Tool for the Field: Finding New Words in a 2nd to 3rd Grade Reading Selection


This tool for the field is intended to guide a paraprofessional in conducting a socially interactive reading and vocabulary-building session with an individual student who reads at the second- or third-grade level.


  1. Invite the student to read the passage from “The Wren and the Bear” below and to circle five words that are new to him or her. (You can ask the student to read the passage orally or silently, depending on which seems more suitable for the individual student.) Rather than having the student worry or feel uncomfortable about words he or she doesn’t know, one of the things to strive for in this session is to make the hunt for new words a pleasurable activity. The student may have more than five new words, and you can either list those separately or say that for this lesson he or she should pick the five new words that he or she likes best because those are the ones you two will be discussing.
  2. List the student’s new words.
  3. For each of the words, find the sentence in which the word occurs and ask the student to read it aloud so you two can talk about what the word might mean. If that sentence offers little context, ask the student to read the sentence before or the sentence after to see if either of these sentences offers context to help with the student identify the meaning of the unknown word.
  4. With any new word whose meaning isn’t made clear by the sentence(s) in the passage, ask the student to look the word up in the dictionary.  Offer help as needed. From the dictionary definition, ask the student to try to substitute another word or words that mean what the new word means and substitute them for the new word as he or she reads the sentence out loud. It is important to be engaged with the student during this step as well as all of the other steps in the procedure.

Paraprofessional’s Directions to Student: Read the passage below and circle 5 words that are new to you.  After you’re through reading, we’ll make a list of your 5 new words and talk about them together.

The Wren and the Bear

Once upon a time, a bear and a wolf were taking a walk in a wood.  It was summer, and the bear heard a bird singing most beautifully.  He said, “Brother Wolf, what kind of bird is that singing so beautifully?”

“That is the King of the Birds, and we must bow down to him.” But really it was a wren.

“If that is so,” said the bear, “I should like to see his royal palace. Come you must take me to it.”

“That’s not so easy,” said the wolf. “You must wait till the Queen comes.”

Soon afterwards, the Queen flew to a nearby tree, bringing food in her beak, and the King came with her to feed their little ones.  The bear wanted to go look at their home right then, but the wolf held onto his sleeve and said, “No.  Wait until the King and Queen fly away again.”

So they trudged on.  But the bear couldn’t stand it.  He just had to see the royal palace, and before long he went back to the tree. The King and the Queen had gone out again.  He peeped into the tree branches and saw six baby birds sitting in a nest.

“This is the palace?” cried the bear. “What a miserable place!  And you are royal children? You’re ugly and scrawny. You must be changelings.”

The baby wrens didn’t know what “changelings” were, but they knew their parents thought they were beautiful.  All six of them started chirping angrily and loudly.

List of Student’s New Words:

  1. _______________________________________________________________
  2. _______________________________________________________________
  3. _______________________________________________________________
  4. _______________________________________________________________
  5. _______________________________________________________________

Paraprofessional’s Directions to Student: Let’s read out loud the sentence each of these words is in and see if the meaning can be figured out from the sentence. If it can’t, we’ll look at the sentence before and after and see if they help tell the meaning of the new word.  Then, if we need to, we’ll look the word up in the dictionary.  We can try using the dictionary definition in the sentence and see how well it works.

Example for Paraprofessional:  If the student circled “changeling,” you could talk about how the sentence the word is in “You must be changelings,” doesn’t give much information except that it’s something the baby birds could be.  You could then suggest looking back at the sentence before that one. That sentence has the bear saying, “You’re ugly and scrawny.” That sentence suggests that “changelings” are ugly and scrawny, but doesn’t really tell what changelings are.  Since the sentence following, “You must be changelings,” says the baby birds don’t know what changelings are, that sentence doesn’t add to the meaning. Ask the student to find “changeling” in the dictionary, helping if he or she needs help.  The dictionary definition will say something like, “a strange, ugly child supposedly brought by fairies and substituted for the parents’ real child.”  The definition of this word could lead to a discussion about other things in the passage that let the reader know that it isn’t a true story and could be a fairy tale, such as its beginning with “once upon a time” and the fact that the animals talk and behave like humans.

Note: The reading passage is adapted from the beginning of the “Wren and the Bear” in Grimms’ Fairy Tales, published in 1945 by Grosset & Dunlap.