This word means…….

My class consists of 19 students, of which only 1 speaks English only in his household, and even he began his life in a bilingual environment. The other 18 speak at least one, if not two other languages in their homes. Most of my students speak Arabic, but many also speak French. I have 3 who speak French and not Arabic, 1 who speaks Spanish, and 1 who speaks a Philippine dialect. All of my students speak SOME English, but to varying degrees. My job is to teach them English, while also teaching them everything we normally teach in school (reading, writing, math, science, social studies etc.) Fortunately, I am certified to teach ESL and have some experience with English Language Learners. Due to my unique teaching position, I have had some readers ask for tips on teaching English Language Learners. So, from now on, I will now be doing a Teaching Tip Tuesday geared especially towards teaching English Language Learners. Here’s this week’s Tuesday TESOL Teaching Tip:

ELL Teaching Tip #5: Direct instruct ALL vocabulary

One thing I’ve learned from teaching English Language Learners (and living with one – English is my husband’s 5th language) is to never assume that a word is already in their vocabulary.  As I explained in Teaching Tip #1 – I have many kids who know understand the words ice crystals, plot sequence, hurricanes, equation, and molten lava, but don’t know what the words grape or pit mean.

As a first grade teacher, this makes teaching reading very interesting.  My students are quick to learn their sight words, and are getting good at sounding out.  However sounding out slug doesn’t do much good to a student who has no idea what a slug is.  One solution to this problem, as I mentioned in Teaching Tip #1, is to use pictures and graphics as much as feasible.  Another is to pick vocabulary out of every lesson possible and talk about meanings and connections.

When I’m doing vocabulary, I do a combination of pre-teaching and reviewing meaning, so here’s a quick look at both.


     Before teaching a story or a topic, I will introduce the vocabulary words that I think are important for the lesson.  Not too many, but the 5-7 words that are most important for students to gain meaning from the lesson.  (For animal characteristics, we talked about: coverings, nocturnal, habitat, pVocabularyGraphredator and prey.)  I will either add the words to our word wall, or write them on the board, and we will talk about their meanings as a group.  If possible, I will share graphics, and often the students will complete a graphic organizer using at least one word.  (Here is a graphic organizer I use with my older students – grades 2 and up.)

Reviewing Meaning

     After we have done our lesson, or read our story, I will stop and check for meaning by asking pointed comprehension questions or connecting idea questions.  Often during these questioning sessions, new words will come out that I used in the lesson or story and the students did not understand.  These words come from the students, as they say “Ms. Raki, what’s a ……”, or give me that blank stare when I ask a comprehension question.  (For animal characteristics, the words that came from the students as not understood were:  scales, claws, wings, nectar, burrow and centipede.)  We attack these words with the same emphasis as the pre-teaching vocabulary words, because they are just as important.  I will use graphics or help students make connections.  For certain words, I will try to provide a translation in their home language if I know it, or have another person of the same home language in the room.  (See Tip #9 for my take on using home language with English Language Learners.)

No matter how you choose to teach vocabulary, know that English Language Learners will be lacking in this area, so it is very important to teach it directly, and not assume that they will know the meaning of these words.

Do you want more TESOL Teaching Tips – check back each Tuesday for more. Also, check out my previous tips:

Teaching Tip #1 – Use Graphics

Teaching Tip #2 – Talk Slowly 

Teaching Tip #3 – Let Them Talk

Teaching Tip #4 – Correct, but Don’t Overcorrect



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About rakisradresources

teacher mother of 3 wife

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