Tag Archives: lesson ideas

Intentional Word Work

I have written about teaching vocabulary often on this blog and share different ways to help students become word learners. Recently, my eighth grade students started reading nonfiction historical graphic novels with social justice themes and there are two dozen words that my students might not know. Some are specific the to historical events like legions, furor, and internment. Whereas other words provide vivid vocabulary like scrupulous and flabbergasted. In order to be more intention with student’s vocabulary building, I created a hyperdoc to help bring word work to forefront of the classroom.

When students do not understand an author’s vocabulary, they cannot fully understand the text.

Good vocabulary instruction emphasizes useful words (words students see frequently), important words (keywords that help students understand the text), and difficult words (words with more than one meaning).

In improving vocabulary instruction teachers can help students by:

  • Activating their prior knowledge
  • Defining words in multiple contexts
  • Helping students see context clues
  • Helping students understand the structure of words (Suffixes, Prefixes, and Roots — SPROOTS)
  • Teaching students how to use the dictionary and showing them the range of information it provides
  • Encouraging deep processing — integrating new words into working vocabularies
  • Giving multiple exposure
  • Focusing on a small number of important words

Janet Allen, author of Words, Words, Words(1999), states, “Children and adults need to see and hear a word in meaningful context multiple times in order to know the word, somewhere between 10 to 15 times.” And with middle school and high school, variety is the key. Teachers cannot teach vocabulary the same way every time.

Reading is perhaps the most important element in vocabulary instruction. 

So, how do I teach vocabulary in my English class?

I use interactive foldables with my students and early in the school year I give them a foldable to remind them of effective word detective strategies. These strategies include:

Context Clues – Read before and after words that might help explain the words

Word Parts (SPROOTS) – Look for word parts that are recognizable. Students can decode words by knowing prefixes, suffixes, and root words

Connotation & Tone – Take the word and apply it to the character and what the character is doing in order to understand the passage. Does this word offer a positive or negative tone?

Outside Connections – Have I heard this word in a song, movie, or maybe world language? Connect the word with what you already know. 

In addition to the foldable that students have in their notebooks to refer to throughout the school year, I mix up the different ways that I teach vocabulary. Here are five additional ideas to teach vocabulary in any content area classroom:

1. Take a Poll – Using an online polling website like Polleverywhere.com I poll my student about a definition of a word. Students use their mobile devices to select the best definition for a word.

2. Idea Completions – Instead of the traditional “write a sentence using a new word,” provide students with sentence stems that require them to integrate a word’s meaning into a context in order to explain a situation.

3. Questions, Reasons, Examples –

What is something you could do to impress your teacher (mother, friend)? Why?

What are some things that should be done cautiously? Why? 

Which one of these things might be extraordinary? Why or why not? 

-A shirt that was comfortable, or a shirt that washed itself? 

-A flower that kept blooming all year, or a flower that bloomed for 3 days?

-A person who has a library card, or a person who has read all the books in the library? 

4. Making Choices – Students show their understanding of vocabulary by saying the word when it applies, or remaining silent when it doesn’t. For example: “Say radiant if any of these things would make someone look radiant.”

-Winning a million dollars. 

-Earning a gold medal. 

-Walking to the post office. 

-Cleaning your room. 

-Having a picture you painted hung in the school library.

5. Act It Out – Add some theater in your classroom and have students present a scenario or tableau that represent the word.

There is no one method for teaching vocabulary. Rather teachers need to use a variety of methods for the best results, including intentional, explicit instruction of specific vocabulary words. Teachers can also encourage creative approaches to spark enthusiasm.

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Short Story Hyperdocs

I am a huge fan of hyper docs, a student-facing lesson designed to scaffold instruction. It is more than a doc with links, packaging and aesthetics are key. A hyperdoc allows students to first explore, explain, and then apply new learning. Holly Clark @hollyclarkedu has a great visual to showcase the elements and scaffolds on a hyperdoc.

@HollyClarkEdu created this visual to showcase the elements of a hyperdoc

This month in my 8th grade classroom, students are reading short stories around themes of identity to study and practice literary analysis. I have created three short story hyper docs to help students read, write, think critically, collaborate, and create. At the beginning of the week, students have access to the hyperdoc and they work through the lessons and assignments during the week. Each hyperdoc is differentiated and personalized for the diverse learners in my classroom. Consider these learner roadmaps for inquiries of study.

To get started creating your own hyper docs for your students utilize the basic HyperDoc template with the fundamentals of effective lesson design (engage, explore, explain, apply, share, reflect, and extend) in mind, but in no way does it reflect everything you can do. You can also get a copy of my short story hyper docs to use and or adapt with your students (note some links are not shared like Flipgrids due to privacy). Feel free to check out the array of playlists I have shared on this blog.

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Revolution, Revolt & Rebellion: What’s the difference?

My students are finishing up their dystopian fiction unit. My eighth graders had a choice to read The Giver by Lois Lowry, Animal Farm by George Orwell, or Unwind by Neil Shusterman. Throughout the dystopian literature unit students met weekly in literature groups to go deep and zoom in a particular text. When we got together as a large class we zoomed out to look at the larger themes, ideas, and concepts presented among all three of the texts.

This is the lesson that I prepared for my students, and my principal since she was joining the class for my formal observation.

The Essential Questions:  What role does rebellion, revolt, and revolution play in dystopian fiction?

How does the protagonist react to the repressive aspects of the dystopian society presented in the novel?



Objectives: By the end of the lesson student will be able to (KUDos)


  • The negative aspects of the dystopian world presented in their dystopian text.
  • Rebellion and revolt are synonymous. Meaning 1. an effort by many people to change the government or leader or a country by the use of protest or violence; 2. open opposition toward a person or group in authority; 3. refusal to obey rules or accept normal standards of behavior. (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rebellion)
  • Revolution as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary means: the violent attempt by many people to end the rule of one government and start a new one.


  • Dystopian fictions show a fine line between the idea and the repressive.
  • The protagonist in dystopian literature is a figurehead of rebellion who questions the existing social and political systems presented in the dystopian text.
  • Most dystopian literature presents a world in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a utopian society are maintained through different controls.


  • Use Smart phones to access pictures and videos using i-Nigma QR Code reader app
  • Make inferences based on images of revolutions.
  • Define rebellion, revolution, and revolt and apply these definitions to their dystopian literature.
  • Draw connections between revolutions in history and popular culture to the dystopian literature.
  • Identify the ideal and repressive elements in the dystopian literature that lead to acts of rebellion in the texts by completing a graphic organizer in small groups.



Part 1 – Do Now:  Upon entering the class students will be asked to answer the following questions on paper:

How you would define the word revolution? How would you distinguish a revolution from a civil war, an uprising, a rebellion or revolt, or a protest or demonstration? What examples from history illustrate your ideas?

Part 2 – Hook: Before we share our thoughts and ideas, students will choose two of the six QR codes posted around the room to scan on their smart phones. The QR Codes allow the students  to view an array of images and video in history and popular culture presenting rebellion, revolutions, and revolts. These images include: The Boston Tea Party, The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising during WWII, tearing down the Berlin Wall, Riots in Tehran, a scene from The Hunger Games, and Napoleon’s take over in France, 1789.  Students will look at the picture, read the caption, and make inferences about the images. Students are asked to record the image and date of the image on their Do Now Handout and then write a brief description of the image presented. Students are using critical thinking skills, visual literacy skills, and background information, to determine whether the event is a rebellion, revolt, or revolution.

Debrief Part 1 & Part 2:   Students will come back to their seats to share some of their working definitions of revolution, revolt, and rebellion. Ideas will be catalogued on the SmartBoard. Students will apply their definitions to the images from the QR Codes.  The teacher will post the pictures on the SmartBoard for students to share their responses and inferences. This debriefing will allow students to revise their definitions and create a whole class definition for: revolution, rebellion, and revolt.

Part 3 – Interactive Notebooks: Students will cut and glue an interactive foldable on Rebellion in Dystopian Literature into their English notebook. During this time the teacher will walk around the classrooms to check in with the different groups and support any students with special needs or questions.

Part 4 – Synthesis: Students will get into their small groups based on their book choices to complete the chart in their notebook applying what they know and learned about rebellion, revolt, and revolution to their dystopian book. In small groups students will identify the ideal and repressive aspects of their dystopian society and ways in which rebellion, revolt, and revolution play in their dystopian novels. During this time the teacher will walk around the classrooms to check in with the different groups and support any students with special needs or questions.

Part 5 – Closure: Students will complete the exit ticket that allows them to write one statement about what they learned today and one question that still remains. These handouts will be collected and used for formative assessment.  

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On the Go: New York Transit Museum Sparks Creative Lessons for Diverse Content Areas

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Whether you have children or students obsessed with anything that moves (i.e. trains and buses), teach about the turn of the 20th Century, or are looking for an awesome museum that is off the beaten path . . .  The New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, New York is the place to go.  

My family and I spent the afternoon exploring throughout this hands-on museum learning about history of the New York City Transit from omnibus to elevated trains to trolleys to the subway.   Did you know that the IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit System) began constructing the first subway line in 1900 and in 1904 the first subway line carried as many as 100,000 people on its very first day!  Most of the subway system that is in place today was built from 1916 to 1931. Today, New York City subway lines are one of the most extensive and busiest in the world.

The mission of the New York Transit Museum is ” to collect, exhibit, interpret, and preserve the history, sociology, and technology of public transportation in the New York metropolitan region, and to conduct research and educational programs that will make the Museum’s extensive collection accessible and meaningful to the broadest possible audience.”

But the museum is not all history, there were science connections with an exhibition on Electricity.  From a math standpoint, there is also an exhibition about the tokens.  At one time, it only cost a dime to ride the subway!  For a music connection, Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video was filled just a few blocks in a nearby subway station twenty five years ago. 

Hands down, the best part of museum happens to be the vintage subway cars.  The lower level includes more than a dozen subway cars from the Brooklyn Union Elevated Car, to the Money Train and more.

The museum’s website offers the history of the transit system, lesson plans for teachers, and historical documents on the teacher resources webpage.  Additional online activities include Gallery talks, magnetic transit poetry, and transit artifacts .  The museum is available for school trips and open to the public Tuesdays through Sundays.


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Literacy Lessons Inspired by Community Gardens

Seedfolks, written by Paul Fleischman, is a great book written in vignettes about a small community of people who work together to build a flourishing community garden. Each chapter is a different character telling their story from their point of view – a young girl, an immigrant, a pregnant teenagers, and seven others turn an abandoned lot into a flourishing garden.

Here are some pictures I took while walking through the garden at my local nature center and museum.  I was reminded of Seedfolks and how a garden can inspire lessons on creative writing, the environment, science, nature, and even math.


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