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Survival of the Fittest

"Survival of the Fittest" is just one example of the many slam-dunk vocabulary activities that Janet Allen offers to teachers of all content areas in Inside Words: Tools for Teaching Academic Vocabulary. Check out how this activity could play out in the science classroom in our lesson plan, "Vocabulary Bursting With Energy."

What Is the Survival of the Fittest Activity?

In Survival of the Fittest, students are asked to determine which word couldn't survive with the others in a given list. Survival of the Fittest can be used as a review of content vocabulary related to a topic or unit of study. The activity is based on three strands of research that connect effective vocabulary instruction to increased learning: Students need multiple exposures to the word (Stahl and Fairbanks 1986); exposures should be in varied contexts (McKeown, et al. 1985); and instruction should establish connections among instructed items (Nagy 1988).

How Does It Work?

Survival of the Fittest works with predetermined groups of words related to the topic or unit of study. Students are given clusters of four or five words and asked to determine which word would not survive or doesn't fit with the others. Students eliminate that word and create a label that would be appropriate for the remaining words. The label should describe what makes the remaining words fits together. An additional task could include asking students to generate a new word that would take the place of the eliminated word so that it would fit with the remaining words.

When and Why Would I Use This Strategy?

Survival of the Fittest is an effective activity for students to review technical vocabulary related to a topic or unit of study. If used as a review, students will have had multiple exposures to the words and to other students' knowledge of the words prior to application in an assessment or evaluation. The activity can be used as an assessment tool for individuals or small groups or used as a review prior to an evaluation of content knowledge.

Examples of Survival of the Fittest word clusters follow:

1. _____________
2. ____________
Salmonella
dictator
E. coli
despot
Legionella
president
Shigella
autocrat
Measles
tyrant

Research/Origins/Further Reading

Alvermann, D. E., and S. E. Phelps. 1994. Content Reading and Literacy: Succeeding in Today's Diverse Classrooms. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
McKeown, M., I. Beck, R. Omanson, and M. Pople. 1985. "Some Effects of the Nature and Frequency of Vocabulary Instruction on the Knowledge and Use of Words." Reading Research Quarterly 20: 522?35.
Nagy, W. E. 1988. Teaching Vocabulary to Improve Reading Comprehension. Urbana, IL: National Council Teachers of English; Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Stahl, S., and M. Fairbanks. 1986. "The Effects of Vocabulary Instruction: A Model-Based Meta-Analysis." Review of Educational Research 56: 72?110.

From Inside Words: Tools for Teaching Academic Vocabulary by Janet Allen. Copyright © 2007. Reproduced with permission of Stenhouse Publishers.


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How students can use the Visual Thesaurus to review key vocabulary associated with the sources and properties of energy.