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Vocabulary: Current Theory and Promising Practices for the Elementary ESL Classroom Sheri Sather

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1 Vocabulary: Current Theory and Promising Practices for the Elementary ESL Classroom Sheri Sather

2 How much is enough?  6,000 to 8,000 word families to interact with spoken text  8,000 to 9,000 word families to interact with written text (Nation, 2006)

3 What does that mean in elementary school?  A 4 th grade reading program contains 84% of the vocabulary that a student will be expected to master by the time he or she finishes high school. (Zeno, et. al 1995)

4 What that looked like for my students in their classes…  Students in 3rd grade and higher were getting lists of vocabulary words to study. These were words like ‘coronation’, ‘impediment’ and ‘minotaur’.  However, my students did not know the vocabulary from the definitions. (royalty, mythology, etc.)


6 We’re not talking about the same thing!  Although both ESL teachers and regular classroom teachers are teaching ‘vocabulary’, we mean vastly different things when we say the word ‘vocabulary’.  I think that they are teaching ‘aspirational vocabulary’, and I am teaching ‘essential’ vocabulary.

7 What is easier to learn?  Nouns are easiest.  Adverbs are most difficult. (Laufer, 1990)  In my research, teachers never chose an adverb as a word that a student might not understand. However, my students have so much difficulty with words like ‘usually’. This was a large perception gap.

8 Using translations to learn vocabulary…  L1 is active in lexical processing, and students think it is helpful, so we might as well use it in teaching. (reported in Schmitt, 2009)  Using L1 glossaries in the margins of text or bi-lingual dictionaries is a good way to form initial word-meaning relationship.

9 Teach form in addition to meaning  The word-meaning relationship is not more important than teaching the form of the word.  Spelling and pronunciation cause trouble with use of words, so they need to be explicitly taught. (Laufer, 1988)

10 Choosing what to teach…  “Addressing words in semantic families with two or more members from among the most frequently used words in written language, a curriculum can be more efficient…” (Hiebert, 2005)  In addition, students need vocabulary from areas of study such as science, math and social studies.

11 A Frequency Dictionary of Contemporary American English  It includes collocates.  It also includes special lists such as the most frequently mentioned animals, phrasal verbs or terms for family members.

12 3 questions to ask to help choose what to teach in a particular text  #1 What unknown words might students be able to associate with already known words? This is a good place to let students make L1 connections, or the place to give short, simple definitions using words they already know.

13 Question #2  Which words in the text have derivatives that are frequent in students’ reading and writing? For example, if students know the word ‘remember’ and the text includes words like ‘memorial’ or ‘remembrance’, making this connection explicit is a good way to expand their vocabulary.

14 Question #3  Which words will students need support with because of multiple meanings? (Hiebert, 2005) For example, the phrase ‘force of arms’ was confusing to 6 th graders who didn’t know arms as anything other than body parts.

15 What does it take to acquire a new word?  It takes from 7 to 12 instructional encounters for a student to get real ownership of a word (Stahl, 1988).  This includes instruction in not only what a word means, and how it is used but also ‘deep’ encounters that require creativity and connection to prior knowledge (Nagy, 2005).

16 Learning by ‘exposure’  The chances of learning the meaning of a word by one exposure to it in text is about 15% (Swanborn & deGlopper, 1999).  However, rich exposure is essential in building vocabulary, but it grows slowly over time and through repeated encounters in different contexts (Nagy, 2005).

17 What is ‘rich exposure’ if a student is not able to read extensively? Young learners  Read alouds  Imaginative play  Storytelling Older, non-proficient readers  Classroom discussions  Read alouds

18 ‘Text Talk’ with read alouds 1. Explain the word. 2. Give an example or two of the meaning. 3. Give some instances than may or may not be examples of the word. Students give feedback. 4. Students give examples. Ask other students to see if the example fits. (McKeown & Beck, 2003)

19 Generating rich connections  When teaching vocabulary, it’s important to go beyond simple definitions and connections. Learners should create connections between this new thing and what they already know.  Discussion is a powerful way to do this. ‘Real’ discussion (rather than teacher-led turn taking) is best for this if the environment is accepting and open. (Stahl, 2005)

20 A good program will…  Teach individual words  Provide exposure to rich language  Support generative word knowledge (Nagy, 2005)

21 Developing generative word knowledge Using vocabulary we know, and what we know about vocabulary, to learn new vocabulary Understanding context and developing ‘word consciousness’

22 80% of affixed words come from… These 11 prefixes Un, re, in (im, il, for ‘not’), dis, en (em), non, in (im), over, mis, sub, pre suffixes -s (es), -ing, -ed, -ly -er, or (agent) -ion (-tion, -ation, - ition)

23 Easy (or lazy) solution… on Teachers Pay Teachers…Poster set includes definitions, examples in sentences.

24 A spiraling process  The more vocabulary students learn, the better they will be able to read.  The better they read, the more they will read.  The more they read, the more vocabulary they learn. (Nagy, 2005)

25 However, knowing the ‘words’ is not enough… Students also need to be able to recognize where their understanding of reading breaks down if they don’t know a word. Then they need to be able to use meta- cognitive strategies to fix the problem before picking up the meaning again. So part of improving vocabulary is improving skills in figuring out words in context since students need to be learning as they read.

26 And still not enough…  Students need to have the background knowledge to understand the text. Words alone do not constitute background knowledge.  Reading is especially helpful in developing and enriching partially known vocabulary (Schmitt, 2009)

27 Combine cognitive and meta-cognitive techniques  All the researchers that I read agreed that there is no one ‘best way’ to learn or teach vocabulary. Instead we need to use every good way.  They also agreed that students need to learn both cognitive strategies and meta- cognitive strategies to be most successful.

28 Effective cognitive strategies  Vocalizing  Collocations  Writing  Rehearsing

29 Effective Meta-cognitive strategies  Testing (using test prep ‘stress’)  Students setting goals for learning (such as setting a number of new words to learn in a week)  Consciously linking new words to words they know  Using mind trap tricks like writing silly, gross or funny stories using the words

30 Don’t do this…  Using lists of related words (think a list of all the parts of an engine) helps to create confusion in the word-meaning relationship and hurts a student’s ability to retain vocabulary.  This includes teaching antonyms together. The suggestion is to teach the more common one of the pair first, and add the opposite later.

31 What I learned…  I need to provide explicit instruction in cognitive and meta-cognitive strategies to learn vocabulary, and understand vocabulary in context and also provide explicit and systematic instruction on specific vocabulary words that are frequently used in academic texts.

32 A bit of classroom based research They don’t know as much as anyone thinks they know.

33 The information I gathered…  I asked 6 teachers to give me copies of 2 assignments that they would be doing with their class and to highlight the words they thought their ELLs would not know.  I took those and interviewed the students, asking them to define words in the work.  If they had some idea of what the word meant, I counted it as ‘knowing’. If they could explain the word using the context of the work, it also counted as ‘knowing’ it.

34 What I found…  Every teacher overestimated the students’ knowledge.  In most of the papers, the students had trouble with 2 - 3x more words than their teachers anticipated.

35 Also…  Students knew very few of the instructional vocabulary (explain, compare, describe, etc.), but no teacher chose any of those words as words that would be difficult for students.  This was true of kindergarteners and 5 th and 6 th graders.

36 Also…  The students all said they felt comfortable asking their teachers questions, and the teachers felt like students were coming to them with questions.  However, students also admitted that they didn’t want to ask too many questions or questions that they felt would make them look stupid.  The older students tended to ask fewer questions overall.

37 I have changed my instruction…  I’ve been modeling and having students practice more active ways of asking for vocabulary help. “Does xx mean xxx?” “Could you tell me an example of xxx?”

38 Also…  I’m including much, much more explicit instruction in vocabulary for instructions. For example, we’ll read two paragraphs and read one set of instructions. Students need to decide which paragraph is following the instructions. (Compare character x and character y’s motive. Give examples for your ideas.)

39 For the future…  When I have a bit of time, I plan to make a diagnostic that I can give to all students at the beginning of the year for essential academic vocabulary. I want to give this to the student’s teacher so they will better understand the student’s needs.

40 Vocabulary Learning Strategies Lower Elementary

41 Storybook Reading…  The most important element in storybook reading in vocabulary development is the interaction between the teacher and the students.  The book serves as a stimulus around which a high level conversation takes place. (Biemiller, 2001)

42 CAR Talk Method  C= competence questions (Can you find the X in the picture? Who said X?)  A= abstract thinking (What will happen next? What is that character thinking?)  R= relate talk (How is that character like you? What would you do?)

43 Supplying definitions… Stopping a story to supply definitions is also effective in teaching new vocabulary and is much more effective than reading a story through without comment.

44 Reuse those words… Whole class or center activities such as retellings of the story, word or picture sorts, word walls, etc. are helpful in getting to the needed number of interactions. All activities are more useful if they are used systematically over the year.

45 This book explicitly explains 440 of these. This includes an index by animal. Animal idioms are everywhere, and they can be SO confusing. ** index of animals and related idioms so that students can look up items on their own ** simple definitions For example: “in two shakes of a lamb’s tail” = quickly Eager beaver= enthusiastic person Busy beaver= busy person

46 For younger students…  Choose an animal with several idioms. (There are 12 cow and bull idioms, for example.)  A pair of students acts out the idiom and the class guesses which one it is and class discusses the meaning of the idiom.

47 For older students…  I keep the book in the reference section because so many novels and even story books use animal idioms.

48 Teaching students to ‘grade’ readers for themselves  This technique comes from Judy Freeman’s workshops on children’s literature:  Scan a page of a book and hold up a finger for each word you don’t’ know. If you run out of fingers before the end of the page, you may want to put the book back because you want to challenge yourself, not drive yourself crazy.

49 Songs and Chants  Jazz Chants by Carolyn Graham (On her website, there is info on how to write good chants on your own!)

50 Ella Jenkins  The words are clearly enunciated; the songs tend to be very repetitive, so they are easy for students to master. Then we can change it up with different vocabulary. (Follow the Leader is awesome for teaching body parts and actions.)

51 Using pictures to develop descriptive vocabulary and to practice making inferences  Students describe the picture in detail. For k’s the teacher can take dictation, but the descriptions must include color, texture, size, shape, brightness, etc.  Students need to be able to make inferences to read well, so after they describe the picture, they make inferences about it. “I think _____ because __________.”


53 Focusing on form… I HATED spelling activities as a student; I’m a terrible speller still, so I take advantage of games to enforce the spelling aspect of vocabulary learning. Spelling City is a site with free and paid apps. I put in 5 words for kindergarteners and let them play games like hangman with the words for a few minutes.

54 Vocabulary Learning Strategies Upper Elementary

55 Provide opportunities for students to elaborate vocabulary knowledge (Schmitt, 2009) Using the novel, Wonderstruck by Brian Seltzer, got my students looking for new vocabulary and trying out new vocabulary in creative ways. The novel has two stories; one is told in drawings; the other is written.

56 Telling the story of Rose Students take turns ‘telling’ the illustrated story (by chapter). Because of the way the two stories parallel each other, it is very important for the details to be included. For example, what is the time period? Students would need to look up clothing styles to know that and narrate well.

57 Preparing to narrate…  Students search the pictures for information and prepare by taking notes on details they want to include.  They can consult dictionaries, Wikimedia or other resources to make sure they are clear.  Because other students are not looking at the pictures, there is a lot of good discussion.

58 Tips on Teaching Vocabulary (Schmitt, 2009)  Integrate new words with old  Provide numerous encounters with a word  Promote a deep level of processing  Make new words "real" by connecting them to the student's world in some way  Provide opportunities for developing fluency with known vocabulary

59 Definition: Definition in my own words: Words that have similar meanings: Words that are opposites: Sentence where I found the word: This word is academic/ conversational/ both. This word has only one meaning. It has several meanings. It has positive/ negative connotations. It is abstract/ concrete. You’ll often find this word in these phrases: Personal Example Sentence The WORD: _______________________________ Date I found the word: ______________________ Date when I KNEW the word: ________________

60 Using the worksheet  The worksheet is completed over a number of classes.  The student decides when the word is ‘known’. After that, it can be tested at any time. The ‘test’ is writing a short story using 2-4 words randomly chosen by the teacher. The sillier the story, the better!  Worksheets are also used for students to teach each other new words.

61 Incorporating vocabulary instruction with novel reading For each chapter or set of chapters: 1. Give a list of words from the chapter that they ‘need’ to know. First, have each individual put a check by each word they ‘know’, an x by each word they ‘think they know’. 2. Put them in pairs and have them help each other out. Monitor because they are frequently wrong.

62 Quick and dirty glossary  I give them a glossary for each chapter. I put the words in order that they will encounter them.  The definition is simple and hopefully short and explains the word for the context.  If the word has multiple meanings or is used in an unusual way, I put an * on it so that they don’t overgeneralize the meaning.  It sounds very time consuming, but I do it as habit while I’m reading the chapter now.

63 Padlet  This is web tool is completely free; the pages are never deleted, and it is so easy to make a page!  I use it for anything, story book to novel, to get students acquainted with the vocabulary and context before we read.  Older students can take turns making the Padlet for a chapter as an assignment.

64 Reading chapter 1  Reading the first chapter in a novel takes a LONG time, and a lot of that time is spent in vocabulary development.  To activate schema, we discuss genre, themes we might encounter, etc.

65 References  Dreyer, C., & Brits, J. (2013). Memory strategies and ESL vocabulary acquisition. Per Linguam, 10(1). doi:  Zhang, W. (2009). Semantic prosody and ESL/EFL vocabulary pedagogy. TESL Canada Journal, 26(2), 1+. Retrieved from %7CA219012095&v=2.1&u=tel_a_ttul&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asi d=ac9da0821d4189d6d3f6787c8bfc7e23 %7CA219012095&v=2.1&u=tel_a_ttul&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asi d=ac9da0821d4189d6d3f6787c8bfc7e23  Schmitt, N. (2009). Teaching vocabulary. ESL Magazine, (67), 9+. Retrieved from %7CA193178391&v=2.1&u=tel_a_ttul&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asi d=edd0c3f1f2221e430924073cab0017f9


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