Building Vocabulary in English Language Learners Teachers who work with English Language Learners know that academic language takes longer to achieve proficiency in than does conversational language. On average, ELL students need at least two years to achieve conversational language and, five to nine years to develop academic language proficiency. Many English words ELL students are exposed to in school, they have not yet learned or even heard in their first language, which makes transference of knowledge impossible.
The vast differences in the ability to use conversational versus academic language can be a interference to these students and have lasting effects on their academics and therefore, their lives. I was interested in finding out how teachers can help ELL students to develop this type of vocabulary and whether or not there is a highly effective technique that can benefit every student in class. As classroom teachers we need understand the unique needs of our ELLs.
We need to understand that while they are just as capable as our native speakers, they are at a distinct disadvantage because of the amount of information they must process all at once that is in a language they do not fully understand. I have found that there are a number of ways that teachers can foster vocabulary growth in ELLs, I am going to focus on of the most effective: use of graphic organizers. What are graphic organizers? Graphic organizers are maps or charts that essentially reveal the organization of concepts and relationships of concepts in a straightforward manner.
They help to make information more precise by cutting out a lot of the small details to allow focus on key points. This helps to lower the cognitive load on ELLs allowing them to process less heavy amounts of information all at once, (Lee, 2007). This aspect of graphic organizers is critical for ELL students to understand challenging new ideas. It is common strategy to use visual aides with ELL students; graphic organizers are visual aides. More so, they are a visual aide that the student has a hand in creating as they enter information in their own words, this helps to make the link to the information more memorable.
A graphic organizer is also an effective study tool for an ESL student. The student can go back to the graphic organizer they created for a particular lesson to review key points and vocabulary, and even use them as they take notes from their texts. Traditionally, textbooks are written in a compare and contrast format, which is difficult for students that do not know English text to understand. Mastering this can help young learners to comprehend new information and increase vocabulary.
When a student’s understanding of academic words increases, so does the likelihood that they will participate in classroom activities. This is an all around positive, as participation improves so will, reading comprehension, social skills/self esteem, and vocabulary base. Understanding the importance of English text structure with regard to ELL students is vital to helping them understand complicated new information and recall vocabulary. ELL classroom teachers in grades K-3 should understand how important it is for these students to be introduced to informational text early in their academic careers.
These types of text structures offer opportunities to not only increase new knowledge and comprehension, but also increase vocabulary. While there are many types of academic text, I have chosen to focus on compare-contrast because, “research has suggested that, of the most common expository text structures, the compare-contrast structure may be one of the more difficult for students to navigate,” (Dreher & Gray, 2009). While compare-contrast structure can be difficult to master for some, it is a useful instructional tool for teachers of non-native English speakers.
Once students have a very basic understanding of this text structure teachers can use it to build bridges between a student’s prior academic knowledge and new information. Likewise, teachers can use information they know about students’ backgrounds to create connections between classroom content and the students ‘funds of knowledge,’ or home learned knowledge. As students increase their awareness of comparing and contrasting information they can use graphic organizers, such as Venn diagrams, KWL charts, or bubble maps, to organize new information.
Graphic organizers can be used across subject areas and find meaningful connections for each student. Another important use of graphic organizers is in the identification and organization of cognates, words in different languages that are derived from the same original word or root. “Note that about 40% of all English words have similar cognates in Spanish! This is an obvious bridge to the English language – if the student is made aware of how to use this resource,” (? Colorin Colorado! 2007).
With regard to vocabulary acquisition it is important that explicit instruction on what it means to compare and contrast is given. Students must understand that this means similarities and differences between at least two things. This can be accomplished in the classroom in centers, small group, and large group settings with the use of matching and mismatching (opposite) type games well, and flash cards with pictures on them that the students can sort into “similarity” groups and transfer to their graphic organizers.
Books read aloud that have two different but similar subjects are important, as they will allow for guided groups discussion and offer ELL students the opportunity to use newly gained academic vocabulary. Introducing academic text in the early grades is important. Graphic organizers are excellent tools to increase comprehension and vocabulary in young learners. While this is true for all students, it is vital for English Language Learners.
Compare and contrast is especially important because they are less likely to possess the vocabulary needed to comprehend informational text and therefore recall new vocabulary than their native English speaking peers. When they grasp the basics of this skill it is easier for them to make connections between their background knowledge and new content. Offering ELLs a way to organize new information is one way to help them achieve success and reach their full potential. Works Cited Dreher, M. J. , & Gray, J. L. (2009). Compare, contrast, comprehend: using compare-contrast text structure with ells in k-3 classrooms.
The Reading Teacher, 63(2), pp. 132-141. Early, Margaret. 1990b. Enabling First and Second Language Learners in the Classroom. Language Arts. Vol. 67, 567-575. Hall, T. , & Strangman, N. (2002). Graphic organizers. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum. Retrieved Nov 2011 from http://aim. cast. org/learn/historyarchive/backgroundpapers/graphic_organizers Lee, C. C. (2007). Graphic organisers as scaffolding for students’ revision in the pre-writing stage. In ICT: Providing choices for learners and learning.
Proceedings ascilite Singapore 2007. http://www. ascilite. org. au/conferences/singapore07/procs/lee-cc. pdf Smith, J. J. (2002). The use of graphic organizers in vocabulary instruction. M. A ResearchProject:KearnUniversity http://www. eric. ed. gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini. jsp? _nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED463556&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=ED463556 Unspecified organization author. ?colorin colorado! how vocabulary relates to ells. (2007). http://www. colorincolorado. org/educators/teaching/vocabulary/ [ return to top ]