Power Vocabulary

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SWBAT define words from the story "Charles" by using context clues.

Big Idea

Get a clue from a context clue.


10 minutes

Yesterday, the students actively read the story "Charles" by Shirley Jackson.  As we finished up, they began to generate questions they had after reading.  Many of their initial questions had to do with vocabulary.  Start off the lesson by revisiting some of those questions. This will help the students reconnect to the story.

I noticed that students also had questions about vocabulary words.  They marked these by circling them during their active reading.  Ask students to share out any of the unknown or unfamiliar words from the first day. 

Some students are very excited to share their unknown words once I explain that we won't be looking them all up in dictionary.  Still others have not marked a single word as unknown.   Many students think that they know the word because they have seen it before but could not actually use it or define it.  It takes awhile to train the students to look for new words.  I tell them that the purpose of seeking out these words is to ultimately expand their vocabularies and make them better readers, writers, listeners, and speakers.  They will need multiple opportunities to practice looking for these unfamiliar words at the beginning of the year.  

I record the words up on the board and the page numbers where they are found.  If I feel that a word is one that most of the students know, I will go ahead and define it and give an example instead of writing it on the board.  I try to make my l list consist of those rich, high level words that will help students succeed under the increased rigor of CCSS. 

Working with Words

30 minutes

I love context clues!  My students hate them, and want to look each word up on their phones.  Because of this, I try to help them and make their work with context clues short and sweet.  This is the first time they've done an activity like this in sixth grade, so I will limit the number of words they need to use.  

Although this lesson was written for the story "Charles," it could be used with a variety of fiction and nonfiction texts. 

For this lesson, I will ask students to choose 3 to 5 words that are unfamiliar.    I encourage them to check out our class list on the board for suggestions if they cannot find 5 that were circled during their first reading. They will work to use context clues to try to find the meaning.  I find that they can dive deeper with fewer words. so this amount is perfect.  

Here is a chart for them to use.  

  • First, I ask them to copy the word and the part of  sentence in which the word appears into their reading notebook. 
  • Next, they reread the sentences before and after the word, as well underlining key words as they go. 
  • They should look at the underlined words when determining the definition.  
  • Then, they should substitute their definition into the sentence to see if it makes sense.

At this point, students will write their definitions in their notebooks, and raise their hands.  I will either tell them,  "Yes, it is correct, now try to use it then move to the next word." Or, "No, check it in the dictionary."  Many of my students need quite a bit of practice using a dictionary since they often use their phones or an online dictionary at home.  

After confirming it, they will use the word again in a different context by writing a sentence on their papers.  .  This is the most challenging part, and I encourage students to write a sentence with their shoulder partner if they are struggling.  I also emphasize that we are practicing and learning.  It is ok if the sentence isn't quite right.  We will get there!  

I will also add many of these words to my word wall and revisit them each day as we are reading the story.  One day students might draw a picture of the word.  One day they might act them out or use them in a conversation.  Students need to use new words multiple times before they really stick, so I encourage them to keep using them and referring to them throughout the year.  Building vocabulary is an ongoing process that is crucial to reading comprehension.  If we want students to read complex texts then they need to have complex vocabularies as well.  


10 minutes

At the end of this activity, I ask students to just choose one word to think about.  They will sit with their shoulder partner and practice using this word in conversation. For example, if the word is trousers, a student might say, "I like the trousers that you are wearing today." and then inform their partner that trousers is a word for pants that we don't use very often anymore.  The partner would let them know if the meaning was clear or if they needed another example.  

I challenge the students to use this word in conversation sometime in the next 24 hours as well.  When they use a vocabulary word, they are supposed to come report it to me.  I get super excited  ( more excited than anyone should about vocabulary), and make a big deal about it in front of everyone!  Learning new words can be tedious, so I try my best to make it fun.  I also encourage students to find their new words in other reading materials and bring those in as well.  Students feel proud when they can use larger words and love to impress their parents with their knowledge.  

I have attached a more formal chart that I have used before for students to keep track of how they have used vocabulary words in conversation.  There is a column for the person who heard the word to initial as well.  

Recently, one of our vocabulary words was annihilate.  I gave several examples of how I might use it in different situations.  Later that day one of my students told me that he hated vocabulary and asked me if he could please annihilate his vocabulary worksheet!  At least he understood the meaning!You gotta love sixth graders!