This is a simple trick to help students get over their fear of unknown words. When reading a text, have the students copy all the words they don’t know into their notebooks in random order. Then have them go back to the original text and using a black marker, have them redactate (completely black out) all of those words they didn’t know. If the students are working on guessing the meaning of a word from context, this will help them focus their attention on the words and phrases the do know as opposed to worrying over that one word they don’t know. I also find that even in a longer text of 200 words or so, when students see that there are only 5 or 6 blotted out words in total, they realize that they do know and understand a vast majority of what they have read. This sometimes allows students to try and guess the meaning not only from the context at the sentence level, but at the paragraph level, and occasionally at the level of the whole text. As an added bonus, students can then go home and try and, using the their notebooks, replace the redacted words, a kind of student created mini cloze-test.
(And thanks also to Sandy Millin for her fantastic Twitter feed for the inspiration to post this very short blog post.)