7th Grade ELA : Unit #3 - Analyzing Literature and Writing Business Letters with Langston Hughes’ Thank You, M’am” : Lesson #2

"Thank You, M'am" Vocabulary Research

Objective: Students will be able to determine and clarify the meaning of unfamiliar words by using Internet resources to research word meanings.
Standards: W.7.7 SL.7.4 SL.7.5 L.7.4
Subject(s): English / Language Arts
60 minutes
1 Shrinking Dictionary Definitions - 10 minutes

It's critical for students to use dictionaries as a resource, but it is equally important to teach students how to use a dictionary. (Go read the reflection.  I'll be using the word dictionary to refer to a collection of words and their meanings, whether that collection is digital or on paper.)  Yes, (most) students understand the basics of using guide words to find the unfamiliar word, finding the part of speech, and writing down the definition.  However, that's not good enough.  Students also need to know what to do when there is a word with multiple definitions.  They need to know what to do when a definition uses a word that they don't understand. Perhaps most importantly, they need to understand the dictionary definitions, to make the definitions theirs so they can truly acquire, not just memorize, definitions.  That's what this strategy is all about--using cooperative jigsaw groups to not only copy the definitions of new words,but to truly acquire new words. 

Students are using the website Wordnik to acquire the meaning of their new words. I like Wordnik because it compiles definitions from multiple sources, sometimes includes word origins, and has examples of the word being used.  It's beautiful.  (I'm sorry, Dictionary, I'm sorry.) The picture below shows you what students would see if they looked up the word stoop.  The screencap I took doesn't show the meaning of steps, but it's there.  Promise. 

 Since this is the second time students have used this definition shrinking strategy, I didn't explicitly model the process with these words.  I reviewed the process of shrinking definitions with one of the more difficult words from Gary Soto's "Seventh Grade," catechism. Reviewing the process took about 90 seconds, but struggling students, students with disabilities, and English language learners will need additional modeling of course.

I divided students into nine groups, one group for each word.  Each group was randomly assigned one of the vocabulary words and were required to complete the shrinking process.   The goal is to end up with a definition that is two to six words long.

Most words could easily be shrunk by students.  However, the meaning of half-nelson is quite difficult to shrink to only six words and students needed a bit of extra help to visualize the mechanics of what a half-nelson is.  This word is critical to understanding the action of "Thank You, M'am" because Mrs. Jones puts Roger in a half-nelson and drags him to her home.

Students used dry erase boards to show their work, which you can see in the next section for the vocabulary presentations.

Oh Dictionary, Oh Dictionary
Adjustments to Practice

Dearest Dictionary,

How I love you and how I hate you.

You contain the meaning of so many words.  So much knowledge to give me.

You take so long to look up a word.  Sometimes I'm lazy and I don't want to flip through five thousand pages four times when I forget how the alphabet works. Seriously, letters g through j, why do you mess with my mind?

It's just easier to ask, unless some adult just tells me to look it up.

I think it's time to be honest. 

I've been cheating on you.  Even worse, it's been on the Internet. See, there are websites where I can just type in the word, and it tells me.  This one website, Wordnik, it gathers definitions from multiple sources, has examples, and sometimes even has origins. It takes seconds!

I feel guilty, Dictionary. I really do.  You will always be my first love, though, and you will become an enduring symbol of the love of words.




Seriously. This is how I feel about dictionaries.  How my students feel about dictionaries?  They're antiquated.  They're Betamaxes.  My family had one.  I watched music videos of Japanese pop musicians from the '70s.  I don't use a Betamax anymore, though.  I have these newfangled thing called a DVD player.  It has a VCR in it, but I don't use the VCR part much.  I recently got a Blue-Ray player.  DID YOU KNOW THAT THING CAN CONNECT TO THE INTERNET?  THERE'S ACTUALLY A BUTTON ON THE REMOTE TO CONNECT TO THE INTERNET?  IT'S MAGICAL, I TELL YOU. 

The world is changing, and as a teacher, I am so conflicted.  Don't students need to know how dictionaries work?  Yes, sort of. In the same way children need to know how to dial a rotary phone. In the same way children need to know how to read cursive.

But really? I think it's time to change how I use dictionaries in the classroom.  Especially for students with learning disabilities.  The technology is there.  We have the technology.  Why are we stuck in the past, elevating the dictionary to sainthood status when all the meanings of the words are right there, at the touch of a button?

Because the idea of dictionaries are romantic. Because humans tend to stay stuck in the past. But online dictionaries are here, they're here to stay, and we'd better get used to them.

And really? The argument that students need to know how to use dictionaries in case of the zombie apocalypse?  How many kids are going to be looking words up in a dictionary when they're running away from the living dead?  I mean, really.

2 Group Presentations and Vocabulary Tabs - 14 minutes


After each group was done shrinking their definition, they took turns presenting the definition to the class.  While the group was presenting, all the other students wrote the word, part of speech, and definition on their vocabulary tabs. You could also do this part as a carousel, and I plan doing that variation the next time we do vocabulary.


I use the elements from the Frayer model, but adapted to vocabulary tabs. It's the same format I used for the "Seventh Grade" vocabulary tabs, and I've uploaded it here.

 Students had already written the words and their initial ratings of the words yesterday. That way when students took turns presenting their definitions, all the groups had to do was share their definition so students could write it down. During presentations, we're not worried about drawing pictures or writing synonyms or antonyms.  Just the definitions.

 The format in the pictures is landscape, but you could also do the same thing with the paper in the portrait orientation.  Here's a video that shows it portrait style, so if you're going to have students keep them in a notebook, it would totally work.

3 Sorting Synonyms and Antonyms - 20 minutes

The last thing we did in order to refine our understanding of these new words was to sort synonyms and antonyms.  I gave students a list of synonyms and antonyms for our words, which you can see here.

The students' jobs were to go through the list of synonyms and antonyms and decide which word they were synonyms and antonyms of.

For example, the first word under synonyms is "to win through hard work." If we look at the list of words, it fits best as a synonym for acquire.   If you acquire, you achieve something.  It takes work. It is a win of something through working hard. 

Another example is "full," the first word in the antonym column.  Antonyms are words that are the opposite of the word.  They are non-examples of the word.  What's the opposite of full? Empty.  What word means empty?  Oh! Barren!

In this way, students went through the list of words and determined which of our vocabulary words each entry fits under.  Why? To refine their understanding of the words through synonyms and antonyms. They're discuss the words.  This is two of Marzano's vocabulary steps at once! 

4 Responding in Writing - 10 minutes

I use a number of formative assessments to determine if students have learned these vocabulary words. For today, they're writing a paragraph.  It's part of a friendly letter, written to Roger, using the new vocabulary.


5 Lesson Resources - 0 minutes