A Bit of Information
A mini-lesson is an ideal way to cover a wide variety of material during a limited class time. Teachers should also scaffold the lessons, or let one lesson built upon another. In addition, mini-lessons should relate to other activities and lessons within a unit. Finally, mini-lessons earn the name ‘mini’ because they are approximately ten to fifteen minutes in length. They offer teaching flexibility and a wide variety of skills to include with each lesson.
A Vocabulary Mini-Lesson
Here’s an example of how you might divide a vocabulary lesson over the course of a few days.
Day 1: Write the new vocabulary word on the board. Ask students if they’ve ever seen the word or heard someone use it. Pronounce the word for them and ask them to repeat it. Ask if the word’s spelling reminds them of another word, or if the sound reminds them of another word. Jot down their thoughts and rationalizations for what the word might mean based on their prior knowledge.
Day 2: Provide a definition for the word and read it together. Next, name the part of speech. Ask students to remind you of the definition for that part of speech. Beside the word, draw an illustration which reminds you of the word or the word’s meaning. After, discuss how the new word might be used in a sentence. Write down the sentence so that it includes context clues. Finally, read the sentence together and ask students to identify the context clues and how they relate to the definition each time.
Day 3: Write one sentence on the board using the new vocabulary word. Ask the student to read the sentence aloud. When they finish, ask students for the vocabulary definition once more. Below the sentence, draw a T-Chart. Label one side Synonyms and the other side Antonyms. Have the class brainstorm a few examples of synonyms and antonyms for the word. Finally, discuss which synonyms work best in the sentence and which would not. In doing so, you have offered a mini-mini lesson on diction and denotation and connotation.
Vocabulary Mini-Lesson Suggestions and Advice
This flexible vocabulary mini-lesson allows you to adjust the pace of the lesson according to grade level and ability. An English language learner might need the entire week to absorb only a handful of vocabulary, whereas a gifted student might be able to learn a larger variety of vocabulary in one week. Similarly, an elementary student’s vocabulary mini-lesson would differ from a middle school or high school student’s vocabulary mini-lesson because in elementary there is an emphasis on spelling rules as well. Middle school and high school students could also research vocabulary origin and prefixes-root words-suffixes.
Then there is also the option of which words to teach in a vocabulary mini-lesson. This type of mini activity would be an ideal pre-reading activity before beginning a short story, a novel, or a new chapter in a science or history class. You might also use a particular set of vocabulary you need to discuss with students, such as an ACT or SAT vocabulary list. Pre-AP and gifted students could use advanced vocabulary from a higher grade level. Other sources also offer a vocabulary selection based on their origins, such as vocabulary from certain languages, vocabulary based on history, and vocabulary based on names of people. Whichever words you decide to include in your vocabulary mini-lesson, make sure to use the words in context to another activity and not in isolation.
More Suggestions and Advice
Furthermore, after learning new vocabulary, make sure to post the words on a word wall for students to use as a reference. Throughout the year as you read and discuss stories or other lessons, make connections with the vocabulary on that word wall. It only takes a minute or two to ask for synonyms or antonyms from the word wall, to ask students to utilize a collection of learned words in their assessments, or to ask students to rephrase a sentence using one of the words they’ve learned. In essence, practice, practice, and practice! It’s true what they say—if you don’t use it, you lose it.
Finally, I highly suggest having students keep all of their vocabulary mini-lesson notes in one place. This could be a spiral or a binder. Categorize the words by unit, chapter, or story. Make sure students include on their notes a proper title and a date for reference. You might even offer students the opportunity to use their vocabulary notes during a non-vocabulary assessment so they incorporate their new vocabulary into their explanation. Teach students to value and appreciate the power behind their new vocabulary.
Learning vocabulary doesn’t always have to be about assigning words and hunting them down in a dictionary. While dictionary skills are valuable, vocabulary comprehension will serve to improve a student’s overall reading comprehension. A daily vocabulary mini-lesson will help your students accomplish this goal.
Atwell, Nancie. In the Middle: New Understandings About Writing, Reading, and Learning, 2nd Ed. Boynton/Cook Publishers: Portsmouth, 1998.
Burchers, Sam. Vocabulary Cartoons: SAT Word Power. New Monic Books, Inc.: Punta Gorda, 1997.
Terban, Marvin. Building Your Vocabulary. Scholastic Inc.: New York, 2002.