Working with Dictionary Definitions

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SWBAT consult a dictionary to determine the definition of unknown words.

Big Idea

Dictionary work does NOT mean scribbling down the shortest definition you can find!


15 minutes

To open the lesson, I read aloud the first three paragraphs of Mark Twain's "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."

Next, I have my students take out a sheet of paper for a Think, Pair, Share.  The instructions are:

  • Write down what you think the narrator was talking about in those paragraphs. 
Then, students turn and share their response with an elbow partner.  I want them to notice what was the same in the responses and what was different.  Inevitably, there will be quite a few different responses.

I let my students know that this is the beginning of a funny story and that the paragraphs they just heard are the set-up for the humor.  I ask if anyone "got it"?  I will get that collective blank stare that most seventh-graders have perfected (do you hear the crickets chirping too?)
When I ask why they didn't understand what I read, I will get responses like, "I didn't know the words."  This is a great segue into our directed vocabulary instruction!

Getting Down to Business

20 minutes

At this point in the lesson, I pass our the vocabulary graphic organizer.  For this particular group of students (general ed and ELL), I have selected key words that will help students understand the story.  However, with advanced students it would be interesting to see if they could self-select words they needed to know to understand the passage.  This is a great opportunity for differentiation!

My students are always a little bit, well, FREAKED OUT by the size of the graphic organizer.  This is a great opportunity to talk about our groups and the collaborative classroom we work in. 

(If you're limited in your copies, you can create this resource simply by having kids fold a sheet paper into four sections and copy the format)

I will ask the students to do a little problem solving:  "We have 14 words we need to look up in the dictionary.  What could we do to make this a little bit easier on everyone?"  My hope is that someone will figure out we can divide and conquer.  We even have a discussion about that phrase and what it means.  This year, I got a lot of video game analogies about dividing enemy forces!

The way that I like to divide the workload is to assign a couple of words to each group.  Someone will suggest that they split the work amongst the members of their group, but I shy away from this.  If there are students who are weak in vocabulary skills, they are left to flounder alone.  However, if they can work on their definitions as a group, more learning can take place.

I warn them that they will be explaining each word's meaning to the class, so if they don't understand a word in the definition, they need to look that up too!

This is a great time to have a little review of dictionary skills.  Before I set the students free to look up their words, I ask them if the group who has the word "lurking" will be able to find it as an entry in the dictionary.  We will talk about how they will find the root word, lurk, as the main entry.

At this point, I let the kids work as I circulate to watch their progress.  There will be groups who will focus on speed.  There's always that kid who loves to shout, "I'm done!"  My response to that is to check their work and make sure they can tell me in their own words what their vocabulary words mean.

Now it's time to share out definitions.  I use my Smart Board to follow along with the kids.  However, a transparency will work as well. What's great about doing the work this way is that the kids have to listen to their classmates because the group who is presenting has information each student will need.

Did They Get It?

15 minutes

When students begin sharing out definitions, I will help them revise so that everyone has a good idea of what the word means.  When they leave class, they will have all 14 definitions so that we can take them and make them our own tomorrow!