Students Creating Definitions

How do you define a word so that others understand? Students are expected to know how to do this, but many struggle to create definitions. They’ve “miss” the lesson either figuratively or literally. When working on definitions with students, I lay out 3 post it notes like this – only I use pictures instead of words for younger students.

I ask the student to say something about the word using guidelines from the post it notes. For example define the word KITTEN.

A kitten is a kind of thing is it? (category) animal/pet/baby animal.
What does it do? (function) purrs, drinks milk, meows
What does it look like? (attributes) four legs, whiskers, tail, baby cat, different colors of fur

Practicing with a variety of nouns, now the student has a “road map” for how to define a word.  Helping students define/describe words is the first step in improving oral expression and a stepping stone to other explanations. It also helps them craft definitions for words in a way they can understand and store the information for future use.