Vocabulary Development - Identify & Activate

Teaching vocabulary to English language learners should start with identifying the 3-5 words in your keystone text to focus on. For English learners it helps to use a vocabulary word selection matrix. The words you want to spend the most time focusing on are your tier 2 and tier 3 words. Will they see the word across content areas and in this particular content area? How complex is the word? Is it conceptually abstract, polysemous and morphologically challenging? As a teacher of English language learners, you have to ask yourself these questions in order to identify how to spend your precious time and get the most “bang for your buck”.


Once you’ve identified the vocabulary words you want to spend your time on, now it is time to think about how to activate the words and “bring them to life.” Students need to make meaning of the words in order for the words to stay with them. One way to start activating words for students is by building a Cognitive Content Dictionary (CCD) Chart. It allows students to predict what the word means, find the definition, draw a picture, make a sentence, and identify any synonyms for the word. As an anchor chart student can use CCD charts to reference throughout the week. The anchor chart is a scaffold for many different levels of learners. For the most emerging language learners there are pictures and for advanced language learners they are connecting synonyms to the word. Another way to activate vocabulary for English language learners is by creating a hand motion to go along with the word (total physical response). When you are reading the keystone text and students hear the vocabulary word, they can do the motion that goes along with the word. Also, you as a teacher can incorporate the vocabulary words, motions, and definitions into your transitions. For example, you could use a vocabulary word as your signal word to line up. If the word is “idea”, You could say “idea” and the kids would respond while doing the designated motion and saying, “A thought or suggestion.”


The more opportunities you give English language learners to practice vocabulary the more ingrained it will become in their speech patterns. Our goal is to expand kid’s vocabulary and grow the words that they know and can utilize.

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