Life is Non-fiction

5. Using Vocabulary to Improve Meaning

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To understand how vocabulary adds meaning to writing

Sample Success Criteria

  • I can identify how vocabulary in texts adds to the meaning of the text
  • I can use topic specific vocabulary in my writing
  • Dictionaries – hard copy or online
  • Information texts on animal adaptions that provide examples of text features
  • Vocabulary Exploration: docx PDF

Provide the students with the following words on the Vocabulary Exploration handout  

cultural transmission








technical innovation

Ask students to rate their knowledge of each word from 1 to 10:

  • 0 would indicate they have no idea of what the word could mean
  • 10 represents that they know what the word means and could use it confidently in conversation or writing.

Differentiate this task by selecting alternate texts and applying the same approach to exploring vocabulary.

Invite students to write or draw what they think the words in the handout might mean.

Encourage students work in pairs or small groups to discuss and share their thinking in response to the following prompts:

  • Can you find a base word in any of the unknown words, for example, drama?
  • How does knowing the base word help you to predict the meaning of a word and how to use it?
  • Can you find any words that might not be considered as 'formal language'? 
  • Can you find the word that is related to the word ‘destroy’?
  • Can you find a word that is the opposite of constructive?
  • How might the words biology, archaeology, zoology and oceanology help us to understand the word ornithology?
  • What is a crest? Have you heard of the crest of a wave, or the crest of a hill?
  • What would sulphur crested mean?
  • What does a radio transmitter do?

Enable students to successfully define unknown words by suggesting they only explore two or three of the words provided. Alternatively choose different words, either from the same text (which is used later in this stage) or from another text suited to student abilities.

Extend student vocabulary skills by demonstrating how to build a word family from a base word. For example: explore, explorer, exploring, explored, explorative.

  • Ask students to find the base word and develop word families from their word list.
  • Guide students to use to investigate the etymology of words.

Lead a class discussion that explores the strategies used by students when investigating the vocabulary list.

Encourage students to use the new vocabulary in sentences and to provide synonyms.

Clarify the meaning of any words if required.

Explain to the students that all of the words they have investigated are in the text they are about to read.

Challenge pairs to turn and talk and predict two possible topics or main ideas of the text.

Display the first section of the text, ‘Sulphur Crested Cockies’, and read the text with the students. 

Discuss the highlighted vocabulary and invite students to elaborate on the highlighted terms.

Organise students in pairs or small groups and distribute the full article, ‘Sulphur-crested cockatoos raiding wheelie bins are (annoying) examples of animal behavioural adaptation’ .

Possible questions to guide student thinking while reading:

  • What might the word ‘moniker’ mean?
  • What are some of the words the author uses to describe the birds?
  • What examples of destructive behaviour does the author mention?
  • Why might the author have referred to the cockies as larrikins?
  • Do the cockies teach each other how to open the bins?  If so, how is that knowledge shared? Link to the term ‘cultural transmission’.
  • Do you think this is an example of a behavioural adaptation? Explain?

Invite students to discuss their definitions.

Organise students into pairs and allocate one word from the vocabulary list for each pair to develop a definition, including the information gained from the group discussion. The definitions could include writing and drawing.

Enable students requiring further support by using guided reading teaching strategies, or provide students with a shorter passage from the text

Extend students by asking them to compare and contrast the reading on cockies with one of the following texts:

Draw student attention to particular passages in the text and discuss the style the author used.

Possible questions could include:

  • In what ways this text differ from the other non-fiction texts you have been reading?
  • What do you like/dislike about the author’s style?

Guide the discussion to note the engaging style of the author, the use of humour and personification and compare these strategies to a more ‘traditional’ information text.

Model using one of the words from the vocabulary list in a paragraph, using the style of the author.

Invite students to select a word or line from the text and to develop a short paragraph in a similar style.

Australian Geographic, 2019. Swamphens have learnt how to make a meal of cane toads. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Jones, A., 2019. Sulphur-crested cockatoos raiding wheelie bins are (annoying) examples of animal behavioural adaptation, ABC News, 1 September. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Wilson, S., 2018. Clever crows have learnt how to make a meal of cane toads, Australian Geographic. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

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