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Vocabulary and Fun Activities for Out of the Dust

written by: Margo Dill • edited by: Patricia Gable • updated: 9/11/2012

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse is a popular novel to use with upper elementary and middle grade students. Some words may be unfamiliar to students, or they may know the word but not exactly what it means. Here are some vocabulary words from the book and activities for students to learn them.

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    Vocabulary List

    Vocabulary for Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse can be organized by the sections in the book. For example, the sections are labeled with seasons and years such as Winter 1934, Spring 1934, Winter 1935, and so on. When you are giving students a list of vocabulary words, you can list them according to which section of the book you found them in. Here are a few examples:

    • Winter 1934: scowl, riled, whittled, spindled, feuding, ratcheted
    • Spring 1934: plowboy, poppies, bushel
    • Winter 1935: thistle, forsaken, sod, festered, musk, jittery, prospects

    Instead of you providing vocabulary for Out of the Dust, you can also ask students to find their own vocabulary words. Since students' vocabulary can differ greatly, even within the same grade, having students choose their own words may be more meaningful and help them to add words to their vocabulary. A simple way to do this would be with stickee notes. As students are reading, they make a note of any words they do not know in the novel. Beside the word, they should also write down the page number and the section. When they are finished reading their assigned pages, students should transfer the words they wrote on the stickee note to a vocabulary list in their reading response journals.

    In each section, if there are words that are specific to the time period that the novel was written in, then you should add these to student-made vocabulary lists to make sure students understand the meaning of these historical terms and how they relate to the story.

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    Fun Activities to Try

    out of the dust Once you have a list of vocabulary, students can define the words and do activities to learn these words and understand the novel better. Here are a few vocabulary activities to do with the book:

    • Create a matching game: Using index cards, students can write a vocabulary word on one index card, and a short definition on another. (When first starting this game, you may want to limit the number of words students are playing with since they are just learning the words.) Next, they find a partner and place the vocabulary word cards and the definition cards face down on a table. Students take turns flipping over a card and trying to find its match -- just like the game Memory. This game is extra challenging since students have to know the definition of the word, as well as remember where cards are located to make a match.
    • Writing a story: Out of a list of several words, ask students to pick a certain number of words (between five and ten), depending on the ability level of your students. With these words, they are to write their own story, making sure to use the words correctly in the context of the new story. You can assign students to write a story based on Out of the Dust, or students can make up a completely new story, as long as the words are used correctly.
    • Guessing game: You can play a word guessing game with vocabulary from the book. Here's how it works. One student is it. He or she chooses a word from the vocabulary list. The "it" student stands in the front of the room and says, "I am thinking of an 8-letter word." Then students start asking questions -- kind of like 20 questions. Appropriate questions for students to ask would be like: "Is it usually a noun or a verb?" "Does it describe things?" "Is it a word we still use today?" "Which section of the book was it in?" Once the class figures out the word, three students have to use it correctly in a sentence.