Unusual Vocabulary in Context

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SWBAT use context clues to define unusual words in "Spit Nolan".

Big Idea

Context clues to the rescue!

Gathering Words

15 minutes

Since the story "Spit Nolan" takes place in England during a time where horse drawn vehicles cruised down cobblestone streets right along side cars, there are plenty of interesting vocabulary words for the students to use.  Not only does "Spit Nolan" contain your usual high level words, the author also uses British slang like slanced and cropper and even trolley lingo like axle and ball bearings.  So much fun!

My students really enjoyed using these words, especially when they tried out a British accent,  I even overhead one boy telling another boy that language arts was so fun today!  That is not a comment I usually hear on days we define vocab words!

When the students first read the story, they circled words and phrases that were unfamiliar to them.  Today, I had them tell me all of the words and I listed them up on the board.  If there was a word that most people knew, I defined it on the spot and didn't list it.  I had to stop all of my classes before they were finished listing words.  There were just that many!  One reason I love this story is that the students can truly understand the meaning of the text without knowing each and every word.  Somehow, the author carries the message despite the tiny  language barrier.  

Once we had a list of about 20-25 words, I stopped.  I quickly grouped the students in threes according to where they were sitting.  I called on each group to choose a word.  Once a word was chosen, the group recorded it on their paper, and I checked it off so no one else could choose it.  We repeated the process until each group had 3 words.  

Sample Word List

Finding Meaning

30 minutes

One of the big shifts in the common core is acquiring and using academic vocabulary.  A big obstacle my students face when trying to read a complex text is that their vocabularies are not up to par.  My big push this year is to boost their vocabulary while supplying them with a tool box of word attack skills.  

I am big on having students find the meaning of unknown words using the context since that is what we have to do as readers most of the time.  I gave my students a list of context clues to look for and a procedure to follow.  

1.  Find the word in the story, and read that part.

2.  Use context clues to make a guess.

3.  Look the word up in the dictionary to confirm or refute your guess.  If you now know the correct meaning, write the definition down on your paper, and move on to the next word.  

4.  If you are still unsure of the meaning, or if the word was not in the dictionary, use your phone to look up the word.  Write the meaning on your paper, and move on to the next word.  

I kept this activity fast paced and spent the entire time bouncing from group to group mostly helping them use the dictionary.  My students have no idea how to do this thanks to dictionary.com.  

When each group had defined and recorded their words, the groups assigned a word to each person.  Each individual was responsible for telling us the meaning of one word.  We went around each group and everyone spoke (sometimes in a British accent) until each person had a turn.  If the word was important and crucial to the meaning of the story, like macadamized or charabanc, I would stop and discuss.  Otherwise, we zipped around quickly.  

I chose to have each student speak, because I have quite a few students this year that will not volunteer to talk.  It is time to take some baby steps in getting them to communicate with their classmates.  This was a safe activity because the groups had worked together to define the words.  The students were proud of themselves when they figured out the meaning of a tough word.  Since I am asking students to spend so much time with vocabulary through Wordly Wise, I am trying to make text based vocabulary activities a little funner.