Friday, August 3, 2012


Students will start back to school shortly and among them will be many academically struggling students.  With Common Core Standards being rolled out this year in many parts of the country, students will be undertaking tasks far more academically challenging than those in the past.  The need to do more independent work will be new to many of them.  Teamwork will also be a focus.  Here the group is confronted with a problem that they must solve as a team.  Each member of the group contributes possible solutions to the problem along with evidence to back up their ideas.  This is the goal of CCSS--- to prepare our students to succeed in life beyond high school be it in the global workforce or in college. 

In doing research or following academic lectures in content classes, students will encounter academic vocabulary that will be totally unfamiliar to them.  Of course, developing techniques to share with students to overcome this obstacle will fall on their teachers:)  There are specific strategies which address this issue with relative ease.  In fact, most teachers are familiar with some if not most of them. 

Based on the article STRATEGIES FOR VOCABULARY DEVELOPMENT FOR ELLS AND STRUGGLING STUDENTS and my own experience in teaching such students, the following approaches DO NOT WORK:

1.  Use the dictionary to find the meaning.  Copying down the definition is pointless.  No connection is  being made between the word and the student's background knowledge.
2.  Write a sentence using the word in it.  If this is done before the meaning of the word (within context) is made clear, it is not effective.
3.  Take note of the context in which the word is found.  This approach only really works when a student brings background knowledge to the reading passage in which the word is found.  Since the context is totally unfamiliar, such an activity would serve little benefit to the student.
4.  Memorize the definitions.  Students are highly unlikely to remember word lists and definitions.  Think back to the vocabulary tests you took in school.  The isolated words had no connection to anything studied.  You memorized them for the test and that was all.

What DOES work?
1.  Tie new vocabulary to what students already know.  Activate prior knowledge and help students make connections to it.
2.  Use the new words repeatedly in different formats so that students can eventually internalize the definitions. 
3.  Provide many opportunities for the students to use the new words in reading, writing, and academic discussions.  By taking this approach, teachers are broadening their academic vocabulary bases.  As this base grows,  it leads to better writing and easier access to demanding reading assignments.
4.  Bring in word parts in context.  The more word parts (affixes) students know, the broader their vocabulary becomes.
5.  Use dictionaries aimed at second language learners.  Longman, Cengage Learning, and Oxford have excellent dictionaries for ELLs (beginning through advanced).  These dictionaries have clear examples, CDs, and workbooks.  Struggling native speakers would benefit from them also.
6.  Identify the MUST-KNOW words and teach those.  If teaching a science class, narrow down the vocabulary to 7-10 absolutes a week.  The other vocabulary can be talked through by the teacher when they are encountered.
7.  Point out antonyms, synonyms, examples and non-examples when teaching vocabulary.  In doing so, students will be able to establish more connections between known and new.

This article has even more on this topic.  The ones above I have used and with success:)



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