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.
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?
One thing we know for sure is that the world of the neatly compartmentalized content teacher has changed when it comes to teaching literacy. Whether tackling speaking and listening standards or student writing, many secondary teachers outside of ELA struggle with how to give appropriate and meaningful feedback to students through a literacy lens — which is not their specialty — and still meet the demands of their content area. The good news is most content teachers possess strong literacy skills. A few great strategies are all they need to feel more confident and help students grow as communicators and in content knowledge simultaneously.
In math class, we often see students pull numbers out of math problems and operate on them without thinking about the context. Many students arrive at an answer, but don’t realize their answer doesn’t make sense within the context of the problem.
When this happens, we’re left wondering many things that are extremely important in our future planning:
- Are they struggling with the math?
- Are they struggling with comprehension of the text?
- Are they making sense of the problem as mentioned in SMP1?
After reading Brian Bushart’s blog post, I’ve found that taking the numbers and questions out of the problem itself engages students in making sense of contexts. Students are then able to notice and wonder about the context without the worry of having to solve for something.
As students walk into school every fall, I focus on routines and procedures emphasizing classroom management. I have students repeatedly practice these expectations to effectively maintain a safe and engaging classroom. However, over the past few years, in addition to focusing on routines and procedures, I’ve become increasingly interested in the intentional and sustained engagement of students in critical conversations and curious thinking practices. Once students are engaged in the core of my content area, procedures make more sense and become embedded in the learning foundation already established.
The following strategies represent 5 ideas that will help to create engagement while also focusing on a sense of community in your classroom.
Most of us realize the importance of a warm-up to get our bodies and minds ready, whether we’re talking about exercising, singing, or learning. But what about the cool down? How you close a lesson is just as important as how you open it. Yet all too often, we run out of time. Or, we look at the clock, see our students are still working hard, and think to ourselves, why interrupt their flow? But there are proven benefits to taking even just one minute to wrap up a lesson.
In those last moments, you and your students have a chance to check for understanding, reflect on what you’ve learned, tie up loose ends, or make sure everyone is ready for the next part of the day. You could even just take a moment to breathe! If you’re looking for new ideas on how to wrap up your next lesson, here are five things you can try.
Attention getters, do nows, morning meetings, hugs, and high fives. These are often the ways teachers start their days. By now, you probably have your routines in place for how you start your day or class period. But sometimes it’s good to mix it up. Or maybe you’re looking for an exciting entrance to a specific lesson plan. Just like writers, teachers often need a hook!
Whether you’re mixing it up or just curious about what other teachers do, check out these five videos to see five different ways teachers start their lessons.