As you have probably noticed with your ELLs, there is quite a difference in an ELLs’ conversational vocabulary compared to their academic vocabulary. According to Jim Cummins (1984), BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) refers to ELLs’ conversational, or social vocabulary, whereas CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency) refers to academic, content specific vocabulary. BICS generally takes an ELL about 1-3 years to develop, while CALP can take up to 5-7 years. We can help our ELLs grow in their CALP with quality, thoughtful vocabulary instruction. Below are 5 tips for building your ELLs’ academic vocabulary.
1. BE SELECTIVE.
Be selective about which words you choose to take the time to teach. It is important to choose words that are truly important to content area comprehension. For example, when reading a passage on sharks with your 3rd graders, would students need to know a technical word like oxygenated to truly understand the content? Probably not. This is called an incidental word. Incidental words are words that will not interfere with a student’s comprehension even if a he or she does not know its meaning. Instead, focus on words like gills, predator, camouflage, senses, species, and migrate. These are words that will aid in students’ reading comprehension on the sharks reading passage, as well as help them to comprehend a wide variety of future academic content.
Note: I find that the magic number of words to introduce at once is around 3-7. Introducing too many words at once can be very overwhelming and therefore not as effective.
2. PREVIEW VOCABULARY.
Although especially helpful for your ELLs, previewing vocabulary is really helpful to all of your learners. There are so many ways of doing this from simply writing new words on the board and discussing them, to having students interact with the words as an entire lesson gearing up for the content. Below is a preview page I use very often with my students prior to reading. I will either give it to them already pre-filled in or I give them a blank one, depending on how much time we have and how difficult the words are.
When we work together to fill in a blank chart, I like to keep the students involved as much as possible in coming up with a definition and example, and then we discuss different options they could use for their visual. If I don’t have a blank page specific to a reading passage, I have generic templates made with a simple chart for the word, a visual, and what it means. I have students keep these templates in their academic vocabulary notebooks that are sectioned off by content area (pictured below).
3. USE VISUALS.
Having many visuals available for your ELLs is key to fostering independence on content area tasks. Some visuals I find to be extremely helpful are flashcards, posters and word walls. I often have the same vocabulary words available in multiple formats to give students an option of which format they prefer to use as a reference.
When reading a content heavy piece, I keep in mind that a picture is worth a thousand words! I like to find pictures on the internet or in books, or (last resort) drawings that will align with vocabulary or concepts that might be unfamiliar.
4. REACH MULTIPLE LEARNING STYLES.
Besides using visuals for your ELLs, getting creative in ways that they can interact with the words is also important to making the words “stick”. Have students act them out, write with them, read them in context, discuss them, create their own art work to depict them, or play reviews games with them. One of my ELLs’ favorite ways to review words is when I make a Powerpoint of images depicting each numbered vocabulary word (one per slide) with a word bank on the board. Students match which numbered image goes with which word independently and then we go over them. The list goes on and on! Get creative!
5. PROVIDE MULTIPLE EXPOSURES.
Students need many opportunities to interact with the same vocabulary words. Research shows that students need multiple exposures over time to key vocabulary in order for it to “stick”. Often after reading and exposing students to a lot of new content vocabulary over a few weeks, I take time to review all of the words again.
Some other ways for ongoing vocabulary review include:
- Students simply use mini white boards to write the word of a definition or fill in the blank that you read aloud.
- Word search or Crossword review. There are so many generators online, but I personally like to use this Crossword generator. http://puzzlemaker.discoveryeducation.com/CrissCrossSetupForm.asp
- Jeopardy! You can either make a Jeopardy board from poster board, or use a PowerPoint template found online from a Google search.