Developing student-friendly explanations/definitions

Submitted by Ivan Devosa (ivan) on Wed, 05/02/2018 - 12:33

Our goal is for participants to "own" academic vocabulary. They need to personalize new words, to make them their own. There are potential problems using a dictionary as the primary tool for learning new words. The vocabulary used in definitions is frequently more difficult than the word being defined. Yet, definitions can be extremely effective especially when students know how to create their own definitions.

The participants collect important terms and concepts that are closely connected to the topic of the course/session and work together on a definition for each term and concept.

A word’s importance depends on the goals of the lesson. The lecturer is to determine a vocabulary list that is crucial to understand the content of the course/session. Then the lecturer narrows this list down to a manageable number and organize the words into levels. The lecturer is expected to select words needing thorough or superficial attention before students read and identify those that can wait for post-reading discussion. The lecturer should discard those not linked to the goals of your lesson. Meanwhile we should remember: less is more!

Level 1 Words: Critical before words—two or three words that are essential for students to understand before they begin reading.  These words represent the central content understandings of your lesson or unit.

Level 2 Words: Important before words—These “foot-in-the-door” content words will most likely be unfamiliar to students, but they do not need the same in depth instruction as Level 1 words.  Students need some familiarity with them for comprehending the “gist” of the selection but they don’t warrant the same amount of before reading instructional time as Level 1 words.

Level 3 Words: Critical after words—Level 3 words represent concepts clearly defined in the text and can be dealt with during and after reading once students have a better idea of the content.

Level 4 Words:  Words not to teach—Words classified as Level 4 words may not be familiar to students, but they aren’t essential to lesson objectives.



All subjects


Blended learning


All subjects
Blended learning
Sequence of activities
  • At first, a definition of the term is provided by a participant.
  • They describe the word in everyday language and explain it using multiple contexts.
  • Then they extend beyond definitions and synonyms; explain in connected language, not isolated single word or phrase definitions.
  • The other students can add or change the definition or make comments, but they should justify the changes.
  • They provide practice that engages students in verbalizing understandings
  • At the end a common definition occur that can be used by the whole class.

Santa, C., Havens, L.,Franciosi, D. & Valdes, B. (2012), Project CRISS: Helping teachers teach and students learn. Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt Co.

Stehling, V., Schusterm K., Bach, U., Richert, A,. & Isenhardt, I.(Hrsg.) (2013). Vorlesbar - Methodenhandbuch für Vorlesungen mit Großen Hörerzahlen

Basic Curriculum for Teachers´ In-Service Training in Content Area Literacy in Secondary Schools. COMENIUS Action No 9: Multilateral Projects. Workbook for Teachers. Legal representative: Prof. Dr. Christine Garbe. University of Cologne. Institute for German Language and Literature II. Richard-Strauß-Str. 2 50931 Köln, Germany. pp- 75-77.

30 minutes - 1 hour
Grade your contribution (I consider this TEL method can be used with TEL tools)