ELL Resources - Vocabulary

Explicit Vocabulary Instruction

Idioms for All Occasions

Idioms for all Occasions

Marzano's 6 Step Process for Teaching Academic Vocabulary

  1. Provide a description, explanation, or example of the new word. (Include a non- language-based representation for ELs)
  2. Ask students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words. (Allow ELs to write in primary language if necessary)
  3. Ask students to construct a picture, symbol,dramatic action,  or graphic representing the word.
  4. Engage students periodically in activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms in their notebooks.
  5. Periodically ask students to discuss terms with each other.
  6. Involve students periodically in games that allow the to play with terms.

Possible Sentences (Moore & Moore, 1986)

Purpose: Teach word meanings, generate class discussion, and improve reading comprehension, a pre-reading activity

  • Choose 6-8 words that represent the Big Idea (key concept) from a text/reading
  • Choose 4-6 words that students know "a little about"
  • Display list of words (overhead/ Smartboard)
  • Divise sentences that contain 2 or more words from the list (Together as a class, record all attempts- accurate and inaccurate.)
  • Discuss sentences 
  • Students read the selection
  • Revisit the sentences and discuss if they are True/Not True. How can these sentences be revised?

List- Group- Label (Taba, 1967 in Rothenberg & Fisher, 2007)

  1. Students brainstorm words on a topic of study.
  2. They group words into meaningful categories.
  3. They agree on labels to categorize the groupings.
  4. They find additional words and categories during a unit of study (using text, video...)

***Make sure to emphasize group share: The students share their methods for grouping words.

Extension: Students represent their groupings in a Semantic Map, providing a visual recording of their thinking.

Use this as a pre-reading activity to build prior knowledge, introduce key concepts and vocabulary, and help monitor understanding during reading. (Feldman & Kinsella, 2003)

Making Vocabulary Cards

I attached a template you can use and modify to create vocabulary cards. I often use Google Images and Biocrawler (free downloadable images).

To download the images just press control and click and save to your desktop. I have created file folders on my desktop to store images as I'm working on a unit. Then you can drag the image onto the template and re-size. You can also use the images directly from your desktop to show the children. (Idea: Create a slideshow using powerpoint to share images.)

Vocabulary Card Template
How to Add Google Images
Peter Lee's "One Table" Vocabulary Card Template

Vocabulary Assessment

For each FOSS Unit I taught, I selected 20- 30 words (from the hundreds) to emphasize. For a description of how and why I chose specific words, please scroll down to the first entry in this section.

To assess growth, I created a sheet to record a student's ability to use the target word in a sentence. I asked, "Please use this word in a sentence. If you are not familiar with the word, please say pass." I recorded whatever utterance the student told me, whether it was a phrase or a complete sentence. I used the same document as a pre and post-assessment.

It was amazing to see the children's language and concept knowledge grow. I attached a sample of the Pebble, Sand, and Silt document I used. Feel free to download and replace the words for the science units you are teaching. Please e-mail me if you have any questions. (cjones@pausd.org)
Pebbles, Sand, Silt
Blank Vocabulary Assessment

Who Has? I Have..Game

I have attached a sample of the game I made for the FOSS Unit: Pebbles, Sand, and Silt. I began by reading the text and discussing the pictures with the students. Then I would pass out the cards randomly. The student with Who has 1... began by standing up and reading/displaying her card. The others followed in order by number and ?/answer pattern.

This game provides students with a means of rereading short amounts of text using science vocabulary in the context of the unit. The words are supported by visual images. Students also can review questions vs. answer (periods/question marks).

Use this game in any content area: 
*teaching sight words (I have "see." Who has look?)
*teaching rhyme (Man rhymes with can. Shoe rhymes with ______.)
*Math skills (6X3=18; 8 divided by 2=)

Available for check out: Insects (Grade 1/2), Sight words (K/1), rhyme (K/1), Solids (1), Liquids (1)

Using Digital Cameras to Illustrate Vocabulary: Movie about Life from J. Aza's class

Jennifer's school purchased several digital cameras for the site. She sent her children to capture images that represented "life" at Palo Verde. The attached movie is the result of the assignment. Jen used i-movie and imported a song from her i-pod. 

Integrating technology and allowing students to create their own definition of life by sharing their images and discussing their reasons for capturing that particular subject was a powerful way to define vocabulary. The discussion allowed for personal stories, creativity, and multiple perspectives. Thanks for sharing Jen!!!
Life Vocabulary

Affixes: The Power of Teaching Prefixes, Suffixes, and Root Words

Purpose: Teaching students the origins of words help underprepared readers gain word knowledge. It will help students' ability to determine meaning of words.


Create a language center to build words using affixes. Make two spinners out of tag board. One circle divided into sixths and the other into fourths. Record the base words onto index cards. The children will spin the prefix and suffix spinner and try to make words. They can check their accuracy by scanning the word list. See the attachment for the Prefix-Suffix Spin Materials.

To make this activity more meaningful, make sure to also teach the meanings of the prefixes and suffixes. Find samples during guided reading or during content area reading and highlight text. For a list of affixes and their meanings, visit this site: http://www.betterendings.org/homeschool/Words/Root%20Words.htm

Useful Prefixes to Teach.doc
More Complex Affixes

Capitalizing on the Similarities of Alphabetic Languages: Cognates

Thirty to forty percent of all English words have Spanish cognates, words with a similar sound and appearance. These words help ELLs comprehend English at a faster rate and are very useful to connecting known concepts to new words in English. Aside from the noun and verb structure in English (adjective then noun) versus Spanish (noun then adjective), most of the grammatical structures are the same. Thus, an ELL (speaking an alphabetic language) does not have to relearn the construction of sentences as a child who speaks Chinese (or other languages using characters and alternate directionality) or Farsi or Hebrew (which have different directionality).

Check this website (http://www.colorincolorado.org/pdfs/articles/cognates.pdf) for a complete list of English-Spanish cognates. Also, check the link "Words of Spanish Origin" on this page under Vocabulary Links (Thanks Roberta, for the link!!!)

Also, be aware of false cognates. These are words that look as if they are cognates but are not. For example, the Spanish phrase No me molesta. translates to I don't mind.
Differences Between Sp. and Eng. That help you Analyze Reading and Writing Errors
Phonemic/Phonetic Strategies

How Do You Select Vocabulary Words to Emphasize?

Word knowledge allows students to access and comprehend text. Word knowledge is very complicated, including the ability to define a word, know when to use that word, know multiple meanings (ex. Just think about how many ways you can use the word weather: The weather is nice today. Rain weathers rocks by washing away rock particles. There is the homonym: whether...), let alone just decoding and spelling the word.

For ELLs, it is especially critical to teach key words needed to understand content area instruction. Words can be grouped into three tiers:

Tier 1- These words are those typically known by the student. Sometimes they know the concept in their primary language, but may not know it in English. It is a word you can easily teach with a picture, a movement, or hands-on activity. NOTE: Many Tier 1 words that we think the students know, are often the words that cause confusion because they don't know them. Sometimes the context of use could be the problem. Be careful of idioms and false cognates (like rope in English and ropa in Spanish which means clothing). Visit this link for a list of idioms and definitions: http://www.idiomsite.com/ and http://www.eslcafe.com/idioms/id-list.html

Tier 2- These words are more abstract. They are critical to the understanding of a text, like characters and other story elements. They include connecting/process words like between, among, by, combine, estimate...They often signify greater precision in a content area, like data sets, tables or in English: big, bigger, enormous, gigantic...They can be taught through PRE-TEACHING. Connecting these words to known words can be done by using concept maps and graphic organizers. MUCH OF YOUR FOCUS AND TIME SPENT TEACHING SHOULD BE ON THESE WORDS.

Tier 3-These are content area words that appear infrequently and are directly related to a unit of study. By making sure to use these words in discussions, investigations, and in reading and writing, most students learn them naturally through multiple exposures. Teaching students how to use reference materials, like bilingual dictionaries, the table of contents, and glossaries can help teach Tier 3 words.

Note: There is no magic formula for choosing words. Flexibility is critical. A teacher has to think about the children they have in the class and the Big Idea (goal/objectives) of instruction. The words chosen should be predominantly, Tier 2 and 3 words. Use the students to help decide what words would be most valuable. You will be surprised at the words they know and do not know. 

Questions to ask yourself when selecting vocabulary (Rothenberg & Fisher, 2007):
  • Does the word represent the Big Idea of the lesson?
  • Will the word be used again? In what context?
  • Can students use context clues to determine meaning?
  • Do I have too many words?

***Try to limit the amount of words you choose. For example, in FOSS for one module- they'll list 100 words!!! Pick 15 to 20 key words. The rest will come up in discussion, in reading and writing...link the other words to the key words to develop the big ideas in th unit. In general, 4-5 words per week is a manageable amount.

Attachments: I have attached graphic organizers that you can use when searching for vocabulary within text, after watching youtube videos...
vocabulary definition activity
Tips For Selecting Words.doc

Social vs. Academic Language

Social English is the language of conversation. For example, it is the language used when your students are talking to their friends, to you informally, or they are interacting in the world (at the grocery store). Social language builds quickly out of necessity. Academic language builds more slowly and can be a source of confusion of ELLs at all levels, even those who have been reclassified and are no longer receiving services. This page will be updated with strategies you can use in the classroom to address vocabulary.

"Vocabulary has been found to be one of the greatest predictors of reading comprehension, an even stronger predictor than cognitive ability (Farley & Elmor, 1992 in Rothenberg & Fisher, 2007, p. 145).

Ways to Increase Vocabulary

OPIN: Cloze Vocabulary Reinforcement Exercise (Frank Green)

Try at the conclusion of a read aloud.

  1. Stop reading right before the story concludes.
  2. Distributes a cloze version of the end of the read aloud. (See sample) (When making your cloze exercise, delete words that have a lot of synonyms)
  3. Students fill in cloze exercise individually. Then, they discuss their choices with a partner. Students are able to change choices based on discussion. The only rule is that each dyad needs to describe/ defend word choices.
  4. Teacher reads the conclusion/text.
  5. Final discussion of word choices and how they compare with the original (This discussion should bring out a rich discussion of word choice, shades of meaning, synonyms, author's intent...
Primary Sample: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

He'll ask for a glass of ________________ (1).  And chances are he _____________ (2) for a ___________________(3)  of milk. He's going to want a ____________________(4) to go with it.

Intermediate: Henry Huggins (B. Cleary)

Slowly Ribsy _____________ (1)   up, and after a backward glance at the stranger, _______________ (2)   eight squares down the sidewalk toward Henry. He __________ (3), scratched again and trotted the remaining squares to Henry.  Then he ___________ (4) down with his head on Henry's foot and closed his eyes again!...

Nonfiction Sample:

Some scientists classify plants by the way they _________________ (1), or make new plants. SOme plants reproduce with _______________________ (2). Other plants reproduce with ___________________. (3) Others....

Tip: If students have trouble doing this independently, try this as a pair or group exercise...

Word Theater

  1. Students are paired. One student is the actor and the other is the guesser.
  2. There is no talking. STudents may use gestures and body language.
  3. Teacher passes out pre-selected words (from a text, lesson, unit, story, science lab...) This can be a list of individual words on word cards or two sets of word lists, one for each partner.
  4. When partner guesses the word- roles switch and they try out a new word.

Using Jokes in the Classroom

Jokes are extremely motivating. Try using jokes in the classroom to work on vocabulary concepts and fluency. I added images to these jokes by Meish Goldish and created a reading/fluency game that the children really enjoyed.


  • Pass out card strips. 
  • Children read their strip aloud in order. (ex. Rock, rock. is first...Who's there? is second...)
  • Collect strips and repeat.

The poems follow. Share your ideas on how to use jokes in the classroom by commenting on this entry.

Rock rock.
Who's there?
Slate who?
It's slate. Time to got to bedrock!

Rock rock.
Who's there?
Granite who?
Don't take all rocks for granite!

Rock rock.
Who's there?
Coal who?
If you're coal, I'll warm you up!

Rock rock.
Who's there?
Marble who?
That pretty rock looks marble-ous!

Meish Goldish

Rock, Rock: Slate

Using Alphaboxes

The "Alphabox" was first created by Linda Hoyt to use as a means of brainstorming words that students know about a topic. The process activates prior knowledge and provides instructional information to the teacher.

(Download a blank Alphabox form from the Vocabulary Documents section on this page.)

This activity can be done whole class, in small groups, or individually with the teacher and/or students recording. Or, a combination of approaches can be used. Alphaboxes can also be used as a summary of learning.

For example, if using Alphaboxes during a class discussion brainstorming what students know about rocks(FOSS unit Pebbles, Sand, and Silt), the word boulder would be recorded under B. Alphaboxes can also be used to reflect on a story...the possibilities are endless. Please post a comment to share how you have used this strategy.

Ways to Increase Student Vocabulary

For more information, specifically on how to use these techniques during read-alud, small-group reading instruction, and writing, see Chapter 8z; Words Matter: Building Power in Vocabulary from the book Language Systems and Literacy Learning.

Vocabulary Documents: General


What Good Readers Do to Solve the Meaning of Unknown Words.doc



Language Strategies for Active Classroom Participation.doc

Vocabulary Knowledge Rating Sheet.doc

word alert.doc

Vocabulary Journal Page.doc

Vocabulary Four Square.doc

Word Journal.doc

Connect Two.doc

New Words When Reading.doc

Vocabulary Documents: Science

solids and liquids-2-3.doc
solids and liquids-1

solids and liquids 2a-8.doc
solids and Liquids Vocabulary Cards: 2

Powerpoint: Explicit Vocabulary Instruction in Science

Wood & Paper Word Wall.doc
Wood & Paper Vocabulary Cards (Stephanie Han)

Animals 2x2 goldfish-1.doc
Animals 2X2: Goldfish (Lisa Wright)

Isopod vocab Cards.doc
Animals 2X2: Isopods (Lisa Wright)

snail vocabulary cards-3.doc
Animals 2X2: Snails (Lisa Wright)

worm vocab. cards.doc
Animals 2X2: Worms (Lisa Wright)

I have one sun.doc
Matter and Energy Who Has? I Have... Game

Vocabulary Documents: Math

Grade 4: Math-Unit 1 Vocabulary Activity (Pam Price)

Vocabulary Links

Coxhead's Academic Wordlist
Academic Vocabulary Word Lists and Games
Jeopardy Game Templates (K-5)
FOSS: Building Science Vocabulary Poster
Word Sift (very cool site that highlights key words in text)
My Vocabulary University

Important Science Process and Content Words

Adding Words To Word Banks

Add a word to a word bank after the children have had several concrete/ hands-on experiences with the concept. As the students are using the term in discussions/ investigations, record the word and post it on the word bank so the students connect their concrete experience with the term.

Read the word together. Point out features of the word (spelling patterns...).

Organize the word banks conceptually rather than alphabetically if it is a content-themed word bank. This way, you can teach relationships between words.

Remove older words as the word bank becomes full.

**Note- Use interactive writing for younger students. One or two words are manageable chunks to do whole-class IW sessions.

Add icons, realia (ex. for translucent- attach a piece of wax paper/ or for soil- attach a ziploc bag full of soil) or diagrams to the word cards to help student's remember the meanings.

Using Vocabulary to Make Questioning Effective

Knowing the big ideas of each FOSS unit is critical. To reinforce those ideas and vocabulary, it is necessary to use focus questions. When interacting with the children, you can use bridging questions to prompt children's thinking.

Here are some question frames (Visit the Exploratorium and BaySci websites for more ideas):

What do you notice ...?
What differences do you notice between...?
What do you notice when using your hand lens? How is it different than what you observe without the hand lens?
What are your questions?
Why do you think...?
What do you think has happened? What do you think will happen if...?
Where do you think____has come from?
What will you need to find out...? What materials are necessary?
How will you make a fair test...?
Is there a connection between...?
How are you going to record your observations?
How can you explain to others what..?
What diagram/chart/graph would best represent your data/show results?

Related Pages

Graphic Organiz...
Resources By Grade Level
Reading with EL...
Writing Ideas
Integrating Content
Multicultural Books
Increasing Student Talk
Partnering with Parents
Links in Other ...
CELDT/Language Standa...
El Specialists/ Teacher Leaders
Teacher Books

4/25/2014 12:43:14 AM