Larry Ferlazzo: Five strategies for ELL vocabulary instruction

Reading, writing, listening and speaking in a new language demands a number of prerequisites -- a desire to do so; a certain level of self-confidence; a supportive atmosphere and, of course, knowing the meaning of words in the new language.

 In other words, vocabulary.

Here are five of the many instructional strategies I and, I'm sure, many other teachers use when teaching vocabulary to English Language Learners. Most, if not all, incorporate the widely proven research that finds that physical movement and/or images strengthen second-language learning:
Personal Dictionaries: Each week students complete at least one of these "Four Word Sheets" where they identify...four new English words they have learned during the week from another class, our class, television -- from anywhere. It's composed of four of these sections which, as you can see in the image below, have spaces for the word and various representations/definitions of it. 
Students divide into small groups and teach and learn these words to each other, using the process as an opportunity to practice academic vocabulary:
John (holding up his sheet): Can you identify a word you like to learn?
Sue (pointing): Yes, can you define ___________(whatever word she chooses that is on John's sheet)?
Picture Word Inductive ModelI've previously written an extensive post about the Picture Word Inductive Model (PWIM), which is just about my favorite teaching strategy with Beginning English Language Learners.
Pre-Teaching:  Perhaps the most widely-used method, and a particularly effective one, is identify key words in an upcoming text that are probably new to students and then define those terms prior to reading the text. This strategy is also effective for teaching terms that, while they might not be found in an upcoming text, are important for learning upcoming concepts. For example, here's a pre-teaching sheet I use prior to beginning a unit on writing a problem/solution essay. 
I use this strategy by first placing the sheet on the overhead, pointing to each word, say it, and then ask students to repeat in unison. Afterwards, since our students often know more than we think, I give students a minute or two to review the list and see if they know what any of the words already mean. Then, after providing students time to share what they know with the class, we relatively quickly review the words and their meanings. "Relatively quickly" is an important idea to remember -- there are few activities as deadly to a class environment then spending an hour on a list of words. I once saw a teacher spend a half-hour on the definition of "expedition"! I fell asleep, not to mention the students!
After students read the text, I'll often ask them to go back and highlight the words we pre-taught. It's a way to reinforce their meaning and an excuse to revisit the text again with a new task.
Reinforcing Vocabulary Instruction Online: There are countless free online sites specifically for learning vocabulary in English, and most are organized thematically and provide audio and visual support for text. There are also similar sites specifically geared towards teaching academic language.   And, for some great fun as well as learning, it's hard to beat online hidden object games.
Creating Vocabulary Videos: Having students use either the Twitter app Vine or Instragram video to create very short creative definitions of words is a fun and reinforcing learning activity. Students can create simple storyboards, video using the Stop Action feature on both of the apps, and then post their finished creations on YouTube.
You can see many examples my students have created here, and the link below shows a sample related to our problem/solution essay unit:

What are your favorite vocabulary instruction strategies?
Larry Ferlazzo teaches English and Social Studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California.  He has written seven books on education, writes a teacher advice blog for Education Week Teacher, and has his own popular resource-sharing blog. He writes a monthly post for the New York Times on teaching English Language Learners. Portions of this post were adapted from the book, The ESL/ELL Teacher's Survival Guide, co-written by Katie Hull Sypnieski and Larry.
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