What can teachers do to help students develop stronger vocabulary knowledge?
Page 5: Select Words
Prior to engaging the class in a Possible Sentences lesson, the teacher should select two sets of vocabulary words from the text that students will be reading. One set should contain 6–8 important terms with which the students are probably not familiar. The second set should include 4–6 terms from the text that are related to the unfamiliar vocabulary but that likely will be familiar to students. This selection of both familiar and unfamiliar academic vocabulary will allow students to use their existing knowledge of the familiar words (e.g., soldier) to support their learning of the new, unfamiliar terms (e.g., militia). This strategy also serves to foster connections among words that are related to the content and concepts students will be learning. Although the teacher has selected two distinct groups of words (i.e., unfamiliar and familiar), they will be presented to students as a single list.
For example, Ms.Yun, the social studies teacher from the Challenge video, has selected the following terms from a unit on the U.S. Civil War.
Note: The passage below has been shortened considerably for illustrative purposes. A real middle-school text passage could be anywhere from several pages to an entire chapter in length but with the same number of unfamiliar and familiar words selected.
In preparation for the discussions that will occur in later steps, the teacher develops a student-friendly definition—one phrased in language that makes more sense to students than a dictionary definition—for each word. For example, compare these two definitions of militia (note: the “dictionary definition” version below was taken from www.merriam-webster.com):
- Student-friendly definition: a group of people who train to protect their community but are not in the military full-time
- Dictionary definition: the whole body of able-bodied male citizens declared by law as being subject to call to military service
For most students, the first definition will not only be easier to understand, it will also promote comprehension when students encounter the vocabulary word in the text.
Click here for a lesson plan template for implementing Possible Sentences (Word format).
Ms. Yun has developed a student-friendly definition for militia. Now see if you can develop student-friendly definitions for each of the other words from her Civil War unit. The following Websites might prove helpful:
English/Language Arts Example
Below is a list of terms that Mr. Chowdhury, the English/language arts teacher from the Challenge video, has selected.