Standard Lesson

Viewing Vocabulary: Building Word Knowledge Through Informational Websites

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Two 40-minute sessions
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In this lesson, students identify 10 important words in an online article about biodiversity and record their selections on sticky notes. Students then build a graph of word selections, discuss the reasons for their selections, and write a sentence summarizing the article. Several words are then selected for closer study. Students are given prompt cards that ask them to interact with those words in various ways. Finally, students read related articles and identify how target words are used in those texts. This strategy is called Ten Important Words Plus, and it facilitates vocabulary development and comprehension.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Word knowledge is highly related to comprehension and should receive focused attention across the curriculum.

  • Wide reading, explicit instruction of words and word-learning strategies, and the establishment of an environment that promotes word consciousness are key ways to enhance students' vocabulary.

  • The strategy Ten Important Words Plus, based on principles of effective vocabulary instruction, can be used with any type of text and with readers of nearly any grade. The strategy consists of the following steps:

    1. Distribute a text and 10 sticky notes to each student.
    2. Introduce the text. Ask students to read it and, while reading, to identify and record on the sticky notes 10 words in the text that they consider key to the content.
    3. Have students construct a class bar graph with their sticky notes. As identical words are contributed, vertical columns are constructed. Each different word begins a new column.
    4. Engage students in a discussion of the graph.
    5. Have students each write a single-sentence summary of the content. Ask students to share their sentences with one another.
    6. Distribute prompt cards that have students engage in further exploration of the words, such as identifying synonyms, noting contexts in which the words may be found, telling other forms of the word, or acting out the word

Listen to a podcast that describes this strategy.

  • Students must be given opportunities to interact with informational text.

  • One of the distinguishing features of informational text is the use of specialized vocabulary, which can be a source of difficulty for readers.

  • Informational texts include content area textbooks, trade books, magazines and newspapers, and multimedia materials. All should be shared with students.

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

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 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

  • Butcher paper

  • Computers with Internet access

  • Sticky notes

  • Index cards




1. Familiarize yourself with the Ten Important Words Plus strategy by reviewing the summary of the strategy provided in the From Theory to Practice section in the Preview tab of this lesson. The strategy supports vocabulary development in students, encouraging them to examine words in a meaningful context, evaluate their relative importance to the content, use the words multiple times, and use the words flexibly and beyond the immediate context.

2. Visit the Uncovering Chameleons website. Bookmark the website on your computers so that it is easily accessible for students during research time. If you do not have classroom computers with Internet access, reserve two sessions in your school’s computer lab. You should also visit the other listed websites and bookmark them on the computers students will be using.

3. Gather 10 sticky notes for each student. Hang a six-foot piece of butcher paper or clear your white board so that it may be used to post sticky notes.

4. Prepare colored index cards or card stock with text from the Vocabulary Prompts handout. Begin by printing several copies of the prompts and cutting them apart. Glue copies of the same prompt onto the same color card, so that all cards of the same color have the same prompt. For example, paste copies of the first prompt on a blue card, copies of the second prompt on a yellow card, etc. If you choose, laminate the cards so they are more durable as you may want to use them many times and with many texts. Select three or four prompts to use with this lesson.

5. Select several words from the article to use in Session 1, Steps 9 and 10. Suggestions are provided in Session 1.

6. Make copies of the Find the Word! handout for each student in your class. Fill out your own handout to use as a model in Session 2, Step 2. After completing it, post the handout in the room where it will be visible to all students.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Engage in critical thinking by considering the relative importance of words-and ideas-in a text

  • Enrich their vocabularies by carefully selecting words they deem to be important to understanding a text and by interacting with those words in a variety of ways

  • Develop oral language skills and enhance comprehension by discussing with peers their reasons for their word selections

  • Synthesize ideas in a text by summarizing it based on discussions of important words

  • Identify the importance of word knowledge to understanding a content area by discussing the role words play in conveying important ideas

  • Expand word knowledge by searching for vocabulary words in new contexts

Session 1: Building a Word Graph

1. Explain to students the purposes of Ten Important Words Plus. Tell them that knowledge of the specialized vocabulary of a content area will support their understanding of the content. Inform students that they are about to participate in a strategy that will help them think about the ideas in the text and learn the words used to convey those ideas.

2. Show students the Uncovering Chameleons website and distribute 10 sticky notes per student. Introduce the article by locating Madagascar on a class map or globe and telling students that the article is about an individual who studies life in this region.

3. Ask students to read the article silently. Tell them that as they read, they are to look for 10 words they consider most important to the content of the selection and record one word on each of the 10 sticky notes. Advise students to record their words in pencil as they will likely change their minds as they read.

4. After all students have read the article and recorded their words, invite two volunteers to begin developing a class graph. The first volunteer posts his or her words in a horizontal line along the bottom of the butcher paper or white board. The second volunteer places duplicate words directly above the first volunteer’s words, creating vertical columns. New words—those not already selected by the first student—are placed along the horizontal line, beginning new columns.

5. Have the remainder of students, a few at a time, add to the graph. Encourage students to comment informally on the graph as it is being constructed. Depending upon the size of the class, you may wish to have table groups combine and sort their words so that posting on the class graph is more efficient.

6. Allow students to study the graph after all words have been posted. Engage students in a discussion of the words. Which words were selected most frequently by the class? What do these words mean? Why were they selected by so many readers? Which words were selected less frequently? How are they related to the topic? (Note that students do not put their names on the sticky notes and anyone may offer an explanation of why words were selected.) Discussion is essential because it requires students to reflect on their word selections and the selections of their peers and to articulate the importance of the words to the content of the article.

7. After discussion of the word meanings and their relevance to the topic, ask students to individually write a single sentence that summarizes the article. The words on the graph will likely prove useful in the summary sentence; however, do not require students to include them in their summary statement.

8. Ask students to read their sentences to a partner. Encourage several volunteers to share their sentences with the entire class. Discuss the summary writing process. Questions to ask include: Was it easy or difficult to write your sentence? What made it easy? Did thinking and talking about the words help? What made it difficult? Often, students will comment that their attention to big ideas in the text and the words that convey those big ideas made summarization easy. Some students may share that the discussions about words gave them so much information that it was difficult to write only a single sentence. Although all responses should be accepted, it is important that students begin to appreciate that identifying key terms and expressing why they are important supports understanding of the topic as well as provides the language necessary for communicating the content.

9. Explain the Vocabulary Prompts. Distribute the colored prompt cards, and tell students you have selected a word from the article for further exploration. The word is diversity. (The word may or may not appear on the class graph.) Give students a few minutes to individually respond to their prompt, and then ask students to meet with two or three classmates who have the same prompt. Students will be able to identify peers who have the same prompt by the color of their card. Ask students to share their responses in their small groups. Depending upon the number of students in your classroom and the number of different prompts you distribute, there likely will be more than one small group per prompt.

10. Ask each group to share its prompt and response with the entire class. Have all groups with the same prompt share before calling on groups with a different prompt.

11. Repeat Steps 9 and 10 with the word population, or word of your choice.

12. Have students exchange their prompt cards for one of a different color.

13. Repeat Steps 9 and 10 with the words species and rare, or words of your choice.

14. As students’ needs or interests dictate, repeat Steps 9 and 10 with two or three of the following word: unique, isolation, extinction, worth, decide, herpetologist, and hypothetically, or words of your choice. Alternatively, allow students the opportunity to select words from the graph.

Session 2: Finding Important Words

1. Revisit the graph displaying class selections of important words and share again some of the summary sentences that students wrote. Review the components of the Ten Important Words Plus strategy.

2. Have students work in pairs to explore one of the related websites you have bookmarked (see Preparation, Step 2). Although each pair may have some freedom in choosing its website from the list, be sure that all websites are selected—assigning websites to pairs if need be. Choose 10 to 15 words from the class graph and assign three words to each pair of students. Each word will be investigated by more than one pair, ideally by pairs with different websites. Have students use the Find function to search for the words and complete the Find the Word! handout. Show students your own Find a Word! handout as a model. Note: If students choose the Library of Congress Country Studies website, direct them to select Madagascar from the pull-down box, and then select Flora and Fauna from the table of contents.

3. Engage students in a discussion about whether and how many times each of their assigned words appears in their website. Have students share the sentences they recorded on the Find a Word! handout and talk about how and the extent to which the words were used.

4. Talk about how the words in a content area are crucial to understanding the subject matter. Questions to guide the discussion might include: Were some of the words we placed on our class graph also found in these related websites? Could the authors have communicated the content as clearly or accurately had they not used these words? Did the words contribute to your understanding of the content? Why do you think it is important to learn the words in a content area? Could you understand the topic as well if you did not know the specialized vocabulary?


  • Using computer software such as Microsoft Excel, generate a class bar graph of students’ word selections. Print the graph and save it for future lessons. When the class participates in other lessons on the same topic, refer to the graph to see if some of the same words were used.

  • Ask students to reread the text and select 10 different words. This may be completed during class time or as homework.

  • Implement the Ten Important Words Plus strategy with two texts on the same topic, using different colored sticky notes for the two texts. Put both sets of important words selections on the same graph, placing words from the two texts in different columns. Talk about similarities and differences.

  • Record each word that appeared on the graph on a small card. Make multiple sets of the cards and have students work in small groups to sort the words in a way that makes sense to them. Group sorting requires students to think and talk about the content, determine relationships among ideas represented by the words, and express their reasons for the sort. It is essential that the students generate the categories for the sort themselves. You should not suggest your own categories. You may want to try sorting the words yourself, however, so you are prepared to assist any students who may struggle.

  • Use a variation of this strategy to assess students’ understanding of a text. Assign a text and have students select 10 important words, write an explanation for each word choice, and compose a summary sentence. Use the Viewing Vocabulary Rubric to assess their work.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Observe students’ word selections and participation in the discussion of the graph.

  • Collect students’ summary statements and review them to assess whether students have identified key ideas in the text.

  • Ask students to submit a revised list of 10 words with an explanation for each choice along with a revised summary sentence. Use the Viewing Vocabulary Rubric to evaluate their work.

  • Observe students’ responses to the Vocabulary Prompts. Note whether students understand the meaning of the words. Provide appropriate support and feedback.

  • Observe students’ discussions of the importance of their assigned words to the related websites.

  • Consider having students write a short paper on biodiversity. Look for accurate use of content-specific words and understanding of the topic.


Francisco Renion Jr.
K-12 Teacher
This s trategy is a powerful strategy for building vocabulary. As per reading content, it is cross-curricular as it uses as springboard of the vocabulary lesson, topic in science area. The strategy also addresses multiple intelligence needs and skills. The fact that it uses informational websites makes this lesson fun because kids like working on lessons with access to modern-day media like the internet. Surely I will adopt this lesson in my vocabulary instruction in my ESL class.
Francisco Renion Jr.
K-12 Teacher
This s trategy is a powerful strategy for building vocabulary. As per reading content, it is cross-curricular as it uses as springboard of the vocabulary lesson, topic in science area. The strategy also addresses multiple intelligence needs and skills. The fact that it uses informational websites makes this lesson fun because kids like working on lessons with access to modern-day media like the internet. Surely I will adopt this lesson in my vocabulary instruction in my ESL class.
Francisco Renion Jr.
K-12 Teacher
This s trategy is a powerful strategy for building vocabulary. As per reading content, it is cross-curricular as it uses as springboard of the vocabulary lesson, topic in science area. The strategy also addresses multiple intelligence needs and skills. The fact that it uses informational websites makes this lesson fun because kids like working on lessons with access to modern-day media like the internet. Surely I will adopt this lesson in my vocabulary instruction in my ESL class.

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