Vocabulary Instruction for English Learners

  • Incorporate Explicit Vocabulary Instruction into Each Class

    • Pre-teach words and build background knowledge since a deficiency in these areas will significantly impact comprehension. *Choose absolutely essential words/concepts rather than overwhelming ELs with too many.
      • State the term in context from the text and have students repeat the word three times. This step is for secondary students as well as primary.
      • Share a visual and use the Learners Dictionary to provide a student- friendly definition.
      • Highlight features of the word: polysemous, cognate, tense, prefix, etc.
      • Engage 100% of the students in using the word orally through ways such as Think-Pair-Share. EL students need to produce new words 10-12 times during pre-teaching.
      • Remind students how it will be used later, such as requiring students to use the term(s) on an exit ticket.
    • Teaching Greek and Latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes using Reading Rockets will help students understand, pronounce, and spell new words.
Words in a book
  • Utilize Online Resources

    • The Academic Word List Highlighter can be used to help identify academic vocabulary in a given set of text. This can be very helpful in determining which words to pre-teach.
    • Learners Dictionary provides student-friendly definitions and example sentences that can’t be found on other online dictionaries. It is highly recommended by the EL teachers.
    • Continually use quick and easy formative assessment to gauge a student’s vocabulary and knowledge:
    • Encourage the use of bilingual dictionaries and apps. Contact the EL teacher if money is needed to make these purchases.

    Cultural Considerations

    • Multiple opportunities to hear, speak, and write words in slightly different contexts is necessary for ELs to acquire new vocabulary. Incidental learning of vocabulary cannot be relied on, so teachers should try to create these contexts in the classroom.
    • Thousands of words in Spanish and English share the same roots, so they often sound similar and share the same meaning (true cognates). When two words sound similar but have different meanings, they are “false cognates.” Highlight these false cognates whenever possible.
    • If the student already knows the concept in his or her native language, it’s just a matter of relabeling it with the English word. Because of this, gathering background information from students and using bilingual dictionaries is very important.
    • The use of context clues to infer meaning is not always successful with ELs since they may not understand the context well enough to make these inferences.