Living Vocabulary

Online Lesson Plan
Living Vocabulary

lrGuyLesson Plan by , Assistant Professor in Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education at UNL and a Co-Director of the Great Plains Institute for Reading and Writing. He is affiliated with the elementary education program as well as the UNL literacy group. He received his PhD in 2002 in Education from the University of California Riverside.


Subject Area:
Language Arts
Suggested Grade Level:
Grades 3-5
Learning Modality:
Visual Learners
Multiple Intelligence:
Spatial Intelligence
Bloom’s Taxonomy:
What are these educational concepts?What are these educational concepts?



lrRead0401The student will:

  1. Develop a working vocabulary based on terms found in the Living History Farm website.
  2. Use other, outside resources, to asses how these terms have been used elsewhere and to understand how context can change meaning.
  3. Develop a personal dictionary of terms that contains explanations of meaning as garnered from both the website and from the on-line dictionary.
  4. Make a poster that shows how one or two of the terms is used both in the context of the Living History Farm website and elsewhere.



The foundation for comprehending a topic lies in the ability to garner sense from the words that are specific to that subject; in other words: Vocabulary equals meaning. Gaining a rich, vibrant vocabulary goes well beyond the readers’ ability to simply define words. Any person can pick up a dictionary and look up the word “cow,” for instance, and read that the noun, pronounced, “\kaū\” is “1 a: the mature female of cattle (genus Bos) b: the mature female of various usually large animals (as an elephant, whale or moose) 2: a domestic bovine animal regardless of sex or age” (Merriam-Webster, 2007), but it takes placing that term into context to create the meaning that allows us to equate that simple definition with the actual animal we think of when we hear the word “cow” – hooves, color patterns, horns, and, of course, “moo.”

This lesson uses the text and graphics from the Living History Farm website to help students create for themselves a comprehensive working vocabulary centered around rural life. By seeing the words in their specific context, students will gain not only new terminology but a whole new set of language that encompasses real meaning and, therefore, real understanding.

Most new vocabulary students learn from reading and NOT from direct instruction. The goal of this lesson is to increase students’ ability to understand unfamiliar words in context. For this purpose, we must also help students become independent learners by providing the tools for self-efficacy in language exploration.


The Resources

Links from within the Wessels Living History Farm site. [Note that clicking on these links will open a new browser window. Just close it and you’ll be back to this page.] Direct the students read the stories on each of these pages.

Links to Websites Other than Wessels Living History Farm. Outside guides. [Note that clicking on these links will open a new browser window. Just close it and you’ll be back to this page.]


The Process

Introductory Exercise:
Part 1:
The teacher selects five words from the page about machines, e.g. disc, prowess, clod, plow, team. The teacher presents these words to the class and has the students come up with the domain of the word (i.e. “team” comes from the domain of “sport”). The students then present possible definitions of each term from their own background knowledge.

Part 2:
Students should read the text from the “machines” page on the website as a class and examine the same words again, only this time, in context and discuss how the context either changes, confirms, or provides clues to the meanings of the terms.

Part 3:
The teacher goes online to Merriam-Webster and “looks-up” the five terms. Discuss how the dictionary definitions either confirm or change the definitions that the students developed as a class.

Main Exercise:

  • The students should select one of the two remaining website pages (“pests” or “crops”) and read them through.
  • Using one term selected by the teacher from each page, as a foundation, the students will then select two additional terms on their own.
  • The students will create a dictionary by:
    • first writing down what they think the term means or the meaning they are familiar with for that term;
    • then writing down the meaning of the term based on the context from the Living History Farm webpage; and
    • lastly, research the term in the on-line dictionary and write down the meanings, multiple uses, and basic etymology they find there.


Learning Advice

In the introductory exercise, make sure the students explain how they know or believe they know what the words mean. In other words, the students should be able to supply the source for their background knowledge.

As part of the discussion in Part 3, the teacher should point out how the multiple definitions of words, the multiple uses of words, and the basic etymology of those words deepen the meaning of the words and allow those words to cross contexts.

In the Main Exercise – Make sure the students are NOT clicking on links. They should read ONLY the page that comes up on the screen (it will have an 01 as the marker in the url).


Conclusion of the Lesson

Follow-up Exercise:Each student will create a poster that depicts all of the information they have gathered about their three words and present it to the class.

The class will discuss what they have learned about language, in general. How it is created, used, and adjusted over time and by context.


Assessment Activity

Students will turn in both their dictionaries and their posters for grading. Work should be evaluated by assessing word choice, completeness, accuracy, and creativity.


General Notes

Posters can be done as homework or in-class just prior to presentations on a subsequent day.

Students should be encouraged to read deeply into the texts when locating terms and MUST be directed to choose unfamiliar words or familiar words that are being used in a novel way.


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