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A Victorian Vocabulary Challenge

Lesson Question:

How can students use the Visual Thesaurus to help them complete a challenging Victorian sentence completion exercise?

Applicable Grades:


Lesson Overview:

Who needs SAT prep books when you've got Victorian literature? In this lesson, students will encounter a sentence completion exercise composed of sentences from a number of famous Victorian novels and — with the help of the Visual Thesaurus — will decide how they can best fill the blanks with some choice vocabulary words.

Length of Lesson:

One hour

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:
  • use VocabGrabber to preview vocabulary words in a quote from Jane Eyre
  • draw sketches based on verbal imagery
  • define vocabulary words using the Visual Thesaurus
  • complete a Victorian sentence completion exercise, using contextual clues and process of elimination


  • student notebooks
  • white board
  • computers with Internet access
  • "A Victorian Vocabulary Challenge" sheets (one per student) [click here to download]


  • victorianetexts.com — Lee Jackson's site contains etext versions of many Victorian novels and allows its visitors to search the texts by words or by phrases (The sentences for this lesson were mined by using VocabGrabber in conjunction with this etext site.)
  • victorianweb.org — George Landow, of Brown University, created this site as a resource for various courses in Victorian literature


VocabGrabbing and sketching a quote from Jane Eyre:

  • Preview the most challenging vocabulary words from the following quote from Jane Eyre by using VocabGrabber:

    I cannot tell what sentiment haunted the quite solitary churchyard,
    with its inscribed headstone; its gate, its two trees, its low horizon,
    girdled by a broken wall, and its newly-risen crescent, attesting the
    hour of even-tide.

Once students become familiar with any difficult vocabulary in the quote through VocabGrabber, ask them to draw a quick, impromptu sketch in their notebooks of what they envision as they read the quote.

  • Elicit volunteers to share their sketches with others in the class and discuss which words were the most important indicators of what they would draw. For example, students who previewed the word crescent most likely drew a crescent-shaped moon in their drawings; students having investigated the word girdled probably drew a broken wall encircling the churchyard, etc.


Introducing Victorian literature:

  • Revisit the Jane Eyre sentence form the warm up?this time paying attention to its tone, sentence structure and word choice. Ask students to consider how the sentence makes them feel; words like haunted and solitary most likely bring an eerie feeling to the scene. Students might also comment on the complex nature of the sentence, due to its multiple subordinate clauses separated by commas.

  • Explain that the tone and nature of the sentence were not uncommon among novels of the Victorian period (the period in British history during Queen Victoria's reign: 1837-1901). The "eerie" tone of this particular sentence is an example of the Gothic literary genre, one of the elements of Victorian literature that is evident in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.

  • Point out that Victorian writers are also known for their florid descriptions that are often delivered in complex sentences. Today's exercise on Victorian word choice will require students to examine "fill-in-the-blank" sentences from famous Victorian novels and to figure out which words will restore the sentences to their original state.

Completing "fill-in-the-blank" Victorian sentences:

  • Organize the class in pairs or small groups of students, and assign each set of students one of the "A Victorian Vocabulary Challenge" sentences (taken from the following Victorian novels: Bronte's Jane Eyre, Stoker's Dracula, Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, Stevenson's Strange Case of Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dickens's Great Expectations — click here to download).

  • Write the following word bank on the front board: bilious, glared, haste, impalpable, impudence, negligence, plunged, ravenously, reproachfully, reputable.

  • Explain that somewhere in the word bank is the word that correctly completes their assigned sentence, and it is their group's task to find it. 

Providing sentence completion strategies:

  • Advise students that sometimes more than one word in the bank may seem to complete their sentence but that they should use the Visual Thesaurus to try to define the words in the bank and find the word that BEST completes their sentence, based on contextual clues in the sentence.
  • Suggest that underlining contextual clues in the sentences could lead groups in choosing the correct word from the word bank.

  • Make sure that groups are considering what part of speech is needed to complete their particular sentence. (Determining part of speech will narrow down their word choices considerably.)

  • Once a group zeros in on a particular word, they should write a check next to the word on the word bank list. If more than one group tries to claim the same word from the bank, the two groups should try to collectively figure out which of their two sentences is most ideally completed by the word.


Sharing completed sentences:

  • Once students have completed their assigned sentence, they should try to complete all the sentences on the "A Victorian Vocabulary Challenge" sheet.

  • Ask each pair or small group of students to orally share their assigned sentence with the class, along with a rationale of how they narrowed down the vocabulary word that would best complete their sentence. Presenting students should define their vocabulary word and identify its part of speech. (If the group was originally ambivalent about which word to choose from the word bank, they should also describe how they eventually ruled out other possible words.)

Extending the Lesson:

  • A fun way to extend this lesson on word choice would be to use these fill-in-the-blank Victorian sentences (or others you find) and have students complete them "Mad Libs" style. In other words, students could simply write a part of speech label under each sentence blank. Then a reader would ask a fellow student to supply words that fit those parts of speech categories but without seeing the rest of the sentence. Then, after all the blanks are filled, students could read aloud the completed (and absurd!) sentences to the class.


  • Assess students' sketches to see if they based features in their drawings on vocabulary terms in the Jane Eyre quote.

  • Check students' "A Victorian Vocabulary Challenge" sheets to see if they correctly completed each sentence.

  • Assess students' mastery of the vocabulary introduced in this lesson by having them write original sentences using the words or by giving them additional sentence completion prompts using the same words.

Educational Standards:

Language Arts

Standard 5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process.

Level IV (Grades 9-12)

1. Uses context to understand figurative, idiomatic, and technical meanings of terms
3. Uses a range of automatic monitoring and self-correction methods (e.g., rereading, slowing down, sub-vocalizing, consulting resources, questioning)
4. Understands writing techniques used to influence the reader and accomplish an author's purpose (e.g., organizational patterns, figures of speech, tone, literary and technical language, formal and informal language, narrative perspective)

Standard 6. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts.

Level IV (Grades 9-12)

1. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of literary texts (e.g., fiction, nonfiction, myths, poems, biographies, autobiographies, science fiction, supernatural tales, satires, parodies, plays, American literature, British literature, world and ancient literature)
2. Knows the defining characteristics of a variety of literary forms and genres (e.g.,fiction, nonfiction, myths, poems, biographies, autobiographies, science fiction, supernatural tales, satires, parodies, plays, drama, American literature, British literature, world and ancient literature, the Bible)
7. Understands the effects of author's style and complex literary devices and techniques on the overall quality of a work (e.g., tone; irony; mood; figurative language; allusion; diction; dialogue; symbolism; point of view; voice; understatement and overstatement; time and sequence; narrator; poetic elements, such as sound, imagery, personification)
8. Understands relationships between literature and its historical period, culture, and society (e.g., influence of historical context on form, style, and point of view; influence of literature on political events; social influences on author's description of characters, plot, and setting; how writer's represent and reveal their cultures and traditions)

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