The teacher will create a model in advance and will show the students the model. S/he will explain that this is a strategy the students will use to learn vocabulary in context, based on the story they are reading. These are the instructions for students:
1) With a partner, find a word you don't understand from your story. Write the word on butcher-block paper for all to see from 20' away. (You'll all hang yours up.)
2) Write the name of the book, magazine, or newspaper.
3) Write the page #.
4) Write the sentence around the word.
5) Write your hypothesis.
6) Write a dictionary definition after reading all meanings. Ensure the definition makes sense in the sentence. Write the definition for all to see from 20' away.
7) Write your own words/slang to describe the word
8) Write the part of speech and why:
Adv: modifies a verb: "She walked slowly."
modifies an adjective: "It is very cold outside."
Adj: modifies a noun (The slow turtle won the race.)
Noun: person, place, or thing
Verb: does the action
9) Sign your names and decorate your space/sheet and tape it to a wall beside your class members' words. After all are done, you will teach your word to the class. Everyone will take notes during each pair's presentation.
Following is my example from A Wrinkle in Time (L'Engle, 1962):
2) A Wrinkle in Time
4) "Surely her mother must know what people were saying, must be aware of the smugly vicious gossip."
5) Hypothesis: secret, like a smuggler
6) Dictionary: self-important
7) Us: when you think you're too cool
8) Adverb because it is in front of an adjective
9) Draw or use a picture from the Internet to show what smugly would mean (a person smirking, maybe)
My former high school freshmen in South Texas and my university students (and their elementary, middle, and high school students) have expressed enthusiasm for this strategy. A first year high school English teacher in my class used "Community Words" for a difficult story the students were reading; her principal observed the entire lesson and my student received an exemplary rating. My former student credited her stellar rating to this hands-on, collaborative, and scaffolded strategy.
Also at the high school level, I observed a pre-service teacher from my content literacy class implementing "Community Words" for a biology lesson. As a vocabulary review, she had each pair select their word from their thematic unit on pregnancy and childbirth (e.g., testosterone, estrogen, fetus, etc.). Instead of my eight steps, she only used four: 1) word, 2) hypothesis, 3) dictionary definition, and 4) students' slang to describe the word. The high school students decorated their spaces and signed their names on the butcher block paper. They also presented their words to the class and required all class members to write down the words and definitions.
You may also modify "Community Words" for a particular grade level, subject, or learning objective (e.g., vocabulary introduction or vocabulary review). If you have students with special needs, English language learners, or elementary students, you may use easier books, pictures, and fewer and simpler directions. You may change the strategy according to the text type, also. For example, students can find a plethora of difficult word from the editorial pages of a newspaper, especially the syndicated columns. If they are reading a novel or story as a class, Accelerated Reader books individually (Advantage Learning Systems, 1999), or text-sets (materials at different levels on the same theme), they can find words from these materials.