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Category: Vocabulary

Vocabulary Proficiency for Younger Learners: Conversation and Engagement

#vocabulary #words #parenting #childdevelopment

“Just read!”

“Memorize 100 words by Friday!”

Even though most high school students miserably stare at one another just thinking about these daunting expectations in addition to every other demand of their academic work week, such dictates often reign supreme as the default vocabulary strategies of many educators and parents. Inundating teens with new rapid-fire academic and complex, content-specific words to cram for a multiple choice test may in fact work for some students in the short term. However, genuine comprehension and long term vocabulary retention will remain unattainable if these are the sole methods of vocabulary instruction. According to, “Students Must Learn More Words, Say Studies,” an article written by Education Week’s Sarah D. Sparks, vocabulary knowledge is haphazardly enforced in classrooms and homes, and therefore, largely ineffective.

That informal style led to major discrepancies in both the number and difficulty of vocabulary words, with some teachers discussing only two words a day and others as many as 20. Moreover, because most words were chosen from the stories, they had little connection to other words being taught at the same time and were rarely words that students would need to understand instructions or academic content in later grades.

In fact, “prior studies have shown that students learn words better when they are grouped with related words.” Furthermore, All About Adolescent Literacy’s article, “Developing ‘Student-owned Vocabulary,” clarifies that students must interact with just one word up to 30 times before it becomes second nature. If language acquisition is such a challenge, what can parents and educators do to teach and reinforce basic, academic and discipline specific language that and professions demand?

Start earlier. Playing the procrastination game until 9th grade or high stakes college admissions testing is a catastrophic oversight. Forge environments rich with nuanced vocabulary as soon as your child can say “Dada.” Susan Canizares’ article, “For the Love of Words” in Parent’s Magazine featured on Scholastic.com observes that language acquisition or vocabulary competency begins when children begin walking. “Between the ages of 18 and 36 months, language growth occurs very quickly: babbling becomes more deliberate in tone, and children literally learn new words every day.” At this tender, but monumental age of developmental growth, children have the capacity to interact with thousands of words through listening, speaking, and creative activity. Reading comprehension and written skills tend to develop in kindergarten to second grade. As a result, parents and preschool educators should purposefully model and reinforce “adult” language through conversation, recreation and work with youngsters. Many effective instructional methods are available to boost your younger student’s vocabulary savvy at home, in a preschool Headstart classroom, or at an outdoor 6th grade camp.

  • Read a classic fairy tale or fable, such as Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare.”
  • Ask your child active listening questions; “Why do you think the tortoise won?”
  • Repeat your child’s answer with correct grammar and academic vocabulary: “So you mean since the hare or rabbit was too proud or arrogant and the tortoise persevered, the rabbit napped while the tortoise finished the race.”
  • Paraphrase the first half of the tale and ask your child to summarize the ending.
  1. Use drawings, pictures or everyday objects as conversation starters to supplement vocabulary knowledge.
  • Board games like Monopoly Junior Board Game are wonderful ways to bond with your child and simultaneously combine conversation, visual illustrations and tangible symbols as students move their pieces around the board.
  • Household items, landscapes and infrastructure, walks in the park, a day at the beach, running errands and a number of other places and activities can be leveraged to support everyday and academic language acquisition.
  • Parents model- “Wow, those colorful chrysanthemums or flowers are really eye-catching!”
  • Ask questions- “What’s your favorite chrysanthemum? Why?”
  • Wait for your student’s response- ”I like the orange one because it’s big.”
  • Repeat their child’s answers with corrections- “Oh, so you like the tangerine colored chrysanthemum because it’s larger than the rest. What color is it? What kind of flower is it?”
  • Continue with this line of questioning and engagement until your child demonstrates the desired response.
  1. Encourage your student, particularly as they near kindergarten, to paraphrase your modeled responses in complete sentences!

While “just reading” and memorization will eventually play their roles to some extent, active engagement through listening, speaking, visual supports and kinesthetic or tactile activities are fundamental techniques that will assuredly foster your student’s lifelong pursuit of everyday and academic vocabulary achievement. And the younger parents and educators begin, the better!

5 Tips for Effective ESL Speaking Instruction


Throughout my 15 years in education, I have confronted many obstacles related to teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) to Hispanic students in the United States and Asian learners in the United States and Taiwan as a classroom teacher and private tutor. There are five core tips that an effective educator can apply to ensure the progress of K-12 and adult ESL students in small group courses and individual tutoring sessions.

  • Put your students at ease; mistakes are not only acceptable, but necessary. Leaning a new language is intimidating because the process requires the learner to relinquish their expertise as a native speaker of their language in order to acquire the unknown. Students of all ages often experience humiliation if they make a mistake when attempting to pronounce an English word or answer a question with grammatical accuracy. Dr. Stephen Krashen, professor of linguistics at the University of Southern California, has extensively studied ESL students who “over-monitor,” or attempt to grammatically edit their speech as if they are editing their writing, a process that many linguists believe interferes with students’ ability to speak fluently. Based on his research along with other experts in the field of linguistics, many students “over-monitor” or over-correct themselves, which impedes fluid expression. When students are overly self-conscious, they may tend to skirt embarrassment by correcting every mistake or avoiding speaking altogether. Let your students know up front that progress, not perfection, is the goal; missteps are necessary to aid in the learning process. Assure them that they are free and safe to speak openly without judgment when they are working with you.
  • Correct your students based upon three or fewer target objectives.Set goals with your students and work on three or fewer at a time. If one objective is to use articles, such as “a, an, and the” before nouns, then pause and correct students only on this objective. If another objective is to pronounce the letters “r” and “l” correctly, once again, pause to model the pronunciation once they have a finished speaking. “Over-correcting” your students, interrupting them in mid-sentence or focusing on too many types of inaccuracies will only confuse and potentially alienate your students. Keep it simple by focusing on three clear goals that you have established with your student.
  • Model, repeat, and practice in the target language. Charles Berlitz, founder of the worldwide ESL organization, Berlitz, developed the Direct Method or English immersion method of ESL instruction. While the method is sound in some settings, such as small groups and individual instruction, larger class sizes may not benefit from this method alone; Bilingual education has its merits in larger classrooms where individualized education is not always possible. Nonetheless, as a former ESL instructor and curriculum writer for Berlitz and C2 Education, I observed that the principles of speaking in the target language without reliance upon a student’s native language is frequently an effective approach that directs students away from the crutch of having to translate their native language into English. Effective teachers demonstrate or model the objective in English, and then invite their students to repeat; therefore, students learn to directly associate the English word, phrase, or expression to visuals, concepts and ideas rather than rely on translations that are often inaccurate or overly literal.
  • Engage learners with high interest and culturally relevant content.Familiarize yourself with your students’ interests by asking them about or introducing them to images related to their profession, cultural background, family, travels, hobbies, etc. Possibly integrate maps, YouTube videos, graphic novels, and/or illustrated short fiction or non-fiction excerpts into the learning plans of your students based upon what they desire to discuss. Reading and discussing short narratives or newspaper articles is often a simple, yet engaging way to integrate the practical instruction of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation into lessons. For younger or less experienced learners, short videos, visual images, and illustrated books often stimulate their desire to express their interests. Physically modelling an action and naming it in English is also a memorable way to teach verbs as vocabulary. Students may not always understand every word an instructor iterates, but they will eventually apprehend the general idea and acquire more specific target goals over time when instructors consistently express ideas with visual supports and repeat directives in English.
  • Slow down, be patient and build confidence. Developing a new skill in any field of study that requires intense and focused cognition requires time, hard work, and patience on the part of both the instructor and the student. The teacher is tasked with the responsibility to model appropriate pronunciation, expression, and pace during the course of conversation or discussion. Effective teachers model the pace or speed at which words are spoken and exercise patience as their students adapt to the instructors techniques and expectations. Strategies such as speaking slowly, physically demonstrating the tongue’s position to form the “t” sound versus the “th” sound, and modeling and repeating target goals require energy, patience and encouragement “with a smile.” Stipulating high expectations is imperative, but don’t expect your students to remember any one item that they’ve experienced or practiced only once or twice. Many students may need to interact with a particular objective such as a vocabulary word and its pronunciation up to 30 times before they truly learn how to integrate it into their speech. With time and patience, your students will achieve their goals and become increasingly confident and fluent English speakers.

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