It Begins With the Words

1 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT consult reference materials to determine word meanings through the use of a vocabulary graphic organizer.

Big Idea

To understand the text, first you must understand the words.


5 minutes

I begin today's class by showing a one-minute clip from the film 42.


Ask them:

  • Who is this?
  • Why did that player spike him?
  • Why is it a big deal that Jackie Robinson was African American?  Aren't there people from all different races in professional sports now?


Ultimately, if I ask "Why is that?" enough, someone will happen on the word "slavery."  I ask the class if anyone can describe slavery.  I always shock my students when I tell them it's more than having someone work for you and not paying them.  It has to do with owning another human being, like one owns an animal. 

I then explain that our nonfiction unit is going to give us an understanding of how this country went from accepting slavery, to ending it, to Jackie Robinson having to fight to play Major League Baseball.  Reading different types nonfiction texts will tell us everything we need to know.

Our first text is quite difficult, so we're going to talk about some of the vocabulary before we read.

Getting Down to Business

40 minutes

I hand out the graphic organizer and talk about the idea of "divide and conquer."  My goal is not to have them spend an entire class period with their nose in a dictionary looking up words; my goal is for them to learn what the words mean, so we can read a difficult text.

I have students count off by 8, and I assign two words to each number.  I ask them to only write the definition of the word and not to worry about the other parts of the graphic organizer.

Once everyone has looked up their two words, we begin sharing out.

This is one of my favorite activities because we get to talk about word meanings and different nuances of those meanings.  It's also fun to try to connect the words to literature and ideas that they know about.

For example:

  • We talk about Aunt Polly making the assumption that Tom broke the sugar bowl, when it was actually Sid who did it.
  • I ask them if their parents like their choice of music.  I get lots of groans and moans on this one.  I tell them that it's because their parents think their music is subverting them.


During this class period, I am usually only able to get through 8 words.  We will do the rest of the words tomorrow and begin reading a section of People in Bondage: African Slavery Since the 15th Century by L.H. Ofosu-Appiah.



Did They Get It?

5 minutes

The assessment piece today is formative and verbal.  These conversations are a great time to have a real dialogue of word meanings.  If I feel like students are off in their understanding of a word, I try to bring it back to an example they know about.  It's fun and mentally challenging for them and for me too!

I have them keep this assignment in their binders, so that it is available for use when we begin reading tomorrow.