Helping Special Needs Students Build a Mini-Vocabulary: A Modified Lesson Plan for Teachers

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Creating a Mini-Vocabulary Lesson

Students in any classroom on any grade level are required to write and use words in communication. Writing and speaking require words and so students with a larger vocabulary can use a diversity of words in painting stories and having conversations that are visual and powerful. A mini-vocabulary lesson can teach students with special needs the value and beauty of having words to present their thoughts and stories. This lesson can also create a foundation of vocabulary acquisition that can last students a lifetime.

Anticipatory Set: As you continue your education, you will build an extensive vocabulary that can be applied in your academic courses and in your everyday life. Let’s take an ordinary object that many of you bring to school everyday, your I-pod. Now, think of words and phrases you would use to describe your I-pod and let’s write them on the board.

  • Electronic device
  • Expensive
  • Cheap
  • Silver
  • Square
  • Rectangular
  • Compact
  • Music
  • Storage
  • Portable

Lesson Objective:

Teacher: Today, I am presenting a mini-vocabulary lesson starting with just one word. But this time instead of saying words that come to mind as a class as in the I-pod example, I want you to use your reflection journals to create a visual list of words, phrases or even drawings that come to your mind when you hear this word. When you hear the word think of other words that describe its color, size, feelings it creates for you, or think of your five senses and write down those words. Now close your eyes and allow your mind to process the word before you begin to write in your journal.

Vocabulary Word: The word is “Mother.” What picture does the word, “Mother” paint in your mind?

Journal Reflection Time: Make sure that you give students at least five minutes to actually write down what other words come to mind when they hear the “prompt” word.

Group Collaboration Time: (15 minutes). Have students get in groups of four and give each group a piece of butcher paper or if you have plenty of board space provide each group with a writing area along with the following directions.

  • Put the heading, “Mother” at the top of the butcher paper or on the board. Divide the paper or board into four quadrants- one quadrant for each student. Have students number off 1-4 and mark each quadrant with the numbers 1-4. Each student takes a marker and writes down each word from their reflective journal in their numbered quadrant. Have each group post the paper in a designated area of the room when they have completed the task.
  • Next provide students with a second piece of butcher paper. Have the students come up with a collaborative word list of at least 10-15 new words for the prompt word. Examples could include: Parent, Stepparent, Caregiver, Female, Tall, Short, Loving, Smiling face, Red hair, Curly hair, Long hair, Lawyer, Teacher etc. Students can find words from physical features to professional practice in describing their mother or a person who feels like a mother to them.
  • Have students present out to the class. As a class, see what words are similar and different from each presentation. What students will take from this lesson is that one word can produce hundreds of other words and put more vocabulary words in their toolkits.

Closure: Keep the words on the board for a couple of days along with the posted butcher paper to make sure that students have had an opportunity to write down new words in their journals. This mini-lesson can be used once a week to help build student vocabulary from elementary to secondary grade levels.