How do I do this?
Eavesdrop (and Assess!)
For those students who do not have the vocabulary knowledge or background experiences to connect to the topic, it's okay. That's why they are in class, learning and expanding their knowledge base. Hopefully there are a couple of students in class who can share the knowledge and experiences that they have. Students learn better when they learn from each other, after all. I would usually let students use a dictionary or the textbook if they were stumped. My only rule was that I was not a human dictionary, because otherwise they wouldn't stop asking me to explain words to them.
For students with no familiarity with the vocabulary, this activity will build some familiarity. They will recognize the terms later when they see them in the lesson or reading. During the word sort, students are discussing terms, their meanings, and clarifying word knowledge. They are becoming familiar and developing a comfort level with the academic vocabulary necessary for your content area. This is the first step in meeting the Common Core State Standards focused on vocabulary knowledge (see the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language).
Coming soon… Using word sorts after reading.