To open our science unit I explain that they are going to learn and come up with their own definition for some important terms. I start by telling them the words that we are going to need to know. The first word is explain what our science unit is all about. I write the word Ecosystem on the board and I ask if anyone has any prior knowledge of the word. I have a few students who make an attempt to answer, but are not quite on the right path.
I ask for dictionary volunteers to be our official word finders. I choose about seven students that will have this job and be the ones that look up our words. The others I ask them to take out their white boards so that they can make notes to track their thinking.
The first word I ask them to define is ecosystem. The seven finders begin looking and those that sit around them can offer help if it is wanted and needed. Once one student finds it, it is not long afterward that the others will also discover it. I ask them to stand up and I have each of them read the definition. It is up to the rest of the class to write notes that might help them understand the word. To help them I will model for them with the word ecosystem.
I have the first student read the definition and I write down a key word I hear that I think that is important. This is what I want them to do after hearing each reading. I want them to try to hear and write something that will help us learn the word.
Once the class has heard the definition seven times and has a board full of notes, I ask them to share. I do this by calling on students to come up to the white board and adding one of their notes to it. We will take this compilation and create our own definition based on them and our prior knowledge.
It is now time to discuss the word and what we believe the word to mean. I read the notes that we added to the white board and ask them to put it together by sharing their thoughts for what an ecosystem is. By this time, they can all add something to their pair discussion. I then ask them to share their thoughts with the class. We agree and disagree until they are satisfied and I can confirm that they understand the word ecosystem.
We complete the same process for two more words. We do this for community and population. This format works well when they do not realize they have some prior knowledge of the words.