EL Support Lesson

Figuring Out Tricky Words

Get ready to teach students strategies for understanding new words! Students will practice strategies to read new words in nonfiction books. This lesson can be used alone or with the New Words, New Ideas: Reading Nonfiction lesson plan.
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the New Words, New Ideas: Reading Nonfiction lesson plan.
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This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the New Words, New Ideas: Reading Nonfiction lesson plan.

Students will be able to identify and define unknown words in a nonfiction text.


Students will be able to read and understand content-specific vocabulary at the sentence level using visual and context clues.

(5 minutes)
  • Display National Geographic Kids: Dolphins by Melissa Stewart, or a similar nonfiction book on document camera if possible.
  • Point to the title and model getting stuck reading it.
  • Pause to think aloud. Notice the photograph on the cover of the book. Tell the students that you are thinking this book has to do with an animal. Now model noticing the first letter, and sound out the title, "D-D-Dolphins!" Tell the students that good readers use pictures and the beginning sounds to help them read new words.
(5 minutes)
  • Remind students that nonfiction books are books about real life with true facts.
  • Share that while reading, you may come across tricky words. You might not be able to read a word, or know what the word means.
  • Tell students that when you get stuck, you can stop and use clues to help you read the words and understand the book.
  • Explain that you can use the pictures as visual clues to help you understand new or unfamiliar words.
  • Explain that you can also use the beginning sound of the word to help you read new words.
  • Explain that the other words in the sentence can also help you understand tricky words.
(10 minutes)
  • Tell students that you can use the picture, beginning letter, and other words in a sentence to read a tricky word.
  • Go back to the book you presented in the introduction, National Geographic Kids: Dolphins. Turn to page five where you've covered the word "water" with a sticky note cut down to the size of the word. Model reading the sentence, and skipping the word "water." (Note: You may use any nonfiction book with key vocabulary that is easily predicted using photographs covered with sticky notes needed.)
  • Display a sentence frame: "I think the word is ____ because ____." Have students predict the covered word with a partner. Choose a volunteer to guess the word using the sentence frame.
  • Uncover the word and model using the beginning letter W to read "w-w-water."
  • Model checking the picture which also shows water.
  • Ask yourself, "Does the word water make sense in the book?"
  • Choose a few more words in the book that are easily guessed using photographs and the context of the sentence. Repeat the procedure a few more times to model strategies.
(10 minutes)
  • Remind students that they will be reading nonfiction texts that will provide information about a topic.
  • Distribute grade level nonfiction books to pairs of students. Model reading with a partner and getting stuck on a word. Ask the student, "What can I do to read this tricky word?"
  • Have the student use the sentence frame, "I think the word is ____ because ____." Prompt the student to remind you to check the picture, use the beginning sound, and think about the other words in the sentence.
  • After you read the word together, ask the student, "Does this word make sense?"
  • As students work in partners, circulate and prompt them to use the strategies for reading unknown words.


  • Have students work in a teacher-led small group.
  • Have students practice figuring out unknown words with home language text.


  • Have students record unknown words and pictures/definitions as they read.
  • Challenge students to use the new words in a complete sentence.
(2 minutes)
  • Ask students to answer the following questions using the sentence stems provided:
    • What was one new word you found in your nonfiction book?
      • "The new word was ____."
    • How did you figure out what the new word means?
      • "I think the word is ____ because ____."
(3 minutes)
  • Call on pairs to volunteer to share new words they found in nonfiction texts and strategies for determining meaning.

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