Vocabulary Assessments for ELL Students

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.

For English Language Learners (ELLs), vocabulary is the basis for learning English. In this lesson, teachers will learn about how to use a variety of vocabulary assessments specifically designed for ELLs.

Vocabulary and ELLs

When learning a new language, people often focus primarily on vocabulary. While not sufficient on its own, a strong vocabulary is a necessary foundation for successful acquisition of a new language. Assessing a student's vocabulary level can be accomplished in a number of practical and effective ways. As you review the vocabulary assessment suggestions in this lesson, be sure to choose the ones that will most likely benefit your students and encourage them to continue making progress.

As the teacher, you can decide whether to use these vocabulary assessments to determine official scores and grades or as a way to informally check and review student comprehension. All of these assessments can be given either orally or on paper, depending on your preference. Also, don't forget to adjust the difficulty level to fit the needs of your ELLs.

Synonym Quiz

A strong knowledge of synonyms is vital to increase fluency. Many ELLs may know how to ask where the toilet is, but the person they ask may reply with a word like 'bathroom', 'WC', 'loo', 'washroom', etc. The use of synonyms in conversation can be confusing for an ELL, but a solid understanding of synonyms can mitigate this concern.

For this assessment, you will need to prepare a list of common words and an accompanying list of possible synonyms. For example,

  • Street
    • Road, avenue, way, boulevard, highway, freeway, lane, drive, etc.
  • Automobile
    • Auto, car, truck, van, semi, motorcycle, scooter, etc.
  • Party
    • Get-together, shindig, ball, event, celebration, bash, gathering

Either orally or on paper, give your students a list of the common words you have chosen. Their task is to respond with as many synonyms as possible. This assessment is also a great way to identify and correct common errors.

Multiple Choice Quizzes

No doubt you've used multiple choice quizzes before, but when used to assess vocabulary, the questions are formulated a little differently. There are two basic ways to do this.

Matching a Term to a List of Definition Choices

  • Confusion
    • A. A feeling of loneliness
    • B. Lack of clarity (correct)
    • C. A type of insurance
    • D. A happy feeling

Matching a Term to a Specific Usage or Meaning Based on a Sentence

  • My alarm goes off every morning at 7:00 am. In this sentence, alarm means:
    • A. Being scared of waking up
    • B. A feeling of excitement or urgency
    • C. A sound used to wake a person from sleep (correct)
    • D. A sound that warns of danger

A multiple choice vocabulary assessments is a great way to review a lesson or check for comprehension. Be sure to use the results to review problem words and clear up any confusion. To extend this assessment, you can have students write their own multiple choice quizzes to share with each other.

Fill-in-the-Blank Quizzes

Fill-in-the-blank assessments are a great way to test the meaning and usage of a word and are relatively easy to prepare. The key with this assessment is to stress the significance of the missing word. For example, in this sentence, the student would have to insert a word that means the opposite of 'loved', as shown after the sentence.

  • Even though her sister Billie loved sports, Jane _____ them.
    • Even though her sister Billie loved sports, Jane (disliked, hated, loathed, abhorred, etc.) them.

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