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.
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.
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.
Several years ago, a mentor approached me with an opportunity for which she thought I had just the skill set. It was a far stretch from my comfort zone and my knee-jerk reaction was to reply with a “thanks, but no thanks.” You see, this was at a time when I was just a little seedling of a teacher leader. I was growing, absolutely, but I was still nestled safely beneath the surface, not yet ready to push through the ground and share with the world who I am, what I know, and what I think.
Despite my reluctance, and inspired by the confidence of someone I respected immensely, I applied to be part of a cohort of teachers who were tasked with blogging about standards for learning, instructional best practices, assessment strategies, and basically anything to do with the how-to’s of being an effective practitioner. As a fourth year teacher, what I didn’t know far exceeded what I did, but I was obsessed with learning about learning and I had an insatiable appetite for books, articles, and blogs that discussed how to be a better teacher. Because of this, I accepted the position and felt mildly confident (at the time, that was a big deal) in my ability to put something out into the world that at least one person could find beneficial.
Until it came time to write my first post.
I came to writing books for kids through a very peculiar path. My journey began when my son discovered Minecraft.
According to Common Sense Media, “Minecraft is an open-ended, exploration- and creation-focused environment. Players can create items and buildings from scratch using materials they harvest from the world around them.” My son was very eager to be a part of this new phenomenon. In fact, if you asked him, he’d tell you he had to have it or he was going to die!
My wife and I put up a good fight, but our son was relentless. We ultimately caved and bought him the game. We were surprised and quite pleased with what he did with this new digital power. He built incredible structures, created cities and castles of glass, and floating giants. We’d never seen him so creative or engaged. It was fantastic.
As a sixth grade reading teacher, I’m always trying to think of ways to keep my students motivated. As a veteran teacher, I’m always trying to think of ways to stay current in my practice. This year, as a Teaching Channel Laureate, I decided that I’d experiment with blogging myself, then give my students the opportunity to become bloggers.
Earlier this year, I worked with my students to ask questions using Blooms Taxonomy in order to have deep discussions about text. My next goal was to have my students get those deep discussions into written form, without feeling as though they had to write a “paper.” Blogging seemed to be one possibility. Blogs represented a venue for my students’ writing, a way to solicit responses, and a move into a modern form of communication.
First, though, I had to learn more about blogging. Once I did, I brought my new-found knowledge into the classroom.
As a kindergarten and 1st grade teacher, I loved helping kids learn how to read. The joy in their faces as they sounded out words was priceless. I lived to see kids exclaim, “I can read!” But it wasn’t just about learning how to read. It was even more important to me to help my students develop a love of reading.
I read rich and captivating stories to my class every day, hoping to show students that reading can be magical and entertaining. I encouraged parents to read with their kids nightly, creating more opportunities for kids to see reading as fun. For families who didn’t have books at home, I sent home picture books from our classroom library. Above all, my goal was for kids to read many different books in many different settings.
So needless to say, I’m incredibly excited about the Billion eBook Gift, of which Teaching Channel is a proud partner, beginning on December 1st (#GivingTuesday). It’ll be the largest gift of books in history, with a billion classic eBooks given to families across the nation. This will be a great resource to pass on to families at your school! This gift was created to ensure that all children have access to high-quality books at home. Every family who signs up at BillionBookGift.com can get a free library of 50 classic children’s eBooks absolutely free. You’ll be able to access the books via desktop computer, your Apple or Android phone, and via iPads and tablets.
There are lessons we teach and lessons that teach us. It’s especially wonderful when those two maxims intersect.
The request started simply enough: “Sarah, would you be willing to come to our school district and teach our students? We love watching you in your classroom, but our teachers want to see how those lessons would work with our kids.” I jumped. What an opportunity to think about teaching from such a unique vantage point. So, the partnership with Tulare County Schools began and we turned this request into an incredibly unique professional learning opportunity for their teachers.
To jump-start the beginning of the school year, the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) has released seven back-to-school mini-task collections that give teachers instructional items they can add to their arsenal of worthwhile resources.
For those of you unfamiliar with LDC, it’s a community of educators who are using a teacher-designed framework to create literacy-rich assignments. The collections in this new release include the works of contributors from across the nation who thrive on creating worthy learning experiences for students. So what’s in this back-to-school set of collections, you ask? Let’s dive in.
Editor’s Note: Teaching Channel has partnered with Student Achievement Partners on a blog series about digital literacy tools and their effective use by educators.
The majority of the tools mentioned in this post and the four earlier posts in our series, transform the student experience from passive consumers of information to active creators of content, employing multiple English Language Arts standards and skills along the way.
We firmly believe this ought to be the new norm in the modern classroom. Kids have access to information; we must teach them how to navigate a world constantly evolving where content is at their fingertips. The traditional application of ELA isn’t enough for future-ready learners. We would argue our students read and write more now than they ever have before — between texting, social media, gaming, and everything else they do in their digitally fueled, online lives. Our vision must evolve to incorporate a new approach to literacy instruction, one in which technology becomes an accelerator to personalize and create meaningful learning contexts.