Introduction to Our Island

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TSWBAT identify and define tier two and three words relevant in the novel, Island of the Blue Dolphins.

Big Idea

Discover domain specific vocabulary!

Creation of the Vocabulary List

15 minutes

One of the first things the kids ask me when we begin a new book is, "Is it true?"  As you introduce Island of the Blue Dolphins, happily report it is indeed based on a true story.

The Lost Women of San Nicolas, as she is known in history, actually lived alone on this island from 1835-1853.  Her name is a mystery, although she's come to be known as Juana Maria.  In the novel she is Karana, as created by author Scott O'Dell.  O'Dell utilizes numerous facts that were uncovered about The Lost Women, and includes an author's note about this following the final chapter.

The story opens with the sentence, "I remember the day the Aleut ship came to our island." This statement foreshadows another of O'Dell's inspirations for writing Island of the Blue Dolphins.  Hunters needlessly slaughtering wildlife caused him much grief.


Literature Study Units provide teachers with a wealth of vocabulary words designated for each chapter of the book.  It's vital that the students become familiar with unknown vocabulary words- it helps with comprehension and a fluid reading experience.  Sometimes, we simply create our own lists by perusing a chapter and deciding which words our kids probably won't know.  Here's a way to vary things- why not give your students the chance to pick out these terms?

Island of the Blue Dolphins in a book rich with beautiful language and imagery and lots of opportunity to present great vocabulary.  Ask your kids to skim through the first two chapters, not for comprehension, but to pinpoint unfamiliar words.

They write the words in a list and also categorize them with a rating scale of 1: have no idea what this word means, or 2: have seen before, but not confident with what this word means. They use the New Word Rating Scale page. 

Once the class has had a chance to compile their personal lists, it's time to see which words come up frequently.  Students say words; you copy onto the board; record tally marks for duplicates.

The new vocabulary list will become evident.  The kids feel empowered because this list is specific to their own needs as a class.  The shift to CCS makes it explicit that our students acquire and use academic vocabulary handily, and having choice in something like the vocabulary list will add to this.


25 minutes

Once a list has been secured, it's time to uncover the meanings of these new words.  Although their vocabulary will be best understood in the context of the story, have them transfer the class words onto individual 3x5 cards first.  I monitor and redirect while listening to the students' initial definitions of the words.  Some kids will madly scour the dictionary, others just taking guesses at the meanings.  When a correct definition is determined for each term, the kids write it on the back of the 3x5 card.

Each new word is defined before reading.  The kids eagerly await its appearance in the chapter, and when they see one, expect audible recognition.  After completion of the chapter, return to the vocabulary list and ask the kids to write a comprehensive sentence for each of the words.  This allows a chance to see their understanding of the new words.  With RL.5.2 the students are preparing to analyze theme.  A strong comprehension of their vocabulary words will reinforce this standard as they explore the novel and determine what the theme(s) are.    

This would be a laborious and time-consuming task to apply to each chapter, so the students are instructed to keep their sticky notes handy and jot down the unfamiliar words as they read susbsequent chapters.  The "word rating" worksheet is another option.  Since our "official" vocabulary words for the year come from our Greek and Latin Root Word lists, I'm not testing these words from the novel in the traditional way.  The content words in the novel are identified by the kids (and me), displayed on the word wall, and used consistently throughout the unit.  I really enjoy when kids wander back to the wall and look at it.  It's especially nice when a student asks for a clarification or makes a comment about how a definition can be improved.  

Most of the words in this particular book seem to have frequent use and it's nice to see them become part of the kids knowledge vocabulary easily.  Through regular comprehension evals during the novel, I monitor understanding of the most essential vocabulary words in some of the questions.  I like that the students demonstrate their understanding of these words without memorizing a list of words and definitions.

Follow Up

10 minutes

Time to create the visual.  The kids will enjoy watching a word wall develop as they add throughout the unit.

Give each group the opportunity to be Word Wall Guardians of different chapters.  This means they will take charge of creating the cards for that specific chapter.  The cards should be neatly done and large enough to read so as to be effective. Rather than listing the cards as they're discovered in the reading, begin categories such as Geographic Location, Wildlife, Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives, Characters, etc.

The Word Wall should be interactive with students referring to it frequently throughout the literature study.  The skill of acquiring and using academic vocabulary words is imperative in helping the kids set the stage of comprehending the novel easily and as enjoyably as possible.

Here is a wonderful interactive link for Island of the Blue Dolphins for the kids to Explore the Island.