"Reading," Callie sighs as she rolls her eyes. Callie is a hard-working 17-year-old junior in high school. She is involved in many different activities in school and takes college prep classes. If she has spare time, Callie likes to read fantasy novels, especially those in a series. Recently she read 15 books of the Guardians of Ga'hoole series, and 20 books of the Warrior series. She doesn't get much time to read for enjoyment because she is in several intensive college preparation classes. She admitted that almost all of her reading time out of school is taken up by her high school classes, and that's why she doesn't read for pleasure anymore.
Callie thinks reading for class is boring. Unfortunately, she feels she doesn't get much out of her reading assignments, although much of her time in class is spent reading. She has a hard time completely comprehending what she has read for class. When asked what she does when she doesn't know a word from the text, Callie said she gets the definition by asking a friend. If that doesn't work, she asks the teacher. And if that doesn't work, she looks it up on the web. Finally, she will just move on to the next word if none of these strategies work.
Callie indicated that she highlights important parts in the book. This was the only strategy she could think of for comprehending her school work. She doesn't feel she has any background knowledge before she starts reading difficult books for her classes. Callie hadn't developed a method to find meanings of words on her own. She counts on others to give her definitions of words, so I created a strategy to help her find the meanings of difficult words. Inspired by Debbie Miller's strategy to help primary students figure how to read a difficult word; I developed a four-step approach to find definitions of words. It uses something every teenager loves: their iPhone.
I had Callie take out her iPhone and complete four steps to find the meaning of a word:
- Look at a picture on Google Images.
- Read the surrounding ten words.
- Look up a synonym on a thesaurus app.
- Look it up on a dictionary app.
Every step was done on her iPhone, so she didn't even get out of her seat. Callie found a word she didn't know in an assigned story: marauded. First, we looked up a picture of marauded. Google images showed mean looking people attacking others. She looked at the images and absorbed them, but still didn't know the definition of marauded. Then, we read the ten words surrounding the image: Then the surrounding Indian tribes came out and marauded the people from time to time, so it wasn't a save place." (Pg. 1, The Crucible) After completing steps 1 and 2, Callie's definition of marauded began to take shape. Her definition at this point was "to beat up something." Then, we looked it up on Thesaurus.com. The thesaurus listed words like abused, harmed, and battered. The third step confirmed her ideas of what marauded meant. Finally, we looked it up on Dictionary.com. I wanted this to be the final step because I wanted her to get an image and the synonyms first, because I believed that would help her fully comprehend the word. I didn't want her to read the definition and try to understand it just from that.
One minute after following my four-step process to find the word meaning, I asked her to tell me the definition of the word again. She gave me a more in-depth definition of the word than what the dictionary gave. "Marauded means to beat up and abuse a group of people in order take something from them." I thought that was an excellent definition. I asked her if my four-step process was easy and if she would use it in the future. She answered, "Yes, it was easy and I liked how I could just use them on my phone. And I didn't even have to get up! I will probably use it again in the future, if I'm able to use my phone in the classroom."
I've designed a simple handout to use with students detailing this four-step process. You can download it by clicking on this link.