Marquis has a Doctor of Education degree.
With more English as a Second Language (ESL) students entering the classroom, it is increasingly important to implement special instructional practices so that they can be successful.
Vocabulary is probably the most important component of instruction that will benefit ESL students. Vocabulary is essential to understanding the material taught across subject matter and is used in all forms of communication: listening, reading, speaking, and writing. Increasing ESL students' vocabulary will aid them in improving academically across the chart.
There are a few basic concepts that ESL teachers should keep in mind when teaching vocabulary, including sheltered instruction, building background knowledge, and scaffolding.
The term sheltered instruction means that general curriculum-based material, including math, science, social science and language arts, is taught in a way that all students, including ESL students and students with diverse learning styles, can understand. For example, teachers may utilize visual aids to introduce vocabulary. Sheltered instruction also encompasses the techniques of building background knowledge and scaffolding.
Building Background Knowledge
Students are more successful when they are able to make connections between what they already know and what they are expected to learn. Activating students' schema or background knowledge (sometimes referred to as prior knowledge) helps them to better understand vocabulary words and concepts that they are learning in the classroom. Many ESL students come to the classroom with little or no exposure to the English language and may struggle with learning. That is why it is important for teachers to present instruction in a way that allows students to fill those gaps in learning that prevent them from being successful in the classroom.
A simple idea is to choose topics that are relevant to your students' native cultures when selecting passages to read.
Scaffolding means that the material being taught is broken down in smaller chunks of information, preventing ESL students and their peers from being overwhelmed by a lot of information at one time. For example, the teacher may spend a few days introducing words on vocabulary cards. She may then ask students to find synonyms and antonyms for the words. ESL students can be partnered with more proficient students to complete this task. Then, students may read a text that uses those vocabulary words.
- Use vocabulary cards to introduce new vocabulary to students as well as review vocabulary. There are a number of ways to create vocabulary cards. The easiest way may be to write the word on one side of an index card and on the other side write a definition.
- To improve your vocabulary cards, link vocabulary words and concepts to images and ideas with which the student is already familiar. For example, an ESL student may not be familiar with the word automobile but she has likely seen one. The teacher may find a picture of an automobile and display it along with the word. This gives students a point of reference.
- Personal vocabulary books allow students to be creative while learning the new vocabulary at the same time. Students can write each vocabulary word in their books, then draw pictures of images that they associate with each word. For example, if one of the vocabulary words is mammal, the student may draw a picture of an elephant, a cat, and a deer, or whatever other animals that they connect with mammal. This allows students to draw on their background knowledge.
- Provide students with multiple examples of the vocabulary word used in a sentence. Presenting a word in different ways gives more students the opportunity to understand it.
- Practice vocabulary with fill in the blank sentences, which gives students the opportunity to use the vocabulary in context. Going back to the word automobile, you could give students the sentence, Some people ride in an ( ) to get to school. Students will put the vocabulary word automobile in the blank space.
- Another easy way to practice vocabulary words is matching vocabulary words to definitions.
- A word wall is a visual teaching tool that is often used to teach subject-specific vocabulary or specialized vocabulary that students will need to learn in order to understand the material that they will be reading. The simplest way to create a word wall is to teach the word or words to the students first, then write each word on a piece of card stock and taped to a designated wall in the classroom. Similar to word walls, you may use word clusters or mind maps, which are collections of related words.
ESL instructional strategies are important in order for ESL students to be successful in the classroom. Vocabulary instruction is critical for students who have limited or no exposure to the English language. Teachers will need to provide sheltered instruction, build students' background knowledge and implement supportive practices so that all students can access the curriculum.
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