the most, or fills you with passion, rage, bewilderment, etc.  The more emotion you feel, the more likely you will have something to say.  Now try to peer at your page with more “logical” eyes and answer the following question.  What is this entry about?  What do I want to say about this topic?  Did I already give examples for my point in my journal?  Are there more examples I want to add? Who will care about this? What is the purpose of this writing? (Do you want to give your opinion, educate or persuade the audience?)

After answering these questions, you should have enough information to quickly plan the basic information that will be included in your introduction paragraph, and body paragraphs (one body paragraph for each example provided).  To quickly plan your your basic information, create a graphic organizer:

On the top of one page draw a large rectangle and label it, “Introduction”.   Inside the rectangle, write what your topic is and why it is important or what your call to action, argument or opinion is.

In the middle of your paper, draw a second large rectangle and label it, “Body Paragraphs”.   Number each piece of evidence you have as you list it in the body paragraphs box.  Each piece of evidence will be the focus of that body paragraph.

The purpose of this is to simply serve as a road map while you are writing your paper. You may still need to do more research to find the answers you need to make your argument compelling.  Once all of this information is collected you can begin fully drafting.  In the meantime, you can use your graphic organizer as a guide for what research needs to be done.

Good Luck!!

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Better Your Writing: Step 2 Build Your Vocabulary

What makes for effective writing is the combination of a well thought out point with an attention-grabbing delivery.  Sentence variety plays a major role in that and one of the many ways to create a variety of sentences is to include a broad sampling of vocabulary.  The best way to obtain the knowledge of a broad sampling of vocabulary is to make a conscience effort to learn and incorporate new words into your daily speech.  There are several strategies to go about accomplishing this:

  1. Start with what you know.   Find synonyms to replace words you already use on a daily basis.  To do this for free, simply go to thesaurus.com and search for words you use regularly. For example, I looked up the word “argue” and found this list: http://thesaurus.com/browse/argue   Now instead of saying, “Kids, don’t argue with each other.” I am going to say , “Kids don’t contend with each other.”   I feel smarter already.  For those with a little to “invest” in vocabulary expansion, there is software available and rated on toptenreviews.com: http://vocabulary-software-review.toptenreviews.com/ultimate-vocabulary-review.html
  2. Be proactive when you don’t understand. When you are reading or listening to something new and you see or hear a word you don’t understand, be sure to make a note of it in your journal or reading log.  Before looking up the word, try to figure out what the word is referring to in the way it is used in the sentence.  Once you have meditated on the possible meaning, look it up and compare how close or far off you were from figuring it out.
  3. Compare word meanings. Sometimes the same word can be used to mean different things.  Familiarize yourself with all of the definitions of a particular word and be sure to use them in speech or writing.

All of this may seem very time consuming, but the truth of the matter is activities like this shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes a day and should be incorporated into any time you set aside for yourself to read and write.

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