Lesson Plan

Blogging with a Game-based Vocabulary Boost

Motivate students to find and use words as they read and respond to articles.
Tanner H.
Director, Education Editorial Strategy Common Sense Education
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Students will be able to...

  • Identify and define difficult words
  • Use difficult words appropriately in their writing
  • Read informational and argumentative texts closely
  • Write thoughtful responses to texts they've read
English Language Arts
reading comprehension
Grades 6 - 8
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 Primer Game (once)

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Unit Overview: The following steps -- excluding the hook -- can be repeated on a weekly basis over a month, semester, etc. It's designed to be vague so it can be adapted to any classroom (in any subject/grade) where reading and vocabulary acquisition is a goal. The idea is simple: students read articles, collaboratively record difficult words, then write blogs responding to what they read using difficult words. The twist is that students' blogs also earn them points for how many difficult words they use. 

Snapshot: Students bring in articles and pick out one word they don't know and share it with the class. Students then choose one word from the class-composed list and use it to describe the article they read.

Drill down:

  1. Ask students to bring in a short article they're interested in reading. As they read, instruct students to identify one word they do not know and write it in a shared document or on a whiteboard.
  2. Once they've finished, either as homework or in class collaboratively, write down definitions of the words.
  3. The game: when all the definitions have been gathered, challenge students to report back to the class about what they've read using one of the words from the class-created dictionary. As each word is used, cross it off the list.

    Tip: It's best to randomize the order of students so it feels fair -- it also makes it more fun.

    Alternative: Challenge students to summarize their article in one sentence using a word from the list.

2 Reading and Identifying Difficult Words (repeated)

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Actively Learn
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Snapshot: Students read articles closely.

Drill down: Each week of the unit, students can either select a topic and article of their choosing, or teachers can assign students specific articles or topics. E-reader platforms like ThinkCERCA, Actively Learn, and Subtext make assigning texts easy and allow teachers to monitor and formatively assess student comprehension.Students should read their articles, recording words they do not understand. Alongside the words, they should write down what they think the words mean based on contextual evidence.

Tip: If students will be selecting their own articles, teachers may want to open the class up to sanctioned sources like a collection of newspapers and notable blogs since ThinkCERCA, Actively Learn, and Subtext have relatively limited libraries.

Tip: If students are reading in class, roam around and see what words students have written down. Help them try to figure out the meanings of the words using context, similar words, or even Latin roots.

3 Making a Class Dictionary (repeated)

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Snapshot: Students log difficult words and their definitions in a shared wiki.

Drill down:

  1. Set-up a wiki for students, and give students a tutorial for how to use the wiki. Wikispaces provides tons of free video tutorials for reference. It's also user friendly and shouldn't take much class time to demo (plan 15-20 mins.). 
  2. Either in class or after class, have students look up the actual definitions to the words they've written down and enter the words, definitions, and parts of speech into the class wiki.

Tip: Students struggle most with consistency of style and format when collaborating in a wiki. To help them, set up dummy examples within the wiki of everything students will be doing so they know exactly how to format their work. 

Tip: The class wiki can be structured as one shared page that displays all the definitions, or students can create and link to separate sub-pages for each word linked on one master page. The first option is easiest, but the second options allows for more flexibility if students will be logging when they've used words, providing multiple definitions, or doing more with words. 

Alternative: Feel free to use your existing LMS, class website, or even a good ol' fashioned whiteboard/butcher paper solution to maintain the class dictionary of difficult words.

4 Writing Blogs and Scoring Points (repeated)

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Snapshot: Integrating words from the class dictionary, students write blogs responding to the articles they've read. Teachers assess writing and separately give students points for using class dictionary words.

Drill down: At the end of each week, students are responsible for a blog post responding to the reading they did that week. Set the word count accordingly depending on your students' capabilities. Students should not evaluate the quality of the article or report back on the content, but use the article as a jumping off point for their own ideas about the topic. Challenge students to use words effectively from the class dictionary in their posts.

Teachers assess the quality of the writing (comments sections can be helpful here) and, separate from assessment, award points for word usage based on the system below. 

Point System: 

  • +1 point per class dictionary word used correctly (only awarded for first correct appearance of word)
  • +1 point when two or more class dictionary words used correctly in same sentence
  • x2 multiplier to point total when all class dictionary words in a blog post are used correctly

Tip: Offer an overall leaderboard and a weekly leaderboard to increase chances that the same student(s) aren't always on top.

Rewards: A reward system is optional. Often students will just enjoy seeing how they stack up on the leaderboard. If you'd like to use an incentive, here are some options: 

  1. If all students are writing about the same topic, each week's leader can help choose the topic for the following week.
  2. Offer one prize and award the top three weekly leaders a raffle ticket for the prize drawing at the end of the unit.
  3. Let the week's leader off the hook from writing a blog post for a week and, instead, write responses/comments to students' blogs.