Language Teaching, For One and For All

by Jennifer Kobrin on August 18, 2010

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Most of the people that teach English Language Learners—whether in formal learning environments like classrooms, or more informal learning environments like afterschool programs—have little specialized training on ELL methods and approaches.

“I teach Science, not ESL,” I heard an elementary school teacher say recently.

As we prepare for the new school year, we need to leave this way of thinking at the door.  If you have ELL students in your school or program—and if you don’t, in most communities you probably will soon—chances are that you are at least partially responsible for their success, and that you want them to do well.

Helping students to learn English is something that everyone can do.  Specially trained teachers are part of the equation, and an important one, but the reality in most states is that students only spend time with certified  specialists for a small part of the day.

If you are an educator, think about picking three to five vocabulary words a day you think your kids should know.  It’s the words and phrases linked to content areas like equation, archipelago, civil rights, and anemone that are the most critical, because kids are probably not coming across them much outside of the classroom.  Little words that can have multiple meanings like match, cell, or report can also be tricky.  Yet they are so important to being able to write a college paper or a cover letter for a job interview.

There are lots of ways to teach vocabulary aside from writing words on the chalkboard or whiteboard.  At a recent workshop, I had my students act out, make the objects of, color, or read a funny poem using 10 words from a list.  Then I put a new list of 10 words on a large piece of paper and give them 30 seconds to memorize them all.  It is amazing how much easier it was for everyone to remember words from the first list—and we had a lot more fun that way, too.

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