Trim? Gust? Bouquet? Infer the Meaning of the Words

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SWBAT determine unknown words by creating inferences based on schema and text evidence.

Big Idea

What's the word mean? Use inferences to define the words.



I chose this story because it's a classic. The story line is engaging and simple and the kids can relate to a story about a character who wants to change her/his look. Because this story is older, there are lots of opportunities for vocabulary work. Some of the words are not used in our vernacular ('dandy'), but it was fun for the kids to read. They really love these classic stories - they are sure bet to gain their interest.

Let's Get Excited!

5 minutes

Underlined words below are lesson vocabulary words that are emphasized and written on sentence strips for my Reading & Writing word wall. I pull off the words off the wall for each lesson, helping students understand this key 'reading and writing' vocabulary can be generalized across texts and topics.  The focus on acquiring and using these words is part of a shift in the Common Core Standards towards building students’ academic vocabulary.  My words are color coded ‘pink’ for literature/’blue’ for reading strategies/’orange’ for informational text/'yellow' for writing/’green’ for all other words)


 Common starting point

  • Show the first powerpoint slide.  "We are doing more inferring with literature today.  Take a look at the title and picture.  What can you infer?"
  • Take ideas - it's about a lion, the lion likes flowers, he is a fancy lion, he has cool hair.
  • "How did you come to such good inferences? It sounds like you used your evidence (title and picture) and your schema." (I know that fancy people dress up, movie stars have cool hair like that) 


My goal here is to engage the kids in the discussion about the text and give them a start on inferencing. This is the a lesson in the middle of my inferencing unit, so my kids have a good idea of how to use evidence and schema to inference, although they still need support write their inferences.

Teacher's Turn

15 minutes

Give the purpose of the lesson

  • "Inferring can help us in many ways - describing a character, making predictions, determining cause and effect and defining vocabulary. Take a look at some of the vocabulary in this story."
  • Show powerpoint (slide 2-3).  This is how I introduced the words with the powerpoint.
  • "When we read a word we don't know, we use evidence from the text (words and illustrations) and our schema (what we know) to make a good inference."  (slide 4)
  • "Let's talk about that more: (slide 5) 
    • schema
    • text clues
    • picture clues
    • rereading of the text
    • thinking about it
  • "We going to use this organizer today to helps us define the words." (last slide)


Introduce strategy - teacher models

  • Read through the first few pages (stop at the page that started with 'as soon as'...)
  • "Here's a word I don't know - 'barbershop'. I'll write that word. I'm going to infer that it means a haircut place (write that) and I know that because of the picture of the pole. My dad goes to a barbershop.  I'll write that too." Take a look at how I modeled this part of this skill.
  • Read the next page.  "Here's a word I don't know - 'trimmed'.  I'll write that and 'infer' that it means 'cut' because the evidence in the pictures shows his hair being cut."


Practice strategy - guided practice

  • "Help me with another one." Read to the page 'Dandelion thought..'  Is there a word you don't know?"  'manicure'
  • "What do we infer that means?"  How do we know that?"  (illustration or schema if their family member has ever had a manicure)  This is a video of my students using their schema in this part of the lesson.
  • Here was the whiteboard when we were done.
  • I did one more example with the word 'unruly' because my students noticed how to use parts of the word to define it. This was our discussion about defining words with a prefix and root word.


Students are using a variety of ways in this lesson to determine or clarify the meaning of unknown words in grade 2 reading content (L.2.4a). The focus is using sentence level context as clues for meaning, but if they offer other ways of defining words (such as root word, prefix, synonym, etc), encourage this. The kids come with a variety of language levels and there are words that some will know and some will not. The goal of determining meaning of unknown meanings is to find what works for each student, those who can use root words, others that use schema, and some that use evidence.

Students Take a Turn

20 minutes

Assign Task

  • "Now I'll continue reading and see how well you can define the words."  I'll pause after each page and write a word or two. If you know what it means, you don't have to write it."
  • Read slowly and help students with spelling. Challenge those that say they 'know' the word. My kids said they knew 'dandy' but couldn't tell me what it means.'


Read and let students work

  • Continue reading and write some words on the board. 
  • Remind students about using schema and evidence.
  • Challenge them to use good definitions. We did discuss a good number of the definitions and I encouraged the kids to go beyond the 'boring words', such as 'good and like' to more descriptive words.  Here is an example of a discussion about using good definitions.
  • This is what the completed worksheet looked like.


The emphasis on using text evidence to develop these inferences is really one of the cruxes of the the Common Core standards. Students are encouraged to answer questions, make inferences and summarize by going back to the text, looking at the author's original intention displayed in the words and illustrations. Asking and answering questions about 'who', 'what', 'where', 'why' and 'how' allow the student to use the information provided by the author to garner a deeper comprehension of the text. (RL.2.1)

Share What You've Learned

15 minutes

Share what you know

  • "Now that we've identified words that we didn't know, let's make a visual."
  • "Cut your brown paper into strips and write each word from your worksheet on the left edge of each strip. Roll the other end of each strip toward the word. Here is what it looked like when a student wrote the words and another student rolled the strips.
  • The kids cut out a yellow circle for the lions' face and glued on the strips that made a 'mane'.
  • Here's what the completed project looked like.


Scaffolding and Special Education: This lesson could be scaffolded up or down, depending on student ability.

Students with language challenges may struggle more in this lesson due to the advanced vocabulary. I would suggest they sit with a partner or you write words on the whiteboard. They should try to make inferences, but may need help 'writing' out their schema or inference.

Students with higher vocabulary should be able to make good inferences. I would set an expectation of how many words they need to define because they may know most of the words. It's still a great expectation for them to cite the evidence or schema to support the inference. That is an expectation of the Common Core State Standards.