Lesson: Rewrite the Script of Imperialism: Project Vocabulary

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Lesson Objective

Students will learn key vocabulary words and practice their meanings throughout the two weeks of the project. Students will be prepared for the contextual language of the novel, “Heart of Darkness.”

Lesson Plan


Starting with this unit, I have adopted some adapted strategies from an amazing teacher of teachers, Kilian Betlach.


Objective: Students will learn key vocabulary words and practice their meanings throughout the two weeks of the project. Students will be prepared for the contextual language of the novel, “Heart of Darkness.”



-       VocabularyImperialism – student-made dictionary

-       Shades of Meaning visuals

-       Vocabulary Template classroom display

-       Class set/audiobook of Heart of Darkness

-       Post-its and/or white board


Anticipatory Set:

            List all given vocabulary words in a cloud near your designated vocabulary area of the board.  You can do this in chalk, erasable marker, or using post-it notes with the words written in Sharpie. Ask students to classify (either vocally or by moving words) words into the categories “Know It!” “Seen/Heard It” and “Whaaa?” (These can be color-coded green, yellow and red respectively.) There will be some false reporting here, and that’s okay. It is best not to challenge students to define a word, because this can create a “false positive” where students remember this first given definition better than the definition you are about to give that is correct.


Direct Instruction:

            Lead students through the definitions of words. (You might choose some to define on a later day, but the bulk should be defined today.) Students fill in blanks as you give definitions and examples that are tied specifically to the context of the project. You may model one or two Images, but students can also do this on their own time. I suggest this as something for students to do if they are distracted or bored while listening to the story being read.  The “You Try” section is for students to use much later in the project. They will write about the word or use it in a sentence, but this is a review strategy, not for Direct Instruction.


The shades of meaning visuals should be explained. These words will occur often throughout the story and all share elements of their definition. Rather than defining these words each time we encounter them, we will notice that they are a shade of meaning that we know. One idea is to put stars on them each time they are encountered. (This is kind of a play on how sad most of the words are, and it’s a sort of depressing story!)



  1. This is one of those period books that uses the word “nigger” occasionally. It is nowhere near as frequent as the Tom Sawyer books, but it is present. Prepare students for this word with the context  and set expectations for your classroom around this word. In the case of my classroom, students frequently use the reappropriated version of this word, although they know it is not school-appropriate in most cases. I suggest to them that if they prefer to say “negro” while reading (not that that word is not also heavy with terrible history!) or some other substitute that preserves the meaning and minimizes distraction, that is allowed.
  2. I chose to teach students the word “analogy” and to discuss “analogous” story elements, because I feel they will get the most academic and social leverage out of this word. A more literary classroom might stick with “allegory”.


Guided Practice:

            As the book is being read, I generally rephrase sentences that have complex vocabulary, rather than stopping to explain each word. When students are particularly interested in a word, or when we encounter a high-leverage word, the teacher should guide them in completing the template and adding it to the dictionary.




Independent Practice:

            Students should engage in the following review activities throughout the project period, according to the schedule and to-do list.


DICE- Students roll dice  in groups and have to complete the activity for a given word corresponding with what they roll.

  1. Definition
  2. Part of Speech
  3. Example
  4. Non-example
  5. Sentence
  6. Partner’s Choice

FLY-SWATTER – Place the words on the wall or board and give two students flyswatters at a time. Read the definition, sentence or example allowed and the students race to “swat” the right word.

CLOZE – Place sentences with blanks on white boards or paper strips, ask students to fill in blanks.

BEACHBALL- mark an inflatable beach ball with the categories of DICE, allow students to throw it around. When someone catches the ball, they have to complete whatever section touches their right thumb for the given word.

CROSSWORD PUZZLE – Provide graph paper and challenge students to create a crossword puzzle giving definitions of vocabulary words. When they finish, they should switch and solve each other’s puzzles.




            On the last day of the project, I meet with each student and discuss certain vocabulary words with them. This is an alternative form of assessment. The grasp they demonstrate on the words influences their grade on the Project Vocabulary Notebook, since they sometimes have copied words but not learned them. 

Lesson Resources

Kilian Betlach, Inspirer


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