Lesson plan

New Words, New Ideas: Reading Nonfiction

Your students will deepen their understanding and build their vocabulary through reading nonfiction texts and identifying unknown words.
Need extra help for EL students? Try the Figuring Out Tricky Words pre-lesson.
EL Adjustments
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Need extra help for EL students? Try the Figuring Out Tricky Words pre-lesson.

Students will be able to ask and answer questions to clarify the meaning of unknown words in a nonfiction text.

The adjustment to the whole group lesson is a modification to differentiate for children who are English learners.
EL adjustments
(10 minutes)
  • Gather students on the rug for the start of the lesson.
  • Read students a few pages from National Geographic Kids: Dolphins by Melissa Stewart or a similar nonfiction text.
  • As you read, pause to think aloud. You can say something like, “It seems like this book is about dolphins. This sounds like it might be the main idea, or what the book is about. I wonder what I’ll learn about them. Hmm.”
  • Continue to read, pausing to notice important words, facts, and text features. Pause to write any potentially unknown words on the whiteboard or chart paper.
  • Explain that sometimes unknown words in books can confuse readers. Good readers ask questions to clear up confusion about what they are reading. Think aloud, "What does the word ____ mean?"
  • Read the list of new (potentially unknown words) aloud. Ask your students to think about these words and how they might help us learn what the book was about.
  • Have students share out with the class.
  • Explain that one way that nonfiction authors teach us about their topic is by including special words called vocabulary words. These words are often highlighted, bolded, and include pictures next to them.
  • Say, “Today we will practice asking questions about what different words mean. We will figure out the meaning of these vocabulary words to help us learn more about the topic."
(5 minutes)
  • Show your students a page from the book you were just reading that includes a bolded word or text box and explain that even when we come across a new word, there are many clues in a nonfiction book that can help us discover what the new word might mean.
  • Ask students to turn and talk to a partner. Partner A asks the question, "What clues can help me figure out the meaning of an new word?" Partner B can answer the question by suggesting clues. Then, switch roles.
  • Remind your students to think about the text features in a nonfiction text. Show examples of text features such as labels, diagrams, glossary, pictures, etc.
  • Ask students how they might use text features to learn about a mystery word. Instruct students to turn and talk to a partner to discuss. Answers might include: Looking at the illustrations or photographs near the word, reading the words around the mystery word, reading the headings on the page.
  • Tell students that they have just identified some great strategies for learning about a mystery word's meaning. Explain that they can also ask a friend, teacher, and look in the dictionary.
(10 minutes)
  • Finish reading National Geographic Kids: Dolphins by Melissa Stewart. As you begin to read, tell the students to raise their hands when they hear a mystery word. Tell students to repeat chorally, "What does the word ____ mean?"
  • Write down each mystery word on the board. Pause and ask the class to predict what the word might mean. Record their thinking.
  • Demonstrate how you would use the glossary in the book to check the meaning of the word. Also demonstrate how you would use a dictionary (if there wasn’t a glossary).
  • Write down the correct meaning of each word and/or circle it if it is already written on the board.
  • Tell students, "We used a glossary to get information. The glossary helped give us information about the meaning of the new word."
(20 minutes)
  • Show the New Nonfiction Words Organizer to the class and go over the instructions.
  • Explain that you will pass out a nonfiction book and an organizer for students to use. Students will work in pairs using the same book, and will each complete an organizer.
  • Circulate around the room and support students as needed. Prompt students to ask their partner, "What does the word ____ mean?" Prompt students to use different tools and text features to answer the question by defining the unknown words together.


  • Gather a small group of students to work with the teacher or teacher's aide to read a nonfiction text together and identify and define unknown words as a group.
  • For students who need writing and/or reading help, provide them with sticky notes with key words written on them. You may also choose to write down student thoughts as they dictate them to you.


  • Provide advanced students with a nonfiction text and worksheet to read and complete independently.
(5 minutes)
  • Collect the worksheets and assess whether students were able to identify and define unknown words using details and clues from the text.
  • Listen as students work together to check that they are asking questions about unknown words. Observe that they use different sources (e.g. context clues, illustrations, glossary) to clarify the meaning of unknown words.
(5 minutes)
  • After the independent work time has concluded, ask students to return to the rug and place their finished worksheets in front of them. Ask for a few volunteers to share out a new word they encountered and what they think it means and why.
  • Encourage students to offer ideas to one another about the words they wrote down.
  • Explain that even grown-ups come across unknown words and that learning how to figure out what they mean helps you to better understand the book or topic.

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