Vocabulary Supports to Start Using Now!

Here's yet another throw back from the iTeach 3rd blog all about vocabulary support in your general ed classroom!


For the last two years and continuing next year, I teach an EL (English Learner) cluster classroom. In my case, each year I get ELs who need the most support in their language acquisition.  To help me out, I also get to co-teach with our EL teacher during parts of our day. That is a whole other post, but co-teaching has been amazing and I have learned so much from working so closely with another professional who brings a completely different lens. Even when I'm not teaching with my co-teacher, she's left her mark on me and I'm slowly beginning to wear a whole new lens when I approach a lesson, objective, or activity. One of those lens is trying to build vocabulary, but more importantly, how to get it to stick with students and for them to use it.

The beauty of it all, as that even though I began using a lot of these strategies to support my ELs, it actually benefits ALL my students... including my native English speakers. And that's typical of all ELs supports- they are not meant just for ELs so even if you don't have any in your classroom or very few, these strategies and supports can be used in your room as well!

One of my first strategies is to add movement. I am currently studying more about a method called Total Physical Response which attaches movement and actions to vocabulary, idioms, and phrases to name a  few.

Where do I implant this strategy... umm... EVERYWHERE I CAN! As you know, kids love to move! Why not put that energy into our learning??

Here's a quick scenario: Maybe one day we are going...
"to create a list of adjectives to describe a character."

Here is a place I can stretch their vocabulary. I'm going to change the word
create to generate. 

Seems like a small change, but I'm always looking for ways to build their tier 2 (high frequency/multiple meaning/across domains) vocabulary. I'll simply add the action of me rolling my hands around in a circle like I'm spinning and creating something when I get to the word generate.

I'll now say we are going...
"to generate (while moving my hands) a list of adjectives to describe a character." I have students then teach their partner or group what the word generate means, while they also act it out. It literally takes an extra minute in my lesson, but now, whenever we use the word generate or create, I and my students use our action with it. You'd be surprised how after doing it a couple times, they will remember it months later.

Side Note... Later on in the year, we began reading The City of Ember and in that book, there is an important component... a generator. Student's picked up on the connection almost immediately and were able to determine that a generator (suffix told us it is a noun) is creating something. We later found out that it creates energy for the city. Boom.

Switch up those objectives and learning targets a bit to make them more interactive and you'll reap the benefits!

Before the lesson begins, I show them the before slide.

If there is a checkmark over a word (I just select them quickly) they are to begin to think up an action or movement for that word with partners or groups. This is great while you are transitioning as students who are ready are engaged right away being creative and interacting with your objective as you and slower students get settled.  I leave a gap sometimes and that is meant for us to use a related word or synonym to the word before it. Again, another easy support for students to make it interactive.

Then when we are all ready, I read the objective one word at a time and if there is check mark, they are to show me the action they came up with. I scan the room, noticing what they came up with, and then do one of two things:

1) I use one that I saw someone use and we all use it for our action for that word -or-
2) I make up my own or combine parts of students to make it into our action #truth

We briefly discuss why that action is a good fit for showing that word and move to the rest of the objective. We also discuss and fill in the blank. Before we go onto the actual lesson, we "teach" our partner what we are doing that day (aka- they reread out loud and act out the objective with their group or partner).

Final Run-Down

The fun part: to see if they are able to remember what our focus was for the lesson.

The last slide I show is this blank one on the left with the objective covered up. I ask students to remind their partners or group what we learned that day. They turn and teach and believe it or not folks- they remember it completely as they use the actions to help them!

And now when that principal comes walking in the room and asks little Timmy, "What are you learning about?" I won't have that look of horror come across my face, but rather I'll  know that each student will be able to communicate it and describe what it actually means thanks to our actions.

Another way I like to bring vocabulary to the forefront is with the use of visuals and connecting the new word to other words we know. This one does take a bit more planning on my part, but when delivering it to my students, it's well worth it. I use it often in read aloud and content specific areas.

Here it is in one of our read alouds this past year:

(These are screen shots from my SMART Notebook slides. I save them each year so I don't need to recreate them. They aren't as busy to my students because it doesn't have all the arrows and such of course.)
I try to prepare slides for our read alouds ahead of time to do some front loading and activate their background knowledge. Plus, it helps me prepare for connections to our other literacy focuses. One way thing I may include are visuals. You'd be surprised how many students don't know some tier 1 vocabulary (everyday words) based on a lack of experience. So I try to find real photographs (when possible) to accompany vocabulary words in our book. I also include the part of speech. Knowing how the word is being used can be very beneficial as well.  Lastly, I often include a comprehension question to connect it to other learning we are doing. This takes a bit of time, but I find our read aloud is much more accessible to students this way.

(Of course there are days when I just read a book to read a book to them... there's a place and time for that as well!)

Other times I use a 'shades of meaning' graphic to help support students. The underlined word is the word in the text. I provide a scaffold of other words that mean about the same thing to help show a connection. This is also great when talking about authors and word choice. Again, I include a comprehension question that we work out at the end of the chapter as well. *don't mind my chicken scratch... I was just trying to get their ideas down quick- do as I say, not as I do, right?*

Final Run Down


Use the words! Notice when students use it and praise the crap out of them! Tie it back to your previous learning! Bring those actions back! Heck, sometimes we make up chants and rhythms (clapping, changing our voices... you know) to say a new word so they can build confidence in knowing how to say it before they learn when to say it. Little chants and ditties get stuck in their heads and I've seen my students (again all... not just my ELs) use those ditties to say the vocabulary word when they speak because they feel confident. If a student says the word "create" and you've taught and discussed "generate," after they finish their thought, ask them or others another word they could use (always acknowledge and validate their original word choice first) and they jump at the opportunity to show you they know other words for that one.

You don't always need fancy vocabulary programs and resources to enrich your students (they can be nice though, right???). You can use what your given and apply some simply strategies to get students thinking and moving and most importantly USING words around them!


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