Long term ELLs (those students who are still identified as English language learners after more than 7 years in the country) are struggling at best in mainstream classes. They come to class with conversational skills in place, but are 2-4 years behind in reading and writing skills. Coming to school with such major gaps in academic language leads to failing grades. Such low grades lead to high dropout rates from high school. Dropping out of school drastically limits life choices. No teacher wants a child to fail, but how can this special group not just survive in a mainstream class, but also thrive? One approach is to start building their knowledge of more academic language so that they can not only recognize it when they see it, but also use it in their speech (class discussions) and their writing (making solid arguments on paper).
So, how can the explicit teaching of vocabulary be addressed in class of 32?
First, teachers need to preview readings to identify those academic vocabulary words that will surface in other content areas (ex. compare, analyze, expect, decide, etc.). Ideally, if teachers share the same students, they could select common academic words that surface in all of their classes and draw student attention to them whenever they present themselves in a lesson. Also, such key academic vocabulary could be charted on butcher paper and placed in a very prominent place in class for ready reference. Each word listed there would be accompanied by a visual, a sentence (specific to the individual teacher's content), and possibly word parts (affixes: compare, comparatively, comparison---draw student attention to common word parts/affixes). Have students write those words, use them in academic discussions, understand them when used in lectures, etc.
Second, with content classes, teachers must also identify key vocabulary specific to the course. For example, if teaching biology, what are 10 key vocabulary words a student must know in a week long lesson? Presenting that student with a list of 40+ words per week to master in order to pass the class (slight exaggeration here) is an overwhelming situation for the long-term ELL. Teachers don't need to compromise on the concepts delivered in the lesson, but instead they must decide on what words are absolutes (i.e. "must be taught and memorized") vs. what words can just be explained quickly in the reading. Concept maps on large sheets of butcher paper build mental links for ELLs. Having students develop these maps (under teacher supervision to make sure that they are accurate) will stimulate academic conversation, involve the kinesthetic learner, the visual learner also artist, and the auditory learner as s/he listens and responds to the discussion on layout of the map. Teachers can then draw student attention to the concept maps throughout the week to build academic key vocabulary background. When the week is over, teachers should keep the sheets as a sort of "student-generated dictionary).
Third, teachers might wish to create tiered vocabulary lists. Tier one are the common words that most ELLs bring to class. It basically consists of the everyday language they use outside of school. On the other hand, tier two words are those words that teachers need to weave into the class to move students away from tier one words. Those are the words students need to use in academic settings. The same words they will on college applications or in the business world. If students don't learn these words in school, they will be at a distinct disadvantage in the real world. As tier two words are addressed, teachers address key content vocabulary aka tier three words. Tier three vocabulary consists of content specific vocabulary such as for biology: mitosis, photosynthesis, DNA, rh factor, etc.
Below are two sites that address the teaching of academic vocabulary. You may want to bookmark them for easy reference.
ELL TEACHER PROS
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