We formally began our first unit of study this past week, short stories.  In addition, I also established our routines for independent reading time (we checked out books this past Monday) and Quickwrites.   I decided to spend the first week front-loading the academic vocabulary before jumping into any stories.

For all of the activities I outline in this post, I do provide students clipboards.  This point may seem minor, but kids love having access to to clipboards, especially colorful ones, to use for active learning experiences.

Vocabulary Knowledge Rating Organizer and Slotted Notes Walk

We first started with a Vocabulary Knowledge Rating organizer of some of the key short story terms for our unit.  Students completed this task and calculated their initial score; we put these in our class notebooks to revisit in a couple of weeks.

Because I wanted to have a way to share and review definitions of short story terms with my 8th graders in a quick and effective way, I bypassed the traditional approach of giving formal notes.  Instead, I printed my slides in color and hung them up around the room just as I would do task cards or any other gallery walk style learning activity.  I then crafted a set of slotted notes for students to complete using the slides on the wall.    Students highlighted the terms when they finished, and after showing me their work, they placed the terms in a sheet protector I provided to keep in their notebook. Students worked at their own pace and finished within a class period; those who finished early could read their independent reading texts/books.

The next day, I reinforced the terms with a round of Kahoot.  While this game has been around for a few years, my 8th graders I have this year are VERY into Kahoot!  I gave students the option of playing as an individual, with a partner, or as a table group.  We used our Chromebooks as well as student phones.  The intensity and enthusiasm with which they played was refreshing and energizing for me—they loved competing against themselves and each other, and of course, they especially enjoyed the Kahoot music and dancing along as they played.

Get on the Road to Learning with a Question Trail

I used Question Trails last year, but this year I wanted to incorporate one early in the year.  After our Kahoot game, we engaged in a question trail on the short story terms I designed using this marvelous template from Write on with Miss G.  I love you can customize this template for any topic or subject, and you can easily craft a mix of questions that vary in difficulty.

After explaining the question trail process, students decided if they wanted to work alone or with a partner.  They then jumped onto the trail for learning!  I allowed students to use their slotted notes to help them navigate their way along the trail.  Many students found this activity quite challenging even with the support of their notes; several commented, “This is hard!  We have to think!”, words that make a teacher heart happy.  Most students need about 25-30 minutes to complete the trail and exit ticket reflection.  Again, those who finished early could read their books or add to the day’s Quickwrite.

I hung these up around the room in my beloved neon ticket pouches and hung them on clear Command brand hooks I had up in my room from last year.  The neon pouches helped the question trail posters stand out from our leftover slotted notes short story terms slides still hanging on the wall from earlier in the week.  Students loved the Question Trail, and it provided them enough challenge to get them thinking hard but not overwhelm them.  I also love the flexibility of Question Trails to be an independent or partner activity, and the kinesthetic /movement aspect is also a win with middle school learners.

Overall, I am happy with the first full week of learning and our first steps into short stories.  What strategies do you like to tackle academic vocabulary, especially at the beginning of a unit of study?


I have a reader who requested the links in the post.  Some of them are already embedded, but I’ll outline here in case you missed it in the post:

  • Slotted notes template–my own creation.  This is something any teacher can easily create on his/her own.
  • Short Story Terms PowerPoint–available for purchase on TPT here as part of a bundled package
  • Question Trail Generic Template (already posted, but I’ll repost again here)
  • Vocabulary Knowledge Rating Organizer (already linked in the post, but again…here it is)