Local effort revs students up for word play, learning

Students squirmed with excitement as they eagerly participated in a presentation before receiving a free dictionary Friday morning at Sam K. Hailey Elementary School.

The 150 kids called out word definitions and replaced dull words with more thrilling phrases during games at the 45-minute presentation that Nancy McWilliams dreamed up.

A former schoolteacher herself, McWilliams took charge of The Dictionary Project two years ago for the Montgomery County Republican Women, an organization she serves as literacy chair.

The Dictionary Project focuses on giving third graders dictionaries because that grade level is normally the determination where kids learn the difference between learning to read and reading to learn, according to their website.

But McWilliams wanted to do more than collect money and hand out dictionaries. She wanted to involve the kids and create a spark of inspiration in them for reading and word play.

“I just thought that the kids have to be excited first before they get something,” McWilliams said, adding that the presentation allows kids to participate in learning words with their classmates. “It’s total classroom participation.”

Among the activities was answering word definitions and participating in reading games, which drew the students into the process of imagining more creative words when they write on their own. They were also able to win their teachers points for classroom prizes with their participation.

Laura Steffy has been a teacher for 16 years and has taught third grade at Hailey Elementary for six. Although her students write in class daily, she said the presentation engages them in word use and definitions in a hands-on environment with other students in a collective and slightly competitive format.

“They really, really need that chance to understand the important tool a dictionary is,” she said, reflecting that many students use computer dictionaries. “It kind of gives them another tool and it helps their writing because we write every day.”

Presentations at Galatas, Houser, Lamar, and Oak Ridge elementary schools will also take place throughout the year. McWilliams said she has been in contact with two other schools in the Conroe Independent School District to begin presentations and dictionary distribution in the near future.

For more information about The Dictionary Project or to make a donation, visit www.dictionaryproject.org or email nmcwill@comcast.net.