Creating a Student-Chosen Vocabulary List

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Students will be able to clarify the meaning of unfamiliar words by creating a class list, shrinking dictionary definitions, and presenting the definitions to the class.

Big Idea

Students create their own vocabulary list to help understand an author's motivation for writing.

Daily Grammar

15 minutes

I've been stressing what a compound sentence is and why it needs a comma in the bellwork recently.  The conjunctions (and, but, or) join two complete sentences, which means that there is a subject AND verb. If there's one subject and two verbs, it doesn't need the comma.  Only two subjects and two verbs. They're also getting quite good at underlining the titles of ships to show that they are italicized. 

Initial Reading of Rod Serling's Biography

10 minutes

I've been giving students some pretty complex passages to read lately.  Today's passage is no exception.  It's a short biography of Rod Serling, the author of "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street." And yes, the creator of The Twilight Zone.

Because this passage is so difficult, students have a ton of questions about vocabulary.  Rather than start with main ideas, then, we started with vocabulary.  If they don't know what the words mean, how can they get to the author's main ideas?  They can't, without a lot of difficult and a lot of teacher spoon-feeding.  I'm not doing that. They're constructing their own knowledge, so we're starting with vocabulary.

And to start with vocabulary, we start with reading the passage.   I reminded students of our annotation symbols. Since we're focusing on vocabulary for this first read, I specifically pointed out the delta (triangle).  They could use the delta to mark a word that they didn't know.  They could underline words that they thought were important.  If they wanted to go beyond these things, great, but that's what we're starting with.  For the first read, they read it alone, independently.  For some students, it was a struggle.  Some students didn't finish in the time I allotted. 

One tip that I picked up from my student teacher this fall was to ask students to do something silly to show that they're done. They can touch their nose, give themselves bunny ears, put their pencil under their lip to form a mustache, etc. It allows them a way to let me know that they're done without yelling, "I'm finished!" every two seconds.

After the first read, I asked them to very briefly share the words that they'd annotated so far.  Then I read the passage aloud and asked them to do the same thing--annotate words they don't know.  Sometimes hearing the word, rather that just seeing the word, helps students realize that they don't know something.  And it was true for many of my students.  Once I was done reading aloud, I asked them to share the words again. I'm stopping here, because the rest of this belongs in the next section.

Identifying Important Vocabulary

10 minutes

In the last section, I left off with asking students to share the words they didn't understand.  I made sure to reiterate that it's okay to admit that you don't know something.  Really. That's okay. I don't know if your students don't like to do that, but mine certainly don't like to admit it sometimes.  Either their honors students and think they know everything, or they're a typical kid and don't want to look stupid.

I gave each group a sticky note.  Just one!  Just one sticky note per group!  Not one per person! As a group, they were to come up with a list of words that they thought were important.  The goal was five to seven words, but of course, some groups wrote more.  Overachievers!  I collected the sticky notes and put them up under the document camera so everyone could see.  You could also do this with mini dry erase boards or the full sized dry erase board. 

We compared the words on each group's sticky note to create a list of words that we would all learn.

Sometimes the word was the name of a place, like Ithaca or Antioch.  Those words didn't need to be looked up, so I explained that it was just the name of a place.  While they might interesting places, the meaning of those words aren't critical to understanding the author's message or to understanding Serling's motivation for writing.

If the word was one two or more sticky notes, it was certainly included.  If it was only on one sticky note, but I thought it was important, I included it.  I'm thinking of the word 'intent.'  It only appeared on one group's note in fourth hour, but I wish someone had included that in first hour.  It's a good word because I want students to understand Serling's motivation as well as what he intended to accomplish with his writing. But if students don't understand what intent is, how can they analyze the authors intent?

Here are the words that they came up with. I've listed the words for first and fourth hours separately, but they're very similar. First hour chose debuted, and fourth hour chose intent, but both classes picked prolific, engrossing, paranoia, taboo, commodity, paratrooper, and lynching. 

Vocabulary Definitions

45 minutes

I assigned one word to a set of clock appointments. Sometimes I needed a group to take two words, so I tried to give those groups an easier and a harder word.  The group that got taboo wanted another word, but I know that that one word would be difficult enough on it own.

Each group was given a dry erase board, marker, and dictionary.  The things that they needed to include were:

  • the word
  • the part of speech
  • the definition, shrunken down into words that a fourth grader could easily understand

 The first thing each group did was copy the dictionary definition of the word. That was the easiest part of this task, especially when you consider that the dictionaries I have access to were purchased when my school was a high school.

Let's consider the word requiem.  Here's what students came up with. It looks simple, but it's really quite a complex task.






Here's what students saw when they looked up the word in the dictionary. Sure, students looked up the word, they copied the definition.  But what in the world does the word actually mean?  A mass for the repose? Do what, now? In order to understand the meaning of this word, other words need to be clarified.




Therefore, the  next step was to look up those words. A mass is the celebration of communion, the musical part of mass.  Repose is a state of rest. Once students put all that together, they were able to come to an understanding of the word. 

It was only until students considered the meaning of all the words in the definition that they were able to determine the meaning of the word.  However, that still isn't enough.  They also need to rewrite the definition so that it's easy enough for a fourth grader to understand. 

It was only once they shrunk the definition down to something that was simple enough for a ten-year old to understand, that they were finished. This was certainly a frustrating, rigorous task for students to complete.  They wanted to stop once they'd looked up the definition.  They wanted to stop after they'd looked up the other necessary words. But it wasn't until they had put the definition into simple words that they had proven that they understood the meaning.  It wasn't enough that they could recite the word's meaning--they had to understand it.

Lesson Resources

Today's lesson picture is a list of student-chosen vocabulary words, aesthetically displayed with Wordle.