If students can say and write the words 'pretty' and 'little'

they can say and write the words beautiful and stunning, minuscule and diminutive. Even when they are five. Even when they are two grade levels behind. In fact, especially then.

This sample is of a kindergartener writing about not a big dragon, but a colossal dragon. Colossal is not a word the child knew 15 minutes before she wrote it, but because of the activities she just completed to learn the word: orally practicing the word in isolation and in sentences she created, adding kinesthetic motion to remember what the new word means, and matching images to understand the meaning, in 15 minutes, she was using the word with confidence and a deep understanding of its meaning and sophistication.

Growth and sophistication of students’ vocabularies is not only crucial to impressive writing performance, it is essential to overall academic success, and, I believe, life success.

One of my education heroines, Heidi Hayes Jacobs writes, “Language capacity is the root of all student performance” (Jacobs, 2006).  Language capacity is built by expanding vocabularies. Expanding vocabularies are built by exploring and using sophisticated synonyms.