Saturday, March 28, 2015

Vocabulary in the ESL Classroom

When it comes to learning a new language, the importance of vocabulary acquisition cannot be emphasized strongly enough. Words are like bites of food, and academic vocabulary--the words students need to understand and perform grade-level academic tasks--is like top-shelf health food. Vocabulary is the sustenance that makes language learning and academic success possible.

A few years ago, I discovered a great tool for teaching vocabulary to English language learners. It's a developmental spelling program called Words Their Way, and it guides students through level-appropriate word sorts in order to improve their understanding of the English language. Word sorts are sets of words that fall into certain spelling, sound or semantic categories. One of the cool things about WTW is that students have a high degree of control in making sense of word patterns and their associated sounds and meanings. WTW doesn't teach spelling rules--which is good, because English is a language with many exceptions to its many rules. Instead, WTW gives students lots of opportunities for hands-on, developmentally appropriate word study, which leads to deeper learning of English vocabulary. In my experience, students respond beautifully to this program because they're in control and they can chart their own progress. They think on their own how to make each sort - and then they explain their rationales for each.

A great online tool for supporting our word study activities is a neat little site/app called Vocabulary & Spelling City (VSC). VSC allows students to study specific sets of words using a variety of learning activities. VSC is particularly useful for EL's as it includes exercises in phonics, spelling, language arts and writing. Word study is easily transportable as students can work on assignments using any computer, tablet or smartphone. Teachers can monitor progress and give feedback on writing. This is a very useful tool in larger classrooms in which teachers cannot always be giving direct instruction to every student. Regardless of developmental level, VSC is user-friendly, and they're constantly updating and improving their site. I appreciate their interest and responsiveness to EL's.

Although this blog is intended to communicate directly with parents and families, the Frontier ESL blog draws readers who are teachers of EL's. What tools and resources do you use for vocabulary instruction? What works? What do you love? Please share your ideas!

-Mrs. Blair

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