For kids with dyslexia, it can be hard to deal with words with multiple syllables. Kids may have trouble remembering and pronouncing them correctly. Here are ways to help kids with long words, whether they’re reading or having a conversation.
1. Focus on vocabulary.
Kids learn vocabulary — including longer words — mostly through reading. So if your child shies away from reading, it’s important to find other ways to introduce new words.
Keep vocabulary on track by talking about new words while you read aloud. Let your child choose audiobooks you can enjoy together in the car. Or watch a documentary about something your child’s really interested in. While you do, point out new words. Talk about what they mean, and ask your child to practice saying them out loud.
2. Have your child tap out the syllables.
Pick a word with three or more syllables and say it out loud. Ask your child to say it aloud, too, and tap out each syllable. Your child should tap with a little extra force on whichever syllable is stressed. This exercise uses a variety of senses. That gives your child more than one way to process and recall every syllable in the word.
3. Talk about sounds.
Like tapping out syllables, talking about individual sounds or “phonemes” in a word can boost your child’s ability to say and remember longer words. Imagine you’re working on the word phenomenal. Ask what sound your child hears at the beginning of the word. Or have your child point out the sound that comes first in the second syllable.
4. Keep a word journal.
Encourage your child to keep a word journal — a record of words you’re working on. Once a week, pick 10 practice words. Ask your child to write each one down and break it apart into syllables.
Have your child say the word several times. Then talk about what it means and come up with synonyms and opposites. This helps kids store the words in their long-term memory. And that can make the words easier to access later, when they’re talking or writing.
5. Forget about it!
It may seem strange, but remembering information after we’ve forgotten it actually helps us recall that information over time. So when you’re practicing a specific word from the word journal, try spacing out review sessions over longer and longer periods of time.
For example, do your first review a couple days after your child learns a new word. Wait another week to 10 days to review it again. After a month, review it once more. Keep track by writing the dates you practice a word next to each word in the journal.
6. Teach your child to be a word detective.
Explain that words with multiple syllables often have prefixes and suffixes. Think pre and able in the word preventable. Learning common word parts helps kids predict and remember the meaning of new vocabulary words.
It also makes it easier for them to break long words into chunks when reading. Knowing how a word breaks down in writing can make it easier for kids to remember and pronounce it when speaking, too.
7. Work on understanding the syllables.
There are specific rules on how to break big words into chunks when reading. This is called syllabication. You probably learned these rules in school. Things like, “every syllable has one vowel sound in it.” Or, “when two consonants come between two vowels, you usually break the word between the consonants (un·der).”
You can ask your child’s teacher for material on syllabication rules, or look them up online. Knowing these rules will help your child attack long words in reading. It can also help with remembering and saying the words correctly when speaking.
8. Brainstorm backup strategies.
At some point, kids have to figure out the pronunciation of a word on their own. Help your child be prepared. Check out web-based dictionaries together. They can provide a definition and a recorded pronunciation of the word.
Talk about the practice strategies that seem to work best, too, and encourage your child to use them in class. Kids can also use smaller words to describe something if they can’t remember a long word.
9. Have fun.
Practicing longer words doesn’t have to be all business. There are word games you can tweak to focus on vocabulary goals. Just make sure you choose ones that work with — or that you can make work with — your child’s challenges.
Games like Taboo, Outburst, Pictionary, or 20 Questions can get the whole family involved. That can make learning vocabulary fun — and having fun can motivate your child to practice.
About the author
About the author
Kelli Johnson, MA is an educational speech-language pathologist, working with students from early childhood through 12th grade.
Elizabeth Babbin, EdD is an instructional specialist at Lower Macungie Middle School in Macungie, Pennsylvania.