Top Five Vocabulary Strategies for English Language Learners

English Language Learners

50,000 words by high school graduation.

That’s the challenge English Language Learners (ELLs) face if they want to catch up to their native English-speaking classmates. That’s almost 4,000 new words a year if a student begins school as a kindergartner!

But what about the English Language Learners who don’t enroll until middle school or high school? For these students, the vocabulary challenge is even more demanding. To meet it, teachers must learn and use the most effective strategies. Over the years, I’ve tried many different approaches and techniques and compiled the following list of my top five favorite vocabulary strategies for ELLs.

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Using Shared Structures to Build Literacy

5 Essential Practices for Teaching ELLs

Students at San Francisco International High School (SFIHS) come to us from all over the world. They come from the megalopolises of Hong Kong and Mexico City, from the deserts of Yemen and the high steppe of Mongolia. They come speaking the ancient indigenous languages of Central America, as well as the cosmopolitan slang of bustling cities of Asia, Europe, and South America.

Some students come to us alone, without parents or family to support them in their new lives in the United States. Some come after attending prestigious schools in their home countries, while others enter school for the first time in their lives the day they walk through our doors.

SFIHS has served hundreds of immigrant and refugee students over the past eight years; even though each brings their own experience from their distinct corner of the world, they have one thing in common: they come to us to learn English and to graduate from high school.

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Video Playlist: Five Essential Practices for the High School ELL Classroom

Teaching Channel and the San Francisco Unified School District have partnered to share practices for engaging and supporting all students, especially English Language Learners (ELLs). In the first part of this series, we visited two elementary classrooms to watch teachers put the district’s recommended five essential practices into action (For more on these practices, read Lisa Kwong’s blog post).

In the second part of the series, we visit San Francisco International High School, a small school that serves recently arrived immigrant youth and is a member of the Internationals Network for Public Schools. There is so much to learn about teaching ELLs, especially newcomers, from stepping inside the classrooms in this high school.

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Video Playlist: Eight Ways to Engage Your ELLs

Tch Video Lounge 2.0 Blog

Teaching English Language Learners (ELLs) is important, rewarding, and often challenging work. In fact, teaching in general is all three of those things as well! So, while it’s true that teaching practices that are great for ELLs are great for all students, many educators and districts with growing numbers of ELLs are focusing their professional learning and resource creation on supporting ELLs. In that spirit, Teaching Channel is bringing you new a set of interactive videos in Tch Video Lounge, developed in partnership with Oakland Unified School District, so that you and your colleagues can hone in on key shifts, practices, and strategies for teaching and learning with ELLs.

The footage for these new videos comes from a series we produced with Oakland last year, Content Conversations: Strategies for ELLs. In that series, we visited the classrooms of elementary and high school teachers taking on the challenge of integrating language instruction for their ELLs during content instruction. There was so much to learn from these educators and so much amazing footage that was left on the cutting room floor! Now, you get to see and discuss some of that unedited footage in these eight new interactive videos. Here are the topics we can explore together.

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Finding the Voice of English Learners

English Language Learners

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the famous American poet, once said, “The human voice is the organ of the soul.” As a teacher, this quote speaks to me and reminds me that one of my greatest responsibilities as an educator is to encourage all of my students to find their voices and learn how to use them. I also know, after having been in classrooms for over ten years, that this isn’t always an easy task.

While some students are eager to raise their hands and participate, others are happy to sit quietly and never say a word. This can be especially true of English learners, who are still learning a new language and may tremble in fear with the thought of making a mistake or embarrassing themselves in front of their classmates.

So what can we do as educators to ensure that all voices in our classrooms are heard?

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The Far Reaching Benefits of Co-Teaching for ELLs

English Language Learners

Co-teaching has recently become a hot new buzzword in education; something at which veteran teachers might normally roll their eyes as they wait for the pendulum of best practices to swing back the other way.

After spending more than a decade serving English Language Learners, it’s a bandwagon that I’ve wholeheartedly jumped on. I’ve spent the last six years co-teaching my ELL students in a variety of settings — from self-contained and sheltered classrooms with push-in support, to a resource role where I pushed into several K-2 grade level classrooms.

My push-in support typically was scheduled during a balanced literacy block for an hour each day. As a resource teacher, I collaborated with my K-2 classroom teachers to provide literacy and language support during guided reading and Writer’s Workshop. As we became more comfortable as co-teaching partners, we expanded our work to include Problem Based Learning units in science and social studies, and technology integration with in-flipping and Google Tools.

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Strengthening Teaching and Learning for ELLs

5 Essential Practices for Teaching ELLs

Adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) calls for an increase of rigor for all students and the California English Language Development Standards (CA ELD Standards) provide guidance to ensure English learners have entry points into meaningful and intellectually challenging curricula. San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) serves approximately 57,000 English learners who make up about 25% of the student population. We believe English learners have the capacity to meet the expectations of the CCSS through instructional practices that provide intentional and strategic scaffolding and strategies that equip English learners with the skills to engage and communicate meaningfully and authentically.

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Video Playlist: Five Essential Practices in the Elementary ELL Classroom

5 Essential Practices for Teaching ELLs

In this new series, in partnership with San Francisco Unified School District, we step inside classrooms where teachers are using strategies to engage and support all learners, especially their English Language Learners (ELLs). In Part One of the series, we visit two elementary classrooms to see how teachers use the district’s recommended five essential practices to teach their students during designated English Language Development (ELD) time, as well as to integrate ELD into content. For more information on these practices, read Lisa Kwong’s blog post about the district’s ELL work.

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Reality Over Rhetoric! ELL & the Year Ahead

English Language Learners

A few days after the November election, I had a meeting with Angie Estonina and Lisa Kwong, two talented educators who lead professional learning efforts on ELLs for San Francisco Unified School District.

With our webcams on, the mood was a bit somber — the election talk of deportations, walls, and targeted registries hung in the air as the rhetoric suddenly became more real. In fact, it felt a bit suffocating. In education, we all have days when we feel weighed down by how much needs to be done and by our professional and personal puzzles, but the unknowns of impending political shift pushed on us from the sides, making us feel the squeeze of change.

I even started wondering if an upcoming presentation I was about to do in Canada on ELLs with school districts from Ontario/Montclair, California, and Yakima, Washington, was even relevant. In retrospect, it was incredibly sad to even think this. But this was my state of mind. It was easy to go there when the personal and professional intersects — my nine-year-old son who is of half Mexican descent asked if he was going to be deported. This was not a question I had at nine years old.

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ELLs: Perspectives and Pedagogy

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

Like most teachers across America, I have students that are described as English Language Learners (ELLs). It seems an opportune time to raise awareness among educators about the state of flux in the demography of learners in our classrooms and to offer research-based principles and approaches for their education.

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