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This paper explores the importance of using direct instruction when teaching vocabulary to English Language Learners (ELL). Using sited references, I will discuss the five essential components of reading (phonological awareness/phonemic awareness, word study/phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension) (Nisbet, 2010) and how to teach these components to ELL. Next, I will explain what is involved when teaching vocabulary using a three-tiered structure, with both quick and more involved teaching strategies. Finally, I will share another way that helps ELL learn new vocabulary words, which in turn also benefits all learners.
One way that people communicate their ideas and beliefs is through the use of words. Words or vocabulary is the basic component of language. It doesn't take a lot of grammar to let someone know what we want, but we cannot ask, say, write, or express any feeling or idea without vocabulary. (Hoang-Thu, 2009) Being able to express ourselves both in speaking and writing involves having some knowledge of vocabulary.
According to Nisbet (2010) and Hoang-Thu (2009), vocabulary knowledge is either receptive or productive. Our receptive knowledge of vocabulary is how words sound while our productive knowledge is how words are pronounced. Receptive vocabulary use includes seeing the form of a word while I hear or read and gather its meaning. When I give the meaning of a word by talking or writing or by giving the appropriate form of a word, I am using productive vocabulary.
Direct instruction of vocabulary is the most effective way to improve an ELL's vocabulary development. (Daniels, 2009; Nisbet, 2010) Studies have shown that if a native speaker or person who already knows the language (L1) relies on chance to learn new vocabulary words, it takes "8 times" (Daniels, 2010) seeing or hearing a word before learning the word. (Daniels, 2009; Nisbet, 2010) At the same time, using chance for ELL requires "between 12-14 exposures" (Daniels, 2009) before they can claim ownership of the word. To own a word, the student "must be able to (a) define it, (b) decode and spell it, (c) pronounce it, (d) know its multiple meanings (including common and specialized meanings), and (e) be able to ascertain and apply the appropriate meaning in a particular context." (Nisbet, 2009)
So how do I teach vocabulary to L1 and L2 students? First, I need to understand the five main components for success in reading. These "components are (a) phonological or phonemic awareness, (b) word study/phonics, (c) vocabulary, (d) fluency, and (e) comprehension." (Nisbet, 2010) These areas are interrelated and must work together in order for reading comprehension to occur.
Phonological awareness includes all aspects of how a word sounds. Breaking a word into individual sounds is phonemic awareness. Phonemes refer to the individual sounds in a word. Overall, possessing phonemic awareness is important in being able to read and spell words correctly. (Nisbet, 2010) For ELL, knowing the phonemes in their native language helps them learn their second language (L2). One drawback for ELL is not remembering the phonemes in L2. To make the best use of time, teachers need to simultaneously use direct instruction for phonological/phonemic awareness and vocabulary.
Studying words is necessary for reading words. There is several word identification strategies involved with word study. These strategies are phonics, onset/rimes, morphemic analysis, and contextual analysis. (Nisbet, 2010) Phonics refers to the English sounds and there corresponding symbol. Onsets and rimes are words with similar patterns used to form different words, such as cat and hat. Morphemic analysis is used with multisyllabic words are refers to the syllables that have meaning. Morphemes include prefixes, suffixes, and root words. Students use the words and pictures around an unfamiliar word for contextual analysis.
Direct instruction in the word study strategies helps ELL in two ways. First, it gives ELL a way to decode words which improves reading skills. Second, word study helps ELL see how English works or how words go together to form meaning.
But, what if an ELL is faced with an unknown word? They would follow the "multi-step Difficult Word Strategy" (Nisbet, 2010) taught to them by their teacher. The steps for a beginning reader are:
"Analyze the Word (What do I know?)
What sounds do I know? (phonetic analysis)
What parts of the word do I know? (word patterns)
Use Context (What can I use to help?)
Look at the pictures.
Take all the clues and read to the end of the sentence.
Does the word make sense in this sentence? (contextual analysis)" (Nisbet,2010)
The steps differ slightly for primary/intermediate readers by using word patterns and morphemes when analyzing the word in place of using only phonetic analysis.
The third component of reading is vocabulary or words and their meaning(s). (Hoang-Thu, 2009) To me, this component should be listed first because without knowing enough vocabulary, understanding what is read is impossible. A solid foundation in vocabulary development for second language reading is imperative. (Nisbet, 2010)
A three-tier framework (Nisbet, 2010) helps teachers decide which words to teach to ELL and how to teach them. Tier 1 words are the basic common words used often in everyday conversations. Teachers can use pictures, realia, gestures or demonstrations to help ELL quickly and effectively master Tier 1 words.
Tier 2 words require more explicit instruction from the teacher. These words include the academic vocabulary needed to comprehend the subject matter. Tier 2 words often have several different meanings where context determines which definition of the word is used.
The words in the third tier are used very rarely and often relate to only one area. These words have only one, very technical definition. Consequently, only teachers in specialize fields of study use and teach these words. Native language translations are sometimes the best way to help ELL understand Tier 3 words.
Reading selections contain numerous words that students may or may not recognize. There is a procedure that helps teachers decide which words need special attention. After choosing the passage, the teacher makes a list of all vocabulary that may be unfamiliar to the students and decides in which tier the word belongs. The words that fall in Tier 2 are the main focus for "elaborate instruction". (Nisbet, 2010) Only brief instruction is required for Tier1 and 3 words, if instruction is warranted at all. Being able to comprehend the material is the determining factor that warrants quick direct instruction for Tier 1 and 3 words.
No matter which tier a word occupies, teachers need to ask several questions about each word. "(1) Is the word concrete? Can students understand it's meaning from a picture or demonstration? (2) Is it a cognate? (3) Is the word used often in a variety of texts? (4) Does it have more than one meaning? And (5) how does this word relate to other words used in the text?" (Nisbet, 2010)
Teachers can also help their ELL by teaching them to identify cognates. The English word adventure and the Spanish word aventura are cognates. These two words mean the same thing and they sound almost the same in both languages. There are steps ELL can be taught to help identify cognates. First, students silently read and gather meaning from the text. Second, all vocabulary is discussed together, including possible cognates and how students determined the word's meaning. Then, any grammatical differences between the English and Spanish word(s) are noted. Finally, the teacher reads the passage aloud, allowing students to listen for words they know orally. It's important for the teacher to model the correct pronunciation so students can see and hear the word(s) correctly.
Fluency is the fourth component in reading. Fluency means more than reading fast. It also includes reading words correctly and with expression. When a student reads with expression, he/she stresses important words; their voice fluctuates, and has a beat or rhythm. Using expression shows they understand what the passage means.
To teach fluency to ELL, students must read and reread the same passage over and over again. What they practice reading for fluency, the passage needs to be interesting and at their independent reading level. A person's independent reading level means they know 95% of the words. (Nisbet, 2010) Teachers can help their students with fluency by "(a) modeling fluent oral reading, (b) having the students read orally with the teacher, (c) having students orally echo read, and (d) having students orally read alone." (Nisbet, 2010) Another strategy that helps to teach fluency is listening to tape-recorded stories and then reading along with the tape. Students can repeat this procedure independently as often as necessary.
The final component needed to be a successful reader is comprehension or understanding the meaning of the words or vocabulary when they form a story. When an ELL understands what they read, they can also talk and write about it. This can then lead to higher academic proficiency. Good readers use what they already know about the subject and any other clues that the text/pictures may offer. To help students understand the text, teachers help ELL develop a picture of their prior knowledge by making a K-W-L chart. This chart organizes what the student knows, what the student wants to learn and what the student does learn. Seeing a picture of this information helps the student know and remember what they read. (Nismet, 2010)
After doing all of these strategies and procedures, is there research that suggests other ways to help my ELL master vocabulary so they can become proficient productive readers? According to Daniels (2009), there is something I can do. I can require my students to read and use their vocabulary many times during a course of study. Parents are a great resource for my classroom. By having students study their vocabulary words at home each evening, I am having them review, say, read, and hear each word numerous times each day. If I had the resources available, I would supply each student with a recording of our current Trophies selection and a tape recorder so they could listen to the story many times at home and school. It was discovered in the study that "multiple exposures improved student's pronunciation of words and improved their understanding of the meaning of the words." (Daniels, 2009) A side benefit of having parents help with the vocabulary words is the parents are also learning new English words to add to their list of words they know.
The research study conducted by Daniels (2009) determined that incorporating context with using the words numerous times helped students with word pronunciation and comprehension. This paper "implores teachers of ELL to include specific instruction in key vocabulary, provide multiple exposures to those words, and include enough focused exposures to context to provide a frame of reference for students." (Daniels, 2009)
By giving ELL these extra interventions, it is possible for ELL to catch and pass their English-speaking peers in language development. (Daniels, 2009; Nisbet, 2010) Teachers need to constantly help and encouraged students to use the vocabulary they learn in every academic area, not just in spelling or pronunciation. (Hoang-Thu, 2009)