Handy vocabulary tip

By Mir
September 28, 2007

Spelling and vocabulary tests are on Fridays. Thursday afternoons and Friday mornings we do quizzing to make sure everyone is ready.

Often the instructions are to “use the word in a sentence that demonstrates you know its meaning.” Both of my (gifted! ha!) children had trouble with this concept until we introduced The Puppy Test.

The Puppy Test is simple: Can you replace the target word with “puppy,” “dog-like” or some form of “barking?” If you can, you fail The Puppy Test and I do not believe you have demonstrated understanding.

To wit:

“I meandered” fails The Puppy Test. Maybe you barked. Maybe you exploded. Maybe you don’t really know what meandered means, mmmm?

“He went to the colony” fails The Puppy Test. Maybe he went to the puppy. Maybe he went to the store. Maybe you write very boring sentences.

“Stop being contentious” fails The Puppy Test. Maybe you’re telling someone to stop being dog-like. Maybe you’re telling them to stop being fuzzy. Maybe I should have this word tattooed on your forehead because the irony, oh, it slays me.


  1. Ben

    Hang on, tell us one that passes the puppy test, cuz I’m having a hard time understanding.

    (and please speak slowly, I’m from Texas)

  2. Marissa

    I am going to use this for next week’s spelling words at my house. Brilliant!

  3. Burgh Baby's Mom

    That’s GENIUS. The gifted apple obvioulsy does not fall far from the gifted tree.

  4. All Adither

    I’m clearly not gifted.

  5. Sara


  6. Karen

    I am having a hard time understanding the puppy test also – though I understand why those are bad sentences. I don’t think I’d make in the “gifted program”.

  7. julie

    Mir – brilliant! Love it.

    Ben – passing the puppy test with, say, meandered, would be something like “Because I had plenty of time, I meandered through the store instead of rushing around.” No way does “barked” make sense as an alternative to meandered, where as a statement like “I meandered.” Or “mom told me to stop meandering.” could easily be replaced with “I barked” or “mom told me to stop barking” without making any less sense (once you get past the kid barking at all).

    Must remember this for about 6 years from now!

  8. prophet

    Thank you Julie! I was with Ben. . . . and Karen. . . . and all adither. . . . (and whoever else didn’t get this right away)

    I think I was trying to use the puppy test to help CONSTRUCT the sentence using the vocabulary word, rather than realizing that the puppy test tests the example sentence itself – after it’s constructed. Does this maybe have something to do with whether or not you have children who try and pull/bark the wool/puppy over your eyes with respect to using words/puppies? Because I have no puppies – barking or otherwise. . . .

    Hey – it’s the only excuse/puppy I have! (for not understanding this, I mean)

  9. Megan

    Mir – please consider coming to give a short series of lectures on basic composition(free obv, we’re a PUBLIC university). You would save any number of innocent (mostly) faculty members from early senility. Comp 101 should be retitled “puppy-essays for the dim and lazy.”

  10. jennielynn

    That is genius. Sheer genius.

  11. Cele

    This is excellent parenting, you are putting fun and joy into learning. Don’t stop.

  12. saucygrrl

    Oh god. That I don’t understand this is so utterly embarrassing because I was in gifted classes all throughout Jr & Sr High. Maybe it has something to do with me not finishing college… if only I had been more interested in those core courses…

  13. Lynne

    huh? Thank gawd my kids picked up vocabulary fairly easily…because, I wasn’t a whole lotta help. COme to think of it…I tried to learn how to do multiplication while they were learning it and I still didn’t get it! I still have to count on my fingers!
    I don’t get the puppy test…but that ain’t too surpisin’~

  14. Karen Rani

    That is brilliant – I’m SO using that on Dylan. Thank you!

  15. Not The Mama

    Brilliant! Thank you. At my last position, I had a gifted eight year old who had the same type of assignments every Thursday and wrote the exact same types of sentences. It drove me batty. I made him redo them again and again, but it would have been a lot easier if I’d had this rule then. The substitution makes the point perfectly.

  16. cce

    I love it…so needing something like the Puppy Test to help my eight year old get past his inane and thoughtless attempts at sentence construction. Best damn thing I’ve read all day.

  17. dynamitt

    say what?
    Hmm think I’m to slow for this puppy test.. :P

  18. Karen

    Mir, you’re one smart puppy!

  19. Kellan

    Huh? You lost me at, “The Puppy test is simple,” then I sort of started hearing Whah, whah, whah (like the teacher in Charlie Brown). Sorry – I’m sure it’s brilliant – I’m just not.

  20. Meramoo

    I always wrote out my sentences ahead of time and memorized them. I never was a fast writer and that helped me a lot.

  21. Susan

    Another supposedly “gifted” person who is clueless here.

    Mir, please explain!

  22. SusieJ

    We just use them in sentences, and post-it notes. You have way more fun at your house than we do.

  23. Brigitte

    “Stop being contentious”, heh! Reminds of how I like to tease my 2-year-old (yes, I’m juvenile) when she’s being cranky and all over the place, by asking “Are you contrary?” and she yells “Nooo!!!”. Which, I think, is very amusing.

  24. She-Ra

    I love the puppy test and will be using it next Thursday when we study for our spelling test!

  25. Emily

    I absolutely love this. I am a student and EVERY DAY I try and tell my students to write sentences for their vocabulary words that demonstrates you know its meaning and they just don’t get it. I am going to use your puppy test with them and hopefully then they will get it.
    I will let you know if my students fair better with your ingenious test!

  26. Amy

    Awesome. I will totally be using the Puppy Test with my 4th and 5th grade students this week!

  27. SAHMmy Says

    Bonus points for the correct use of “irony.”

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