Educator creates puzzles to help boosts kids’ vocabularyEducator creates puzzles to help boosts kids’ vocabularyEducator creates puzzles to help boosts kids’ vocabularyEducator creates puzzles to help boosts kids’ vocabulary

December 21, 2011

When he was teaching English at the Annapolis Road Academy in Bladensburg, Eugene Williams said, he was looking for innovative ways to help teens increase their vocabulary.

During a Black History Month lesson in 2008, his students were struggling with some words in the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. One student suggested that Williams create word-search puzzles to help familiarize them with the vocabulary.

“I exposed the students to that speech, but these ninth- through 11th-graders couldn’t pronounce the words,” the Clinton resident said. “I just got so frustrated.”

Williams, 70, an English professor at the University of the District of Columbia, said that experience inspired him to create a series of books, “Words Cross & Across” — self-published through his D.C.-based nonprofit organization, Academic Resources Unlimited — featuring word-search puzzles themed after prominent public figures. The book is aimed at children from elementary through high school.

Williams has completed nine books, and some include definitions and were focused on King and President Obama, or tied vocabulary learning with the Bible.

His latest book takes a different approach, instead profiling NBA basketball star LeBron James. Williams’s granddaughter, Myka Johnson, suggested the idea, which he said he liked because so many young people idolize James’s basketball prowess.

Williams said he has not yet received a sales report from his printer and retailer, lulu.com, which sells the book for $9.95. Williams said that he spent between $400 and $500 on help with designing the manuscript and that lulu.com does not charge for printing the book but gets a 20 percent cut of the profits.

Williams is looking to partner with a local bank to finance the donation of copies of his book to schools, and he said he hopes eventually to approach Prince George’s County public schools about having the book incorporated in the system’s curriculum.

Williams said that today’s students are not learning college-level vocabulary well enough and that his books offer a different approach than typical reading and rote memorization, by making the process more engaging. Vocabulary is such an important part of education, Williams said, especially given how heavily the SAT verbal section, one-third of the test, weighs vocabulary knowledge.

“When kids are doing word searches, it can be a competitive thing,” he said. “But it’s not enough just to find the word; you need [to] know the meaning of it. So that’s why I included word charts,” with both the word’s definition and its use in a sentence.

Channing Johnson, 18, of Bowie, who takes a class taught by Williams at UDC, said the interactivity of learning is particularly important in the digital age. Although the book is not a requirement of Williams’s UDC course, Johnson said he took an interest in it following similar lesson tools in class.

“Young people have very short attention spans, and they may not think learning is useful,” Johnson said. “But these books kill two birds with one stone.”

Williams said he also hopes that the use of James, a pop-culture icon who became a star in his native Ohio, will make the vocabulary in the book even more relatable to teens.

“If you walk through the community and ask kids who their favorite basketball player is, they’ll say ‘LeBron James,’ ” he said. “And so many students can identify with him because of his childhood experiences, growing up in poverty.”

Wetzel E. Witten, 69, of the District works with Williams as part of their “evolutionary elders” initiative, a separate program that pairs seniors with teens to mentor young people and bridge the gap between generations. He said that Williams’s focus is particularly important when considering children’s fascination with sports and professional athletes.

“Our students gravitate toward sports,” Witten said. “So we have to reach students where they are. Since our children are always talking about sports, you can use sports to help them build their vocabulary.”

The ultimate goal, Williams said, is to get children to read more. By drawing students in with the subject matter and the puzzles, Williams said he hopes that will motivate students to seek out other books about James or other basketball players and then perhaps books on other subjects.

“The key is simply reading,” he said. “In my books, they do get that chance to read, even if it’s just short sentences. But it needs to be a gateway to get them motivated to read more overall.”

To purchase the book, go to www.lulu.com.

Educator creates puzzles to help boosts kids’ vocabulary

by Erich Wagner

The Gazette

When he was teaching English at the Annapolis Road Academy in Bladensburg, Eugene Williams said, he was looking for innovative ways to help teens increase their vocabulary.

During a Black History Month lesson in 2008, his students were struggling with some words in the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. One student suggested that Williams create word-search puzzles to help familiarize them with the vocabulary.

“I exposed the students to that speech, but these ninth- through 11th-graders couldn’t pronounce the words,” the Clinton resident said. “I just got so frustrated.”

Williams, 70, an English professor at the University of the District of Columbia, said that experience inspired him to create a series of books, “Words Cross & Across” — self-published through his D.C.-based nonprofit organization, Academic Resources Unlimited — featuring word-search puzzles themed after prominent public figures. The book is aimed at children from elementary through high school.

Williams has completed nine books, and some include definitions and were focused on King and President Obama, or tied vocabulary learning with the Bible.

His latest book takes a different approach, instead profiling NBA basketball star LeBron James. Williams’s granddaughter, Myka Johnson, suggested the idea, which he said he liked because so many young people idolize James’s basketball prowess.

Williams said he has not yet received a sales report from his printer and retailer, lulu.com, which sells the book for $9.95. Williams said that he spent between $400 and $500 on help with designing the manuscript and that lulu.com does not charge for printing the book but gets a 20 percent cut of the profits.

Williams is looking to partner with a local bank to finance the donation of copies of his book to schools, and he said he hopes eventually to approach Prince George’s County public schools about having the book incorporated in the system’s curriculum.

Williams said that today’s students are not learning college-level vocabulary well enough and that his books offer a different approach than typical reading and rote memorization, by making the process more engaging. Vocabulary is such an important part of education, Williams said, especially given how heavily the SAT verbal section, one-third of the test, weighs vocabulary knowledge.

“When kids are doing word searches, it can be a competitive thing,” he said. “But it’s not enough just to find the word; you need [to] know the meaning of it. So that’s why I included word charts,” with both the definition of the word and its use in a sentence.

Channing Johnson, 18, of Bowie, who takes a class taught by Williams at UDC, said the interactivity of learning is particularly important in the digital age. Although the book is not a requirement of Williams’s UDC course, Johnson said he took an interest in it following similar lesson tools in class.

“Young people have very short attention spans, and they may not think learning is useful,” Johnson said. “But these books kill two birds with one stone.”

Williams said he also hopes that the use of James, a pop-culture icon who became a star in his native Ohio, will make the vocabulary in the book even more relatable to teens.

“If you walk through the community and ask kids who their favorite basketball player is, they’ll say ‘LeBron James,’ ” he said. “And so many students can identify with him because of his childhood experiences, growing up in poverty.”

Wetzel E. Witten, 69, of the District works with Williams as part of their “evolutionary elders” initiative, a separate program that pairs seniors with teens to mentor young people and bridge the gap between generations. He said that Williams’s focus is particularly important when considering children’s fascination with sports and professional athletes.

“Our students gravitate toward sports,” Witten said. “So we have to reach students where they are. Since our children are always talking about sports, you can use sports to help them build their vocabulary.”

The ultimate goal, Williams said, is to get children to read more. By drawing students in with the subject matter and the puzzles, Williams said he hopes that will motivate students to seek out other books about James or other basketball players and then perhaps books on other subjects.

“The key is simply reading,” he said. “In my books, they do get that chance to read, even if it’s just short sentences. But it needs to be a gateway to get them motivated to read more overall.”

To purchase the book, go to www.lulu.com.

Educator creates puzzles to help boosts kids’ vocabulary

by Erich Wagner

The Gazette

When he was teaching English at the Annapolis Road Academy in Bladensburg, Eugene Williams said, he was looking for innovative ways to help teens increase their vocabulary.

During a Black History Month lesson in 2008, his students were struggling with some words in the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. One student suggested that Williams create word-search puzzles to help familiarize them with the vocabulary.

“I exposed the students to that speech, but these ninth- through 11th-graders couldn’t pronounce the words,” the Clinton resident said. “I just got so frustrated.”

Williams, 70, an English professor at the University of the District of Columbia, said that experience inspired him to create a series of books, “Words Cross & Across” — self-published through his D.C.-based nonprofit organization, Academic Resources Unlimited — featuring word-search puzzles themed after prominent public figures. The book is aimed at children from elementary through high school.

Williams has completed nine books, and some include definitions and were focused on King and President Obama, or tied vocabulary learning with the Bible.

His latest book takes a different approach, instead profiling NBA basketball star LeBron James. Williams’s granddaughter, Myka Johnson, suggested the idea, which he said he liked because so many young people idolize James’s basketball prowess.

Williams said he has not yet received a sales report from his printer and retailer, lulu.com, which sells the book for $9.95. Williams said that he spent between $400 and $500 on help with designing the manuscript and that lulu.com does not charge for printing the book but gets a 20 percent cut of the profits.

Williams is looking to partner with a local bank to finance the donation of copies of his book to schools, and he said he hopes eventually to approach Prince George’s County public schools about having the book incorporated in the system’s curriculum.

Williams said that today’s students are not learning college-level vocabulary well enough and that his books offer a different approach than typical reading and rote memorization, by making the process more engaging. Vocabulary is such an important part of education, Williams said, especially given how heavily the SAT verbal section, one-third of the test, weighs vocabulary knowledge.

“When kids are doing word searches, it can be a competitive thing,” he said. “But it’s not enough just to find the word; you need [to] know the meaning of it. So that’s why I included word charts,” with both the definition of the word and its use in a sentence.

Channing Johnson, 18, of Bowie, who takes a class taught by Williams at UDC, said the interactivity of learning is particularly important in the digital age. Although the book is not a requirement of Williams’s UDC course, Johnson said he took an interest in it following similar lesson tools in class.

“Young people have very short attention spans, and they may not think learning is useful,” Johnson said. “But these books kill two birds with one stone.”

Williams said he also hopes that the use of James, a pop-culture icon who became a star in his native Ohio, will make the vocabulary in the book even more relatable to teens.

“If you walk through the community and ask kids who their favorite basketball player is, they’ll say ‘LeBron James,’ ” he said. “And so many students can identify with him because of his childhood experiences, growing up in poverty.”

Wetzel E. Witten, 69, of the District works with Williams as part of their “evolutionary elders” initiative, a separate program that pairs seniors with teens to mentor young people and bridge the gap between generations. He said that Williams’s focus is particularly important when considering children’s fascination with sports and professional athletes.

“Our students gravitate toward sports,” Witten said. “So we have to reach students where they are. Since our children are always talking about sports, you can use sports to help them build their vocabulary.”

The ultimate goal, Williams said, is to get children to read more. By drawing students in with the subject matter and the puzzles, Williams said he hopes that will motivate students to seek out other books about James or other basketball players and then perhaps books on other subjects.

“The key is simply reading,” he said. “In my books, they do get that chance to read, even if it’s just short sentences. But it needs to be a gateway to get them motivated to read more overall.”

To purchase the book, go to www.lulu.com.

Educator creates puzzles to help boosts kids’ vocabulary

by Erich Wagner

The Gazette

When he was teaching English at the Annapolis Road Academy in Bladensburg, Eugene Williams said, he was looking for innovative ways to help teens increase their vocabulary.

During a Black History Month lesson in 2008, his students were struggling with some words in the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. One student suggested that Williams create word-search puzzles to help familiarize them with the vocabulary.

“I exposed the students to that speech, but these ninth- through 11th-graders couldn’t pronounce the words,” the Clinton resident said. “I just got so frustrated.”

Williams, 70, an English professor at the University of the District of Columbia, said that experience inspired him to create a series of books, “Words Cross & Across” — self-published through his D.C.-based nonprofit organization, Academic Resources Unlimited — featuring word-search puzzles themed after prominent public figures. The book is aimed at children from elementary through high school.

Williams has completed nine books, and some include definitions and were focused on King and President Obama, or tied vocabulary learning with the Bible.

His latest book takes a different approach, instead profiling NBA basketball star LeBron James. Williams’s granddaughter, Myka Johnson, suggested the idea, which he said he liked because so many young people idolize James’s basketball prowess.

Williams said he has not yet received a sales report from his printer and retailer, lulu.com, which sells the book for $9.95. Williams said that he spent between $400 and $500 on help with designing the manuscript and that lulu.com does not charge for printing the book but gets a 20 percent cut of the profits.

Williams is looking to partner with a local bank to finance the donation of copies of his book to schools, and he said he hopes eventually to approach Prince George’s County public schools about having the book incorporated in the system’s curriculum.

Williams said that today’s students are not learning college-level vocabulary well enough and that his books offer a different approach than typical reading and rote memorization, by making the process more engaging. Vocabulary is such an important part of education, Williams said, especially given how heavily the SAT verbal section, one-third of the test, weighs vocabulary knowledge.

“When kids are doing word searches, it can be a competitive thing,” he said. “But it’s not enough just to find the word; you need [to] know the meaning of it. So that’s why I included word charts,” with both the definition of the word and its use in a sentence.

Channing Johnson, 18, of Bowie, who takes a class taught by Williams at UDC, said the interactivity of learning is particularly important in the digital age. Although the book is not a requirement of Williams’s UDC course, Johnson said he took an interest in it following similar lesson tools in class.

“Young people have very short attention spans, and they may not think learning is useful,” Johnson said. “But these books kill two birds with one stone.”

Williams said he also hopes that the use of James, a pop-culture icon who became a star in his native Ohio, will make the vocabulary in the book even more relatable to teens.

“If you walk through the community and ask kids who their favorite basketball player is, they’ll say ‘LeBron James,’ ” he said. “And so many students can identify with him because of his childhood experiences, growing up in poverty.”

Wetzel E. Witten, 69, of the District works with Williams as part of their “evolutionary elders” initiative, a separate program that pairs seniors with teens to mentor young people and bridge the gap between generations. He said that Williams’s focus is particularly important when considering children’s fascination with sports and professional athletes.

“Our students gravitate toward sports,” Witten said. “So we have to reach students where they are. Since our children are always talking about sports, you can use sports to help them build their vocabulary.”

The ultimate goal, Williams said, is to get children to read more. By drawing students in with the subject matter and the puzzles, Williams said he hopes that will motivate students to seek out other books about James or other basketball players and then perhaps books on other subjects.

“The key is simply reading,” he said. “In my books, they do get that chance to read, even if it’s just short sentences. But it needs to be a gateway to get them motivated to read more overall.”

To purchase the book, go to www.lulu.com.

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