10 Terrific Supports for ELL Students in the Classroom

As a teacher, you know how important it is for your students to have a strong vocabulary. Not only does it help them understand the material they’re studying, but it also allows them to communicate more effectively in English. However, building vocabulary can be a challenge for ELL students, especially if they’re just starting to learn the language. Here are ten simple supports for ELL students that will help build their vocabulary.

Teach vocabulary in context

One of the most effective ways to teach vocabulary to ELL students is to introduce new words in context. This means using them in a phrase, sentence, or short paragraph that demonstrates their meaning. For example, if you’re teaching the word “plentiful,” you could use the sentence, “The choices for fruit at the market were plentiful.” This will help your students understand the meaning of the word in a real-life situation.

Use visual aids

Visual aids are powerful tools when teaching vocabulary to ELL students. You can use pictures, diagrams, and videos to help your students understand new words. For example, if you’re teaching the word “fossil,” you could show your students a picture of a dinosaur skeleton to help them understand what a fossil is. You can even excavate fossils in a kit like this one from Nat Geo to give students hands-on experience with the vocabulary and the concept!

Play vocabulary games

Vocabulary games are another fun and engaging strategy for ELL students. I love creating games in my classroom! Students always super excited because I make up the rules – so none of my students have ever played them quite like this before. My favorite is “Walking Words,” a game I made up with student art. I tape pieces of their artwork around the room and put a sticky note with a vocabulary or spelling word on it – but it’s the wrong word! They have to match the word to the right artwork by moving the sticky notes to the correct student’s art. So much fun!

You can also play popular games like charades, Pictionary, Scrabble or word scrambles to help your students learn new words. For example, you could play Pictionary with your students and have them draw pictures of the vocabulary words they’re learning.

Read books aloud

Read-alouds are an easy but powerful support for ELL students. When you read aloud to them, you’re taking the added pressure of decoding off their plate and allowing them to focus on the meaning of the text. You’re also building receptive vocabulary skills.

You can choose books that are appropriate for their level and read them aloud, pausing to explain new words as you come across them. This will help your students understand the meaning of the words in context. You can also focus on content-area books to reinforce learning across subject areas.

Use flashcards

Flashcards are a classic tool for teaching vocabulary, and they’re still effective today. With nothing more than some index cards or sticky notes, you can quickly and easily create a customized list of words for each of your students. Talk about effective supports for ELL students!

You can create flashcards with new vocabulary words and definitions, and use them to quiz your students. You can also have your students use the flashcards to practice on their own. Maximize your transition time by keeping some flashcards on rings to use while waiting in line, during class bathroom breaks, and even outside at recess!

Encourage your students to use new words

Encourage your ELL students to use the new words they’re learning in their everyday conversations. Create fun challenges, like using two or more vocabulary words in one sentence or using a specific word at least 5 times per day when speaking. Make it a class competition by keeping score!

You can also give students prompts or assignments that require them to use new vocabulary words. For example, have them write a single sentence or even a short story using the new words they’ve learned. You can also ask questions that require an answer with a vocabulary word in it.

Use online resources

There are many online resources available that can help your ELL students build their vocabulary. You can use websites like Quizlet or Memrise to create flashcards and quizzes for your students. You can also use online games and activities to help your students practice using new words. Some of the best English learning apps for students include BrainPOP ELL, Lexia English, and Imagine Learning.

Use realia

This strategy can be especially helpful for visual and kinesthetic learners. Realia refers to real-life objects or materials that you can use to teach vocabulary. For example, if you’re teaching the word “kitchen,” you could bring in real kitchen utensils and appliances to help your students understand the meaning of the word. Remember that word “fossil” earlier? Using the fossil kit to dig for fossils is another great example of realia.

Use word maps

Word maps are a visual tool that can help your ELL students understand the relationships between words. You can create a word map with a central word and related words (synonyms, antonyms, or topic words) branching out from it. This can help your students see how different words are related to each other. You can also create word webs with multiple-meaning words to expand understanding of all the ways the word can be used.

Create a vocabulary notebook

Encourage your ELL students to create a vocabulary notebook where they can write down new words and their definitions. Younger students can write the word and draw an illustration that shows what the word means. This also creates a personal connection to the word because they are creating something to represent it.

You can also have your students use their vocabulary notebooks to practice using the new words in sentences. Students can trade notebooks with a partner and practice using each other’s words too, or add a picture to the word so their notebooks become collections of class artwork! This will help them remember the words they’re learning and allow them to connect with the word.

The Power of Supports for ELL Students

There’s a hidden superpower in using these strategies within your classroom, and that is the fact that these strategies are not only for ELL students! These strategies represent best practices in teaching vocabulary, and they will benefit ALL students in your classroom. Even if a first-language English speaker knows a word, these strategies will solidify connections, build meaning and understanding, and expand that student’s personal connections and awareness of a word. That’s powerful!

Now that you know these strategies, what’s next? Click here for an overview of the Science of Reading to continue making those big impacts in your classroom!

You can also visit these websites for more learning focused on supports for ELL students:

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