Building Kids' Vocabulary Skills with WordGirl
by Dorothea Gillim
Dorothea Gillim is the creator of WordGirl, and has produced and written for several other programs for children. She began her career as a fifth-grade teacher. Read more »
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The origins of WordGirl
probably started back in 9th grade when I asked my parents for a dictionary for Christmas. It couldn't be just any old dictionary either. It had to be the Random House Unabridged Dictionary. Yes I did read it, not cover to cover, but I did mark the words I looked up. My fascination with language continued throughout college and into my first job as a fifth-grade teacher, where I had my students take turns bringing in the Word of the Day. I called it verbal show-and-tell. I've always loved language and have strived to acquire one of the qualities I admire most in people - eloquence.
When I created WordGirl
, I thought "Wouldn't it be cool if eloquence were a superpower, just like super speed and super strength? And wouldn't it be cool if this superhero came in the form of a 10-year-old girl of ambiguously ethnic origin so she could serve as a role model for kids, particularly those who may not see themselves represented on TV? And wouldn't it be cool to do a show that's educational AND entertaining in the tradition of a show that had a huge impact on my life, Electric Company? And wouldn't it great if she had a monkey sidekick?
So that's the genesis of WordGirl. It's really due to the support and encouragement of PBS that I took this idea and developed it along with the extremely talented and funny Jack Ferraiolo, who now serves as Head Writer and plays the voice of the Butcher. Every week, WordGirl goes up against such arch villains as Dr. Two Brains (a former scientist who accidentally fused his brain with a lab rat's); Granny May (the sweet old lady who robs banks); Chuck the Evil Sandwich Making Guy (who, well, you get it); and - coming soon - Lady Redundant Woman, just to name a few. Every half-hour episode introduces kids to four new vocabulary words.
Studies have shown that vocabulary is the bedrock of literacy. It makes sense. Vocabulary has a direct effect on reading comprehension, reading comprehension has a direct effect on academic performance, and academic performance has a direct effect on overall success in life. So learning vocabulary is critical. WordGirl
hopes to enrich kids' vocabulary, improve literacy and hopefully instill a love of language along the way.
Our agenda is pretty serious, but we don't have a chance if kids aren't watching. So our first goal is to make a hilarious must-see TV experience for kids (and maybe even their parents). For that, we rely on our writers, some of whom have written for Family Guy
and The Onion
, an irreverent mock-news Web site. We also get huge support from our special cast, too many too list but who hail from the world of improv and stand-up comedy. Finally, we have an exceptional crew of animators, sound designers, and editors who bring it all to life.
I hope kids love WordGirl
so much they beg their parents to watch PBS. Additionally, I want kids to learn that "beseech" is a synonym for "beg" and feel smart and good about themselves for knowing that. And of course, I hope at least a few of them ask for the dictionary for Christmas, preferably the official Wordgirl
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