Understanding Those Words

Figuring out unknown words is such a difficult thing for the students (and some adults) to do.   Often times, we just tell the kids to "look it up in the dictionary". BUT....

I mean, really, when you are sitting on the beach with a drink in one hand and your book in another, are you going to stop and open up a dictionary to figure out that really long word in the middle of your amazingly fantastic read???  I thought not.  Our students aren't either.

So much of my vocabulary instruction focuses on three main strategies that the students can use (and you probably use on the beach) to figure out those tough words  -- context clues, word structure, and apposition.

TeachinginRoom6.blogspot.com, word strategies, vocabulary, language artsI started today's lesson creating a Circle Map of the different ways that we could figure out unknown words.  The kids gave me all the standards -- dictionary, glossary, ask a friend, the internet -- so I chimed in with the three vocab strategies.

language arts, vocabulary, comprehension, test taking skills, reading
We then created a little Tree Map of what each strategy actually means.  You will see a little icon next to each.  That is the icon (I made up) to  identify the strategy.  Later on....and I will write about it in another post for sure...as we are recognizing the strategies, the kids will put that icon next to the word.  But the point of today was just to introduce the strategies, so I only went that far.

Next, I taught them the hand motions that I created to go along with these three strategies.  Yes....I LOVE HAND MOTIONS.  There I said it.   I made this little video for you of me doing the strategies.  (I am at home, so no kiddos voices in this one...however you will see my own kids....I couldn't keep them out and this is literally the best one I got!  Sorry about that! ;) )

After we were done with learning the strategies, we went into our reading selection for the week and looked to see if we could use each one at least once.  This is the first time we are going through it, so it was really laid back today. But as the year gets on, my hope is that they will become more independent with them.

What are some of your tricks to get the kids to figure out words they are unfamiliar with?


  1. I love this. It is such a great way to teach vocab and you are so right about finding authentic ways to figure out unknown words. I plan to share this with the teachers at my school. Thanks so much.

    Your video was super cute! I saw your kiddo, but was that your husband in the background at the end? That is too funny.

    Antoinette :)

  2. Love the hand motions, Stephanie :)
    You always have a great way to help your students make great connections and I love reading about it.

  3. Thanks for the video...a great way to help kids learn new vocabulary. That is one of my goals this year and I plan to incorporate your ideas. Thanks!

  4. Love the hand motions - they ALWAYS help kids remember - will definitely add them in to my vocab lessons. I also add a fourth strategy - Part of Speech. (Actually I like to ask this as the first question because it helps to focus them in on the possibilities of what the word might mean.) We look to see if the word is a noun (then it's a person, place, or thing), or verb (it's an action), or adjective (its some kind of describing word), etc. It really helps them narrow down somewhat what the word can possibly mean.

  5. Love this idea! Thank you for sharing. I love your constant use of thinking maps as well! You always manage to use them in ways I didn't think were possible! Thanks for the great ideas!

    Young Teacher Love 5th Grade Blog

  6. Thanks. I will be doing this tomorrow with my class. However, I will have to watch the video again for apposition's hand motions, and to see if I can spot your hubby at the end. Take care!


  7. Awesome timing! Thanks so much. I love gestures too. We use a lot in my co-teaching class. Great ideas!


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