5. Uncovering Unknown Words


Although Newsela allows students to adjust the reading level on individual articles, they will inevitably encounter words they don’t know. Ask students to read an article and highlight any words they do not know. In the annotations, students should write what they think the word means and the context clues that helped them get there. Then, you can turn these words into a vocabulary list for the class.

The Lesson

When reading Newsela articles, students will encounter words that they find challenging. When this happens, students use the context of the article to complete their reading, but rarely take the time to look up a definition. Teachers can use this as an opportunity to develop a list of vocabulary words that are now relevant to them.

  1. Assign an article to the class.
  2. Instruct students to read the article at all five levels  and highlight at least three words that are unfamiliar to them.  For each word they identify, students should use annotations to record the following:
    • What they think the word means
    • Which context clues helped them draw that conclusion
  1. Ask students to choose one of their words to share with the class.
  2. Write all of the unknown words on the board and ask students to pick five words from the list..
  3. As a class, look up the definitions of the five words. These words will serve as the vocabulary words for the week.


  • Completing this activity for the first time as a class will help students understand the standard that you, as the teacher, are setting.
  • A variation of this exercise is to instruct students to define the words as they come across them in the article.
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