Sunday, May 15, 2011

Explicit vocabulary instruction for ELLs in the content classroom

            Crow (1986) discusses two types of vocabulary knowledge: productive and receptive. According to Crow (1986), productive word knowledge is the knowledge that one needs in order to use a word when speaking or writing. Receptive knowledge, on the other hand, is what one needs to know in order to understand a word when reading or listening.
            Echevarria, Vogt, and Short (2008) further distinguish vocabulary into three key types: content words, process/function words, and words and word parts that teach English structure. Content vocabulary consists of key terms and ideas associated with a particular content area or topic being taught.  Process/function vocabulary are those words that have to do with functional language, such as language used in the classroom and words referring to language processes (discuss, summarize, debate, etc.). Finally, words and word parts that teach English structure are words which allow students to learn new vocabulary based on knowledge of English morphology, such as root words and affixes  (Echevarria et. al, 2008).
            There are several effective strategies suggested by the creators of the SIOP model (Echevarria et. al, 2008) for teaching vocabulary which can be used to increase ELLs' understanding of content vocabulary  and language:
  1. Word Sorts. During a word sort, students classify words or phrases that have been previously reviewed into categories determined by the teacher. Words or phrases can be written on sentence strips or printed singularly on a piece of computer paper.  Students can then categorize the words based on meaning, similarities in structure (ending in –tion, for example), derivations, or even sounds. To take this even one step further and facilitate the comprehension of content concepts, students can sort words by their relationship with content concepts (for example, sorting body part vocabulary by organ system).
  2. Contextualizing key vocabulary. Before the lesson, the teacher should review the reading and select a few key terms or phrases that are essential for understanding the lesson’s most important concepts. The teacher should then introduce the words or concepts to the students, defining or demonstrating each and then showing students how it is used throughout the context of the lesson.
  3. Vocabulary self-collection. Before reading, students can skim a text to locate words that are new or unfamiliar and which they perceive as essential to their understanding of content concepts. Words may be selected individually or I pairs. A class list of the vocabulary self-collection words can be maintained throughout a lesson or unit, and the list is revised and reviewed throughout. The words may also be entered into a word study notebook, and students may be expected to demonstrate their knowledge of these words through oral and written activities.  
  4. Personal dictionaries. This strategy is similar to the previous, but personal dictionaries are created and maintained as a personal vocabulary and spelling resource for individual students. Students are responsible for maintaining their dictionaries and adding new entries.
  5. Word Walls. Word walls are useful for maintaining an alphabetical list of key vocabulary. They word wall can be introduced ad referred to throughout a lesson. The word wall can be kept on a bulletin board, poster, pocket chart, or even a sheet of butcher paper. Students are encouraged and expected to use word wall vocabulary in their reading, writing and discussions throughout the lesson or unit.  Cunningham (2004) asserts that the words on the word wall should be limited to those of the greatest importance. Pictures can also be added to help ELLs make visual connections to the words they are expected to learn and use.
  6. Four-Squares Vocabulary Cards. The student makes a card by folding a piece of paper into fourths, and then folding the central corner down to create a diamond in the center of the paper. The vocabulary word is written in the central diamond, and then the other four squares contain a definition, a picture, a sentence, and synonyms for the word. The students can locate these elements on their own, or for very important vocabulary, the teacher can provide them.
  7. Word Generation. English language learners can review new content vocabulary through analogy. The teacher provides students with a root word, and students brainstorm for words that include that root word. The class should analyze the meaning of each word that is listed to figure out what the root means. If they cannot determine the meaning on their own, the teacher can give hints or explain the meaning.
  8. Word Map. Have students create a word map for important vocabulary words. The center bubble should be the vocabulary word. The teacher or the students can designate the types of words or ideas that go in second or third level bubbles. Bubbles can include words, pictures or phrases relating to the designated vocabulary word.
  9. Word Splash Posters. Students create a poster of words connected to the concept word. On a large piece of paper or poster board, students write a concept word in a box in the center. Then they take turns writing words and phrases connected to the concept word. These words can be synonyms, antonyms, examples or connecting words. Another interesting take on this would be to have students write a short summary of what they know about a topic. Have one or two computers available and have the browser pre-set to and type in their summary. The computer will generate a word splash poster, which students can then manipulate for color, shape and font. Print these word splash posters out and hang them around the room.
  10. List-Group-Sort. Individually, students are given a few minutes to list up to seven words about a topic. Then, students form a small team and generate a new list of words with their teammates. Finally, the team decides on categories into which they can group the words, and creates a poster, grouping the words into their determined categories.
  11. Self-Assessing levels of word knowledge. As students acquire and use new vocabulary words, it is important for them to take time to reflect on their own learning and assess their knowledge of the words they have learned. They can review their personal dictionaries, classroom word walls, and vocabulary self-selection charts and rate each word from 1 to 4:
1.      I’ve never heard or seen this word before
2.      I’ve seen or heard the word before, but I don’t know what it means
3.      I dimly know the meaning of the word, and I can associate it with an idea, concept or context.
4.      I know this word very well. 


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