I CAN READ GIGANTIC WORDS!

I CAN READ GIGANTIC WORDS!
I CAN READ GIGANTIC WORDS!

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MAKING SENSE OF COMPLEX SENTENCE STRUCTURES and UNUSUAL USES OF EVERYDAY VOCABULARY

“Sailing Through Sentences”




A crucial area of reading skill - one that trips up many intermediate readers - is the complex sentence structures that they begin to encounter in fourth, fifth and sixth-grade level books.  Many intermediate readers have mastered decoding, yet still experience difficulty reading.  These inexperienced readers have trouble moving from reading simple sentence construction that uses plain vocabulary to more complex sentence structures that employ more complex vocabulary.

My struggling students get caught on vocabulary usages like these: 

“Louie, gun in hand, came sailing through, his drawn pistol in his hand.” (Chocolate Fever, by Robert Kimmel Smith - page 77.) 

To most of us, it’s obvious that it isn’t possible to literally sail through the bedroom - there isn’t any water.  And we know that there are several meanings of the word drawn, and we select the one that makes the most sense in the context.  But to many unsteady readers, words are literal and they have never experienced them any other way. 

When many inexperienced readers read sentences like this one, they think literally sailing through a bedroom is absurd - just one more example of how ludicrous this whole reading thing is.  Being game to try what we ask of them, they attempt desperately to figure out a way that sailing through a bedroom might make sense.   They construct elaborate scenarios, none of which makes sense, and eventually give up. 

“Making sense of this reading stuff is just too much work!” they think.  “Other people may enjoy reading nonsense,” they conclude, but such gibberish is just not for them. 

Students who have limited experience using the language often have a literal-minded understanding of language.  These students believe that words and their meanings must have a one-to-one correspondence. 

Students who believe words have one - and only one - fixed meaning picture Louie, sporting sailor hat and boat shoes - tiller in hand - holding a crayon drawing of a pistol, sailing through his bedroom. 

Inexperienced readers also assume that sentence structures are always simple.  First, noun, then verb, sometimes adjectives before the noun, and adverbs after the verb.  Long, complicated sentences - like many of those in this passage, which wend their way across the page, taking detour after detour and using a variety of punctuation in strange ways - lose the inexperienced reader. 

“ONE VERY EFFECTIVE ANSWER IS INTENSIVE READING."


One very effective answer is intensive reading.  What these readers need is the opportunity to meet words over and over in all their contexts.  Reading books with progressively longer and more complex sentence structures strengthens readers’ brains and lets them know to expect linguistic detours.  



Opening a book signals the brain, “Winding road ahead!  Don’t worry, the twists and turns you about to experience are normal and to be expected.”  After a reader has met up with strange, elaborate sentence constructions repeatedly, he no longer assumes that there are only one or two ways to build a sentence.  He is no longer a sentence greenhorn, but knows his way around a complex paragraph, is an old hand at weaving his way through a variety of sentence types.  In the same manner, he recognizes when familiar words are being used in unfamiliar contexts - he’s seen them used like this before; they’re nothing to be shocked at. 

Voluminous reading can be augmented with exercises designed to help readers expect a variety of additional meanings for old familiar words. Other activities can help readers practice reading unusual and complicated sentence structures.

“IF I SPOT SOMETHING I THINK MIGHT TRIP UP THIS READER, WE'LL STOP TO DRAW IT OUT, ACT IT OUT, OR CHAT ABOUT IT.   


When I’m reading with my struggling comprehenders, I keep my eye out for unusual uses of vocabulary and complicated sentence structures. If I spot something I think might trip up this reader, we’ll stop to draw it out, act it out or chat about it.  I’ll remind them that lots of words have more than one meaning and that sentences can be long, winding and unusual.

With this support, my struggling comprehenders truly can sail through their reading!

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