Recurring Lesson

Using Word Storms to Explore Vocabulary and Encourage Critical Thinking

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Recurring Lesson
Estimated Time
Seven 60-minute sessions
  • Preview
  • |
  • Standards
  • |
  • Resources & Preparation
  • |
  • Instructional Plan
  • |
  • Related Resources
  • |
  • Comments


During this lesson, students are introduced to the concept of working dogs and how they help society. Students read a variety of texts, learn relevant vocabulary, participate in purposeful writing, and are encouraged to share their perspectives. An inquiry model called POWER is used, in addition to a vocabulary strategy called Word Storms, which is designed to help students speak and write critically about the texts they read. Most of the resources for the lesson are found online.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

The following sequence of scaffolded learning adapted from this book is used in this lesson:

  • Reading aloud and modeled writing: Using an interactive read-aloud, the teacher familiarizes students with specific vocabulary and models reading behaviors of fluent readers through think-aloud demonstrations. The teacher then demonstrates speaking/reading/writing connections through modeled writing.

  • Shared reading and writing: The teacher and students interact with the text. A systematic schedule of word work is important during this time.

  • Guided reading and writing: Students work in small groups to read and write, reinforcing and practicing the previous strategies and techniques.

  • Independent reading and writing: Students spend time doing real and relevant reading and writing, which allows them to make connections and explore meaning.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Computers with Internet access

  • LCD projector

  • Chart paper or transparencies

  • Overhead projector




1. Visit the How Can We Advocate for Working Dogs? Inquiry Unit webpage created for this lesson. Review the goals, purpose, and list of websites. This information is also included in the Working Dogs Assignment Handout. Review this handout and makes copies for each student in the class.

2. The vocabulary words for this lesson are:
  • Session 1: advocate, work, companion, service, therapy

  • Session 2: rights, responsibility, heroic, power

  • Session 3: perspective
At the beginning of each session introduce the vocabulary words, pronouncing them as you write them on a K-W-L chart. For the K-W-L strategy, you create three columns on chart paper or the board: Know, Want-to-Know, Learned. Record students' reflections about the specific vocabulary words, beginning with what they Know about the words. Then record what they Want-to-Know. After they complete the activity for the session, revisit the chart and fill in the Learned section.

These words are important in terms of critical literacy because they give students the ability to make more powerful statements about the social justice aspects of the topic. The ReadWriteThink lesson, Critical Literacy: Point of View, may be helpful in exploring this idea further.

3. Familiarize yourself with the POWER inquiry format. This strategy is based on an inquiry model of question, investigate, create, evaluate, and discuss as follows:
P Present words and questions using the Know and Want-to-Know sections of the K-W-L chart

O Obtain information through investigating (reading and research)

W Write and draw about what you learned (creating on the Word Storm Page)

E Evaluate what you learned (in small-group discussions)

R Review what you learned through whole-class discussions and fill in the Learned section of the K-W-L chart

4. Make sure your students have permission to use the Internet following your school's policy. If you do not have computers with Internet access available for students to use in your classroom, reserve six hour-long sessions in your school's computer lab. Arrange to use a computer with Internet access and an LCD screen in your classroom or computer lab for all six sessions as well. If you do not have access to an LCD, you may choose to have students follow as you work on a computer with a large screen or to guide them as they use individual computers in the lab.

5. Familiarize yourself with the topic (for this lesson it is working dogs, but you may choose another issue that is applicable for your class. See the Extensions section). To gain information, visit How Can We Advocate for Working Dogs? Inquiry Unit webpage, which includes links to the websites you can use for this lesson. Among the sites you will want to look at are:
  • NOVA: Dogs and More Dogs: Working Dogs - Practice reading the slide show that is available on this page aloud - you will be sharing it with students (see Session 1, Step 2). If you are unable to use the Flash version, there is a link to a static page.

  • PBS: Nature: Extraordinary Dogs - Read the Stories section of this website (you should read all six dogs' stories). You will be sharing this with students (see Session 2, Step 2).

  • FBI Working Dogs - Visit the About Our Dogs section of this website for stories about different kinds of working dogs. Your students will explore this section of the site in pairs, but you want to be able to help them choose different stories from different perspectives. Choose one story to read aloud to students (see Session 3, Step 2).
6. This lesson also makes use of several of ReadWriteThink's online tools. Visit and familiarize yourself with the Comic Creator and the ReadWriteThink Printing Press; bookmark both on your classroom or lab computers. You will also want to complete the following activities:
  • Use the Comic Creator to create a story told from a dog's perspective using one of the stories you read from FBI Working Dogs. The dog can "speak" to another animal or a human. Print your comic out, enlarge it, and either make a transparency or photocopy it for each student in your class (see Session 3, Step 3).

  • Use the ReadWriteThink Printing Press to create a newspaper about working dogs. Print it out, enlarge it, and either make a transparency or photocopy it for each student in your class (see Sessions 4 & 5, Step 1).
7. Students should have a Word Storm journal to record their ideas and perspectives about the words in text and images. You can do this by making one copy of the Word Storm Page per word for each student in your class (if you follow this lesson, that will be 10 pages per student). Fasten these pages together into a journal. You can also include a blank sheet between each printed sheet in order to leave room for students to jot rough notes, make illustrations, or glue in pictures or articles they find interesting.

8. Make a transparency of the Word Storm Page, or copy it onto chart paper. Prepare blank K-W-L charts for Sessions 1, 2, and 3.

9. Create a Working Dogs Bulletin Board. As vocabulary is introduced you will put the "power words" up on the board. (Note: If you will be working in a computer lab, you will want this board to be portable so that you can bring it with you for these sessions.)

10. Introduce the concept of working dogs before Session 1. Ask students if they have ever seen dogs working before and list their responses, adding to them so that students see that these dogs can work as companions, service dogs, or therapy dogs. Ask students to bring in photos of working dogs to put up on the bulletin board. Assemble a few photos of your own to post during the initial discussion.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Learn to communicate for a specific purpose using spoken, written, and visual information

  • Apply what they have learned by communicating with an audience using a wide variety of writing and discussion activities

  • Practice analysis by applying specific vocabulary to examine texts

  • Gain knowledge by gathering information from a variety of sources

  • Demonstrate what they have learned by creating several projects that are designed to communicate their perspectives and discoveries to their peers

  • Use a wide variety of resources to read, create, and communicate knowledge

Session 1: Activating Prior Knowledge/Interactive Read-Aloud

1. Present words and questions: Place the first five vocabulary words-work, companion, service, advocate, and therapy-on the bulletin board. Talk to students about what they know and want to know about these words while you record their responses on the K-W-L chart. Have students present the photos/pictures of working dogs they have brought in to share (see Preparation, Step 10). As they place their pictures on the bulletin board, ask them to discuss how that dog "works." While students put their pictures on the board, model the use of the vocabulary words you have placed there to talk about your own pictures and those that students have brought in.

2. Obtain information through reading and research: Read the slide show from the NOVA: Dogs and More Dogs: Working Dogs website aloud. While you read, pause to ask questions and model use of the vocabulary words, for example:
  • How do you define work for this dog?

  • Can this dog work as a companion?

  • What service does this dog perform?

  • Would this dog make a good therapy animal?

  • How can we become advocates for these dogs-speaking on their behalf-ensuring they are treated well?
3. Write and draw about what you learned: Use the Word Storm Page transparency or chart paper to model how students should fill it out using one of the words. (The Sample Word Storm Page should help you do this.)

4. Evaluate what you learned: Distribute the Working Dogs Assignment Handout and review it with students. Explain that the ultimate goal is to learn the vocabulary words in order to create an article about working dogs, advocating on their behalf. Have students write the vocabulary words in their Word Storm notebook and work through some of the questions. They should also record ideas for projects or stories, notes, and illustrations.

5. Review what you learned: Have students share what they learned while you record their responses on the K-W-L chart. Students should have their Word Storm books and some writing materials so they can add to their own pages when they hear their peers' ideas. Encourage them to use the "power words" as they have an open discussion of what they learned.

Session 2: Shared Reading and Writing Activity

1. Present words and questions: Review the words from Session 1. Have students place any new pictures/photos they have brought in on the bulletin board. Introduce the new words: rights, responsibility, heroic, and power. Place them on the bulletin board and discuss them with students, recording their responses in the first two columns of the K-W-L chart.

2. Obtain information through reading and research: Participate in a shared reading of the Stories section of the PBS Nature: Extraordinary Dogs website. During the reading encourage students to use the vocabulary words on the bulletin board. Questions for discussion include:
  • Do dogs have rights in these situations?

  • How is each dog heroic?

  • Who has the power in these situations?

  • Do we have any responsibility to advocate for the dogs-speak on their behalf?
3. Write and draw about what you learned: Have students get in groups of three to four students. They should have their own Word Storm books and should independently fill in pages for the new words as you work with them. Place the transparency or the chart paper version of the Word Storm Page you completed with students during Session 1 where students can see it. Begin a discussion of the new words, asking some questions from the Word Storm Page.

4. Evaluate what you learned: Students should review what they learned by going over their Word Storm Pages with their small groups. Circulate among the groups to help them fill in any areas in which they experience difficulties.

5. Review what you learned: Have students participate in a large-group discussion about the ideas they placed on their Word Storm Pages. Review the K-W-L chart with the class and discuss what they have learned, filling in the third column.

Session 3: Interactive Reading and Writing from Perspective

1. Present words and questions: Review the words from the first two sessions and have students place any new pictures/photos on the bulletin board. Put the new word, perspective, up on the bulletin board. Discuss how it is like point of view in a story, filling in the K-W-L chart as you do so. Ask students what the perspective has been in the stories they heard during Sessions 1 and 2. What do they think the dog's perspective would be in some of the stories they have heard?

2. Obtain information through reading and research: Direct students to the FBI Working Dogs website. Read one of the stories aloud and discuss whether the story is told from the dog's perspective or the handler's perspective. Have students work in pairs to explore the stories, reminding them to make note of point of view and how the stories differ.

3. Write and draw about what you learned: Share the comic you created with students (see Preparation, Step 6) using a transparency or by giving them copies. Talk about the perspective you have chosen. Show students the Comic Creator tool and have them work with their partners to create a comic based on one of the stories they have just read. Encourage students to use the vocabulary words from all three sessions. Tell them that the story should be told from the dog's perspective and that the dog can talk to another animal or human. Remind students to print their comics when they are done.

4. Evaluate what you learned: Students should work in their Word Storm notebooks while they wait for all groups to finish.

5. Review what you learned: Have students present their comics to the class. Discuss the different perspectives in them. As students present, record sentences in which students used "power words" on chart paper or the board, discussing how they used these words.

Sessions 4 to 6: Writing Process

(Note: Students should be guided through these activities at a pace consistent with their abilities. Some students may require extra sessions to complete these steps.)

1. Prewriting
  • Review words from the first three sessions and have students place any new pictures/photos on the bulletin board. Discuss the "power word:" advocate. Have a whole-class discussion about how students could advocate for working dogs. Ask them how they could inform other people about the work these dogs do.

  • Discuss prewriting concepts. Choose a topic; consider purpose, audience, and form; and generate and organize ideas for writing. Show them the sample newspaper you created (see Preparation, Step 6). Go to the ReadWriteThink Printing Press and walk students through the various choices they have for a final product.

  • Visit the How Can We Advocate for Working Dogs? Inquiry Unit. Have students work in pairs or small groups to read through the websites, using their Word Storm books to get ideas for vocabulary they can use in their own writing.

2. Drafting
  • Students should write a rough draft using the vocabulary words. They can choose to use any of the formats on the ReadWriteThink Printing Press and should plan their work to match the format they wish to use.

  • You should work with groups of students to guide their writing process and conference about the use of vocabulary.
3. Revising
  • Students should spend time rereading their rough drafts and revising independently.

  • After everyone has had time to revise, students should share their rough drafts in small writing groups following this sequence: writer reads, listeners offer compliments, writer asks questions about problem areas, and listeners offer suggestions. Circulate and offer input while students are working.

  • Students should revise their work based on the feedback they receive.
4. Editing
  • Students should read through their stories, proofreading for errors and correcting spelling and grammatical mistakes.

  • Depending on your students' abilities, you may need to help them at this stage, going over the basics of editing or holding conferences with individual students.
5. Publishing

Session 7: Inform

Have students present their work to the class. One of the most vital components of a critical literacy activity that focuses on social justice is to have students share their information. They will become more deeply involved with their topic when they are writing for a real purpose and audience.

Students may choose to invite community members in to listen to their perspectives. They can present their work on poster boards or give oral presentations based on their written work. They can also contact organizations with their ideas, such as The Humane Society of the United States or The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.


  • This lesson can be modified to explore any topic through a critical lens. The following social themes can be investigated: the environment, hate crimes, freedom of speech, fear of differences, racial discrimination, gangs, working parents, child labor, gender issues, poverty, ways of learning, physical and developmental handicaps, teasing, bullies, war, victims, addiction, government opposition, and religious oppression.

  • Children's literature can be used to examine a wide variety of social themes. For example, the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) from the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin lists books to use for a theme of social justice at 40 Books about Peace and Social Justice.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Informally assess comprehension and communication skills during whole-class and small-group discussions.

  • Collect the Word Storm Pages, comics, and final projects. Evaluate them using the Evaluation of "Power Words" Project chart.

  • Students can use the "Power Words" Project Self-Assessment to reflect on their work throughout the project. They should have their Word Storm books, their comics, and their final projects on their desk as they work through this assessment.