Ugh! Unfamiliar vocabulary in informational texts can be a huge stumbling block for our students. The image below is a bookmark a colleague and I developed for a lesson. I’ve also attached a word document with the bookmarks for easy copying. We based this on the work of Baumann and colleagues (2009).
The lesson was with a group of fourth grade students reading an article from one of my favorite websites – Science News for Students. The article was about research studies that are revealing how females and males respond differently to sports-related concussion. This was a complex text – I actually cut one section of the article (the first part under the subtitle “Probing the Chemistry”) that I thought was too difficult for the students. The article was about a page and a half total. I’ve inserted the word doc below. You could definitely use this through 6th grade or higher even.
I’ve attached lesson procedures here if you want to try this out.
Here’s what the lesson looked like for me:
- Introduced the article (posted on the doc camera) with previewing and predicting. We previewed the title and deck and made relevant predictions – I modeled some and I asked the students to turn and talk with a partner as well.
- Asked the students to determine the author’s main idea as they read individual copies of the article a first time. Conferred with individuals as they read. The first question for each conference was: What did you just learn from the text? This helped me determine where to go next.
- Regrouped and wrote key words from the text on a sticky note on the doc camera–females, males, concussion, depression, sensitivity. I modeled – with a student partner – using these key words to discuss the main idea. As the students summarized and discussed the main idea with a partner, I conferred and continued to add words to the sticky note as needed: reacted, response, differences, investigate.
- Introduced the 4 types of context clues with bookmark posted on the doc camera. Modeled thinking through the meaning of “concussion” and modeled boxing the word, underlining helpful clues, consulting the bookmark to determine what type of clue and then annotating the type of clue on the article.
- Guided students in following a similar routine with a second word — prone.
- Asked the students to identify a third word of their own and attempt to box, underlined, consult bookmark, and annotate. Conferred with individuals. Regrouped once and shared what one student had done as far as thinking and annotating on his copy of the article (placed his copy on the doc camera). Asked students to continue identifying and thinking through additional vocabulary. Below is a scan of my annotated article that I had on the doc camera–these are my notes by the end of the lesson. So I modeled, guided, and then stepped back in at particular points to highlight what students were doing with other words.
- Regrouped and asked the students to write a reflection on the process they engaged in to think about unfamiliar vocabulary. I provided a sentence stem – see image below.
This was a major workout. Many of the students flew–some used the bookmark and some didn’t. Of course, there were some students who did not progress and had little to show when I finally got to them. I really think this is the kind of lesson that should be done in a small group!!!! Either way – the students need more experiences discussing how they figured out the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary and the types of clues the author used.
My objective for this lesson was not for students to say “I used context clues to figure out the meaning of the word.” Instead, I want to hear students say something like:
Well, I identified some words in the text that helped me understand this particular word. I knew the words might explain or identify the meaning of the word or the words might be synonymous or the words might just give me examples of this word. When I underlined the words and thought about the types of context clues, I realized I sort of knew the meaning from general details the author gave.
In the end, it’s not about whether the student identifies the “right clue.” Instead my goal is for the students to use the language of the context clues to explain how they made meaning.
Okay…I’ve also attached a chart with an explanation of the four context clue types and examples–as a reference.
Hope this helps.