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101. Optimizing Vocabulary Instruction for ELLs: Teaching Different Tiers Effectively
Episode 10117th November 2023 • Equipping ELLs • Beth Vaucher, ELL, ESL Teachers
00:00:00 00:25:52

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Are your ELL students struggling with vocabulary acquisition?

In episode 101 of the Equipping ELLs podcast, discover top strategies for crafting language-rich lessons that transform how English language learners absorb new words. We'll discuss how to incorporate the three tiers of vocabulary, essential planning tips, and a 5-step approach for crafting vocabulary-rich units.

And don't forget grab your free, printable flash cards template!



Hey there and welcome to another episode of the equipping. Ells

podcast. I am so thankful and grateful that you are joining me

today as we enter into a new series. This is going to be a couple

of weeks long, but we are going to be talking about all things

vocabulary development. I'm super excited about the series I've

been reading up and going on a deep dive into how do English

language learners really develop vocabulary, what's best practices

and. What can we, as teachers do to really create language and

vocabulary rich classrooms and lessons? So that's what we are

going to be diving into over the next couple of weeks to finish

out the rest of:

already in middle of November. So I hope that you are having a

great year so far. I hope that you will find these episodes super

helpful and as always, super practical in ways that you can add

them right into your daily lessons and what you're doing now. And

boost up that vocabulary instruction. So today is kind of just an

overview. I wanted to hit on the three types of vocabulary, some

tips for planning lessons that are really rich with vocabulary. A

lot of it really comes down to how we prepare our lessons for

optimal opportunities. To learn new vocabulary and then also just

a few other tips. As we go briefly over vocabulary development and

eml. I don't know about you, but one of my favorite things is when

students start begin to talk and you start to hear new vocabulary

words pour out of their mouth. It is such a rewarding thing to

see. It's so exciting to see students use a variety of different

verbs of different nouns and different adjectives. Just different

things that they've been hearing and seeing. And you've been

working with them on. And all of a sudden, they're starting to

apply it on their own. Through talking or through writing. That is

one of my favorite things to see with students, and it's fun to

just see them start to take off as they begin to use higher

vocabulary. And so that's what we really want. We want to continue

to push our students. To use a variety of vocabulary to continue

to learn new words. To use them in context, really hear and

understand and hear a variety of different depths of words so that

they are sponges. As we know, they're going to catch on to

different words in different ways, and they're going to start to

apply them in their own communication skills. So how do we create

that kind of classroom where. It's just filled with vocabulary.

That's happening in a natural way, because that's really the best

way we learn vocabulary. Many times I talk about my journey here,

of learning Spanish for many years. And I'm going to tell you, I

did lots and lots of vocabulary flashcards. And I have forgotten

lots of lots of vocabulary flashcards, because vocabulary out of

context. Is really pretty meaningless. Memorization in that

aspect. It's really not going to help go from short term memory to

long term memory when it's just drilling like that. But when

you're working on vocabulary in context, when you're in a

conversation and you're searching for a word or you're learning a

new word or you say, oh, how do you say this. The brain grasps

onto that and is able to recall that word in a much different way

because contentionally, you can put yourself in that situation and

you can remember, oh, yeah. That's what this word is called. So we

need to be making vocabulary come alive in content in context.

That is what is going to stick. And so. Let's talk about how we do

that first. I want to go over the three different tiers of

vocabulary because I know these are talked about a lot, but

sometimes there's confusion of what that means. And I want to

share some examples with you. So let's begin there. First. Our

first tier are our tier one vocabulary words. And these are the

most basic words that they rarely require explicit instruction.

And. They typically do not have multiple meanings, so. They're

pretty easy to grasp on understand. These are going to be the

words that your newcomers begin to work with first. Now, for those

students who you have that are not yelled, you probably don't even

think about these words because they've already come into your

classroom having the foundation of your Tier one vocabulary words.

This is though, where it's important when you're working with ell

that you're. Going to have to be teaching and explicitly teaching

some of these things. A lot of times, though it's done through

that visual support in context and conversation. So these aren't

words that need to have a lot of times. They're going to see it a

few times and remember it. They don't need tons of amount of time

that they're going to be spending with the words they'll need with

our tier two and tier three, which are more abstract or more

academic. But it is something to take note that if you're working

with newcomers, you need to make sure that you are focusing. On

tier one words. So these are words like Mom, dad, sister, brother,

chair, table, bed. Just common objects. Common animals. Your basic

actions like Run, Walk, Eat, play. Simple adjectives, like big,

small, hot, cold. Okay, all of these types of everyday vocabulary.

Really. This is our bix. This is our basic vocabulary that is

going to help them gain that foundation of the tier One words and

help propel them into being able to comprehend higher level.

Vocabulary. So start there. If you're working with newcomers, make

sure that you are pulling out, focusing on Tier One words and

using them in conversation in the classroom daily. Tier Two

vocabulary. These words are more complex than Tier one. And they

are used across a variety of domains. So your tier two words are

really where you're going to want to spend a lot of your time when

you get past the newcomer stage of language learning. You are

going to want to focus on the two tier, two words because these

are words they're going to see across different subjects and

disciplines and grade levels. And so these are words that they are

going to frequently be exposed to. That they're more abstract.

They need more explicit teaching. They need a lot of multiple

exposures in different ways. And so here is where you're going to

want to focus. On when you get past your beginning level.

Students. Some examples are up to your two words. Are verbs like

analyze determine, evaluate. Observe. Those are great words that

you know, they're going to see for many years and across different

subjects. Nouns like method approach adjectives like complex.

Significant. Academic words like compare and contrast and infer

and summarize. Think of how often your students will see those

words throughout the school year and into the years to come. So

these are words that are crucial that they have an understanding

to and it takes it's going to take a variety of different

approaches because. They're going to be applying them in different

ways. So they are more abstract. But. These words really are

crucial for academic success. Because they will see them in

multiple different ways throughout the year. So here's where

you're going to want to sit and focus on and apply these

techniques to these words so that. You know, your ells are getting

that vocabulary support they need in order to grow academically.

Then we move into tier three vocabulary words. Tier three words

are domain specific terms. That are typically encountered. In

specific fields of study. So they may be used. Frequently within a

particular subject. But they're not generally used outside that

domain. So these are going to be your specific academic words

based on a topic that they're learning. For example, in science.

They might see and hear the word photosynthesis many times during

their plants unit, but outside of that they might not come into it

very often. Or ecosystem or biodiversity. Things like words and

mathematics. Quadrilateral algorithms, polynomial things. In

Social studies like legislator. Imperialism. All of these types of

words. Are very specific to that subject. And Language Arts

metaphor on a monopia. Allegory. All of these are really these are

really the easiest to pull out because as you approach a new unit

or a new topic, it's easy to find those really specific academic

words that, you know, all your students are going to need support

in this vocabulary award. So that's a lot of times where we begin,

but I want to encourage you. Not to stop there. Okay. So you're

going to want to have a variety of tier one, tier two and tier

three words as you approach new topics. Now, what I want to do is

I want to walk you through. How do you plan. A unit, or a new

topic. So that it is vocabulary rich. Because. A lot of this will

come down to how well you pre plan your vocabulary. If you are

very on top of it and. You're ready for the vocabulary you want to

preteach and you know which words you're going to hit on, and you

have visual support. Your classroom will become vocabulary rich.

If you're just leaving it up to as you teach, and then a word

comes out and you okay. I'm going to explicitly teach this or

okay, this word is one we keep hearing this book. Let's talk about

this. It's not going to become as the depth of that learning is

not going to happen as much as if you plan. So I want to encourage

you as you approach a new unit or. A new book you're reading, or

whatever it is. Sit down and spend even just ten minutes looking.

Over what's the vocabulary that I am teaching with this book or

with this unit. And I want you to follow these five steps. Okay.

The first step is you're going to preview that text or that unit,

and you're going to decide which words you want to explicitly

teach again. Tier one, two, and three are tier one. That might

just mean that you have a list that you're going to make sure that

your newcomer or beginner group is aware of. Okay, that might not

be whole group, but. Tier two and tier three should be whole group

vocabulary that you are pulling and you are going to explicitly

teach. Now, like I said. Our tier three words. Those are the

easiest ones to pull out. If you're doing a unit on plants for

second grade, you're going to pull out words exactly like

photosynthesis, all those types of very specific science words. So

pull out a few of those, but don't make all of them. Okay. We're

going to talk about ten words, and they're all going to be our

tier three words. They need those tier two words explicitly

taught. So I want to challenge you to pull out maybe three or four

good tier three words that they need to know those words to

understand. The unit that's coming. But then also mix in those

tier two words. And how do we figure that out? Well, there's tons

of lists out there. You can literally just Google. Hereto academic

words or whatever grade that we teach, and they'll come up with a

list for you so you could start there and see, okay, do any of

these words fit with this unit that I'm teaching. Or maybe if

you're using a read aloud or text what words are in this text.

That would be very helpful that they're going to see frequently,

or they're going to see in multiple different subjects that I

should be explicitly teaching. So I would look in one of those

ways either use a text and pull out some more instrument because

in context it's rarely where they're going to gain depth and

understanding, or look at a list for that grade level. And say,

hey, what are the tier two words that these students need to know.

Once you have decided that you should have maybe six or eight

words at the most, you do not want to overload your students, and

we're going to get to that in just a minute of what that means.

But keep the list low. You want them to really grasp onto these

words and understand them with depth, not just have a list of 20

words that they're really just doing busy work so that they can

get through this list. So be intentional about your planning about

your choosing of the vocabulary. Mix it up tier two and tier three

words. And then the next step I want you to do is I want you with

those words to look for shades of meaning. So that you could

easily target new vocabulary for each language level. All right.

So this is where. Again. When you're intentionally planning your

vocabulary. Is going to be rich in your classroom. So let's say I

am teaching second grade, and I look up a tier two word and it's

predict. Okay, this is a word. They're going to see throughout

their whole educational career. So this is a great word that I

should be teaching. And maybe this topic that we're going to be

doing is a great way that I can bring in this word predict. Now

what is great to do is to do a little research and say, okay, what

are some other synonyms for predict that maybe I can share with

different language levels. So predict. Could be. Guests.

Anticipate or C? Envision. When I do that planning ahead of time.

Now I have these words on the tip of my tongue so I know,

depending on the group of students or the student in front of me,

I might just up that word a little bit instead of saying predict,

I might say, Can you anticipate what's going to happen next in the

story. Maybe for my newcomer beginning group, I might say, Can you

guess what's going to happen next in this story? So I'm going to

use this shades of meaning for the word predict going up and down.

Depending on the language level, that's in front of me and that

I'm working with and that's where you're going to build that

richness of vocabulary because I'm not. Planning six different

vocabulary lists, and for all the groups that I have in my class

or all the language levels, I'm going to use that same. Six to

eight words. And then I'm going to find synonyms or ways to break

down those words, depending on the language level that I have.

That's where you're going to save time, but it's also going to be

meaningful for your students. So step two, look for the different

shades of meaning and pre plan that. So you already have that on

your mind. Step three, check and see, are there any cultural or

language connections that you can make. Did you check to see if

this word has a cognitive in the language, the first language of

the students that you're working with. Bringing in a cultural

piece like that is going to again bring depth to the words. It's

going to help them move their words from short term to long term.

It's going to help them build schema, because if they can connect

it to something that they are aware of, that they already have

understanding to they are going to have easier time remembering.

This word. So don't forget that step of bringing in if there's any

cultural or language connection. Then the next step is to create

flashcards or an anchor chart for your six to eight words. Now

sometimes that can feel like a lot or an additional step and you

don't have the time. We'll share with you a template that you can

use for creating flashcards really easily and quickly. Because

once you have that template set up, you can just drag and drop

your picture in it. That goes with that word. Change out the word,

change out the definition. Add in a synonym if you want or an

antonym and badabing, you have your six to eight flashcards done

in ten minutes or less. And what I want to encourage you is with

those flashcard. Flashcards. Maybe print a few copies, maybe have

one place in a room where you put them. Maybe. You are on the Hunt

throughout the next week. That for those six to eight words, where

can you find them? Could you find them in their independent

reading time? Maybe they hear them in another class. Maybe you

make tally marks every time you hear that word being used, or your

students use that word. We want that application piece. So when

you have that visual piece in your room somewhere and they're

seeing the word, they're seeing the picture, they're trying to use

it in conversation, or they're trying to find it as they're doing

their own reading and learning. That's where this becomes an

interactive piece, and that's where students need to get the buy

in and they get excited. And so making some sort of visual

support. Either you could put it on the student's desk, they could

put it in their notebooks, but also having someplace in the room

while you're going throughout this unit and helping them continue

to come back to those words. Is really important in helping them

to know where to find the words when they're trying to apply them.

And then also just be reminded daily of, okay, these are the words

we're working on. This is what the word means. Here's a visual

that I can see right away. So I'm reminded what this word means.

So take that time. Take that five to ten minutes. Prep those

flashcards for this upcoming unit, and it will be beneficial to

you and your students. So then the last step is like I said, post

it somewhere throughout the room. And so use it throughout the

lesson. Keep coming back to it. Let your walls be part of the

learning experience. Don't just play something on the walls and

forget about it. Or if you're a travel teacher, put it into a

binder and a sleeve and have it available that they can flip

through the words. The awesome thing about this as well is as you

move on to new uni. Units. They can go back. And they could review

those words. They can use those words in writing. Now they have.

That resource to use to independently use so that. They can be

responsible for applying more of the vocabulary in their speaking

and writing. So going through those steps again, preview a text.

Choose six to eight words that are level, tier two and tier three

words. With those words. Look up shades of meaning. Find different

words that are going to help. All language levels, understand what

that word means and begin to use it. Look then to see if there's

any cultural or language connections. Things like cognitive create

flashcards or an anchor chart for those six to eight words, and

then post them somewhere in the room. Or create a system where you

have it with you so your students can refer to it often throughout

the lesson. Those are five steps that you can take to approach a

new unit and so that you are creating that vocabulary rich

opportunities in your classroom. Now, one last tip before we go

today is to pay attention to the cognitive load that you are

placing on your students as they are learning. All right. So the

cognitive load refers to the amount of working memory. That is

being used during a learning activity. So when it comes to

vocabulary acquisition. The cognitive load theory emphasizes the

importance of managing the demands placed on a learner's memory to

optimize learning. All right. So we really need to be mindful of

this. This is why choosing purposefully and intentionally the

vocabulary that you're going to teach during this lesson. Is

really, really vital because you know, your students, you know,

when you're going to be putting too much on them and that

cognitive load is going to. Be too much and it's going to shut

them down. So you need to be very aware of the students you're

working with and what vocabulary do they need? Maybe your group

you're working with, they can only handle four words at a time.

Then do that. That's okay. It's better that they understand that

they learn that they are able to apply. Four words and start there

than have eight. And they really don't grasp any of them. Now

here's a few points to consider about cognitive load and

vocabulary learning. First. Their working memory has limits. All

right. There is a limited capacity. It can only hold a certain

amount of information. At any one time. So just keep in mind that

when new vocabulary is introduced, each new word or concept

competes for space in that student's working memory. All right. So

just keep that in mind. As you introduce no vocabulary as you're

working with new vocabulary. This is where it can be a big

struggle for our newcomers because. They're spending so much of

their limited capacity, just trying to make sense of what's going

on to take in new words. It's a lot on them. So we want to be

sensitive that and just keep this in mind. The second thing is

something called the intrinsic cognitive load, and this is the

inherent difficulty associated with. A specific educational topic.

So when we're talking about Kevin, this means that words that have

complex meanings. Or irregular spellings or sounds that are not

present in the learner's first language. This would have a higher

intrinsic cognitive load. Now, I know we're all thinking like,

yeah, pretty much all of English, right? Has irregular spellings

or things that just don't make sense when we've learned these

rules. So again, this is something to keep in mind. That this is

an added load on our students. And then the last one is an

extraneous cognitive load. And this is more generated by the way

information is presented to learners. Okay. So this is where this

happens when we're presenting too many new words at once,

especially if we're not using them in context, or we're just.

Giving them a whole list of new vocabulary words each week and

saying, okay, here's your ten words for the week. And this is how

I taught when I was teaching in the States. Here's your ten words

for the weight that go with the basil reader. I want you to go

look up the definitions and write them down. That can really

increase that load on them. Because. It's just a lot of work at

front, where they don't see the purpose. They're not seeing it in

context. It's too much for them to do. So again, we just want to

be mindful with how we're presenting new vocabulary. Is it in

context? Is it through reading? Is it through interactive

activities? Is it well structured. Those are three things to keep

in mind as you approach new vocabulary with your students. So

remember. Your focus is to make students excited about language

learning and build those connections in their brain. Boring

vocabulary activities will not move these words from short term to

long term memory. They might regurgitate them. They might write

their definitions down because that's what they're supposed to do.

But. It's not going to help them, really. Gain that depth that

they need for that vocabulary word to stick and go deeper.

Vocabulary learn in situations and context will help them move

that word from short term to long term memory.





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