Middle School ESL Vocabulary

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

One of the biggest concerns ESL (English as a Second Language) students have is learning and remembering English vocabulary. In this lesson, teachers are provided with classroom activities specifically targeted at ESL middle school students.

ESL Vocabulary in Middle School

The English fluency level of ESL middle schoolers can vary greatly. In your own classes, you may have students who range from beginner to advanced. But no matter the level of your learners, the vocabulary they learn is significant.

It's very important that students do not simply memorize vocabulary words. Rather, any new words should be practiced in real-life situations and contexts. When using the activities in this lesson, try to focus on the following points:

  • Correct pronunciation
  • Correct usage
  • Correct context
  • Correct spelling

English can sometimes be tricky and frustrating, especially when dealing with words that look the same, but sound different and have different meanings. Write the following word on the blackboard and ask ESL students how to say it and what it means.

  • Windy
    • How many students said windy as in breeze or gust?
    • How many students said windy as in a meandering river?

Tell your students to keep this example in mind as they come across new vocabulary words. Also, have students keep a word log in which they handwrite vocabulary words, definitions, and usage examples. You can collect these logs periodically to check progress or as a participation/homework assessment tool.

Engaging Reading

This activity challenges students to recognize and define specific words in a passage. It is helpful if every student is working from the same text like a textbook or novel, but it's not absolutely necessary.

  1. Tell students to turn to a specific page.
  2. Give the students a few minutes to read the page and circle all of the words they don't know.
  3. Take a poll to find both the lowest number of words circled and the highest number of words circled.
  4. Work through any unfamiliar words with the class and discuss how those words are used in the text. As you are doing this, be sure to elicit as many answers and as much information from the students as possible. Give them ample opportunity to answer their classmates' questions before you chime in.
  5. Repeat as many different times with as many different texts as you'd like!

Vocabulary Everywhere!

Using vocabulary correctly is the ultimate goal of many ESL students. One of the best ways to learn correctly is to see vocabulary naturally and in the world outside of a textbook.

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