Boosting Vocabulary in Meaningful Ways for Your ELL/ESL Students
Many teachers have asked this question: "How can I boost my ESL students' vocabularies in a meaningful way?" Even though this may seem like a daunting task, there are several
resources and techniques that are effective and yield great results. In the following article, I
offer three fun ways to assist you in guiding your students through this lexicology maze!
First, encourage the exchange of ideas through cooperative learning
In Group Solutions: Cooperative Logic Activities for Grades K-4, Jan Goodman offers superb interactive games
that fuse learning activities with essential grade level vocabulary (Berkeley, 1997). Skills
like sorting, classifying, deductive reasoning, recognizing shapes and colors, and map reading
are covered through interactive critical thinking games that involve minimal reading. These
activities require students to share their thoughts with each other while naturally introducing
new and relevant content vocabulary. If the teacher is bilingual, then the students may try to
use the teacher as a translator. However, if the teacher returns the student to the group with
strategies to help him/her communicate, then the learning becomes quite powerful. Once
students have finished a pre-made activity or two, then they can cooperatively develop
an activity of their own using the completed ones as a model. This extension reinforces having to
recall and use the recently acquired vocabulary.
Next, increase sight vocabulary by creating a vocabulary door!
This idea comes from Wendy Durst, a third grade teacher in Longmont, CO. Introduce the door as a "game." As you add
words to the door, students will be able to hunt for the words in their reading. When they spot
a word, they show you, or record the spot where they saw the word. The recording can take
place at their desks, or underneath the word that you post on the door. Additional words can
be added as they come up in conversation, or in shared reading. Once a day, review the
words on the door by describing them in phrases. For example, "This word means 'brothers
and sisters.' The students would select "siblings" from the wall. You can connect their
success to points or make it an intrinsic reward. The results are amazing, because the
students own the words and they have a visual reminder of their success.
Finally, encourage students to read to and with each other using the
After two students read the same text in guided reading, or alone, they ask questions of each other that
can either be found in the book, or that require input from the student's understanding of what
they read. Because ESL students have a wide range of English oral language knowledge,
depending on their experiences, they do not often get the "gist" of the text. Holes can exist in
their understanding because of lack of vocabulary. Buddies can challenge each
other to discuss what they are reading at higher levels of critical thought that require a more
sophisticated language structure. Model good "buddy" reading strategies that incorporate
Question Answer Relationships (QAR). For more information on the QAR strategy refer to
Guided Comprehension: A Teaching Model for Grades 3-8 by Maureen McLaughlin and
Mary Beth Allen (2002, Delaware).
Whatever strategy you use, remember to have fun with it! Your students will take their word cues from you. If you're excited about
words, then they will be too!
Questions or comments? E-mail Tobey.