Being a Word Detective Part Two: Using What We Know


(This woman looks bloodthirsty)

Today my students and I were reading about Count Dracula, a vampire.

He was described as bloodthirsty.  “What does that mean?” my students asked.

“Do you know the word thirsty?” I asked.  They did.  “Thirsty for blood?” someone said.  “Exactly!” I said.

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The article said Dracula was a prince who ruled part of Romania.  My students asked, “What does that mean?”

“Do you know the expression follow the rules?” I asked.  “What’s a rule?”  “Something you have to do.”  “A ruler tells people what to do.  A prince rules people. What does rule mean?”

“It means tell people what to do.  Lead people.  Control people.”  “Exactly.”

Use what you know to help you guess what you don’t know.

The same article said that Dracula was author Bram Stoker’s masterpiece.  My students asked what that meant.

creation-of-man-1159966_960_720 (The Sistine Chapel Ceiling was Michelangelo’s Masterpiece.)

“How does a Master’s Degree differ from a Bachelor’s Degree?”  I asked.  “It’s better!” a student said.

“Exactly. And if you have a Master’s Degree, how do your skills compare to someone who doesn’t have a Master’s Degree?”  They’re higher.  They’re more.”

“Exactly.  Now, what is a piece?”  “A thing.  An example.”  “What thing would a writer or artist make?”  “A book.  A painting.”

“So, now, what does masterpiece mean?”  “It means a better artwork, a better book than all the rest.”  “Exactly.”

Look for clues in the word you don’t know. Break it into smaller pieces. Try to make connections to words you do know.

I helped these students discover what they already knew by asking them questions.  You can do this process by yourself now that you know what questions to ask.  Good luck!

Learn more tips for guessing meaning of unknown word in Part 1: Never Need a Dictionary Again.