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Vocabulary Activities

Journey North provides informational texts to help students learn about words in meaningful contexts. Vocabulary is essential to comprehension. Students need to apply strategies before, during, and after reading to understand texts.


Fill-'em-up Sentences
Create 3-5 incomplete sentences. Invite students to suggest words that might fill-in-the-blanks. For example, A robin’s ___________, the place where __________ and __________ occurs, is usually less than half an __________. Optional: provide a list of words for students to use to fit-in-the-blanks. Word List: mating, acre, nesting, territory.

Journey North Word Collection
Invite students to collect words from Journey North texts and the context-rich sentences in which the words were found. Have students find definitions using dictionaries and other reference materials.

Organize their collection of words in creative ways:

  • Reference Book: Invite students to create vocabulary pages for a three-ring binder.
  • Word Wall: Display collected words and definitions on a bulletin board.
  • Word File: Record words, definitions, and context-rich sentences on index cards. Place them in a recipe box that organizes the words alphabetically.

Word Riddles
Use definitions of words to create word riddles. Give students clues about a vocabulary word that has been introduced to them in a news update, article, photo gallery, or other Journey North reading selection. Encourage students to use details from the text to guess the mystery word.

Choose a vocabulary word introduced in a text that students have read. Ask students the following questions: How would a scientist describe this word? (A scientist would provide exact definitions. A scientist focuses on observable and measurable data/facts.)
How would a judge describe this word? (A judgment would reveal attitudes people might have about a word.) How would a poet describe this word? (A poet writes descriptive and expressive details.) How would you describe this word? (Students’ responses will reveal personal associations connected to the word.)

Example for the word HABITAT
Scientist: The natural conditions and environment, such as forest, desert, or wetlands, .in which a plant or animal finds what it requires for survival: food, water, space, cover.
Judge: Endangered environments, Dwindling dwellings
Poet: Peaceful paradise, Home sweet home,
Student: Bedroom, My House, My Backyard

Real or Make-Believe?
Select 3-5 vocabulary words from an informational text students will be reading. Write the list of words on the board. Add one or two “make-believe” words. Ask students to predict which words from the list are real and which words are fabricated. Encourage students to make predictions about each of the words: What do you think these words mean? How do you think these words will be used in a reading selection entitled _______? After students have read the nonfiction selection, revisit the list of words to confirm or refine students’ predictions.

Dictionary Detectives
Have students work in small groups for this activity. Give each group a list of 3-5 vocabulary words. Use a variety of dictionaries. Give each group a different dictionary. Invite them to be Dictionary Detectives. Ask students 'What’s in your dictionary?' Have them record all the information that they can find for each word using the dictionary provided. (Code for pronunciation, word history, original meaning or roots, meanings currently associated with that word, and different spellings that are acceptable. The root section provides clues about how the word came into current use.) Once the information has been collected, have each group share and compare the data.

Repeated Application
Use more than one reading selection to ensure that students encounter new words in a variety of contexts. Once students are introduced to words in some context, provide opportunities to use the words in reading, writing, listening, and speaking activities. For example, once students have been introduced to the word metamorphosis, invite them to read or listen to additional texts that provide more information. Have them write about how caterpillars become butterflies. Have students draw pictures that illustrate the concept of metamorphosis. Ask for volunteers to improvise a short, narrated scene of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.

Word Sorts
Give students a list of vocabulary words. Have them sort the words based on similarities and/or differences. Encourage students to describe how they grouped the words.

Variation: Place a group of words in a set. Ask students to describe how the words are related. Invite them to label the set based how the words are related. Introduce additional words and ask students to decide which words belong in the group and which words do not. Encourage them to share their reasoning.

Grouping Games
After students have worked with sorting activities, invite them to play games for additional practice. For example, play a variation of the card game, Go Fish. Prepare a deck of word cards in which there are five or more sets with exactly four related words in each set. Duplicate the cards so that each group of two students has a deck for the game. The deck of cards is shuffled. Players One and Two each receive five cards. The rest of the deck is in the Go Fish pile. Players must try to build sets of like words. Player One examines his or her hand of five cards and asks Player Two: Do you have a word related to___? If Player Two has a related word in his hand, he turns the card over to Player One. If Player Two does not have a related card, Player One draws a card from the Go Fish pile. Players take turns until the last card from the Go Fish pile is drawn. The winner is the player with the most sets. The winner reveals each set and states how the words are related. Example of a set of related words for a Hummingbird Study: torpor, temperature, perch, and hypothermia. Challenge proficient students to build sets of four related words for future games.

Think-Aloud Modeling
Invite students to listen as you read aloud a text. Reflect aloud about word solving strategies you use before, during, and after reading. Demonstrate pre-reading strategies such as scanning a text for clues, asking questions, and making predictions. As you read aloud the text, talk about how you figure out information about words, pronunciations, and meanings (letter/sound relationships, context clues, and related words). After reading the text, show students how to revisit the text to improve comprehension.

Word Meanings: Denotation and Connotation
Denotative meaning refers to the limited explicit definition of a word. Connotation refers to what the word may suggest. Help students discover precisely what collection of meanings a word may convey. Go beyond definitions in the dictionary. Explore ways to describe the associations that cluster around the word. Invite students to collect literal and figurative meanings for vocabulary words.

Word Families
Examine words for similarities using the question: What do theses words have in common: Motion, Mobile, Motor? (They are all related to the word move.) What other words are related to the word move? (Migrate, migration, immigrate, emigrate, automobile, snowmobile, motorcycle.) Encourage students to use reference books such as The American Heritage Dictionary, The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, or Skeat’s A Concise Etymological Dictionary of the English Language in order to research words.


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