Sunday, March 23, 2008

Strategies Proven to Help Accelerate Vocabulary Acquisition in ELLs

One of the biggest challenges that I have had as an ESL Teacher is how to accelerate and guarantee the acquisition of new vocabulary of my students. Even though the acquisition of new vocabulary is already difficult for an L2 learner to perform adequately in highly contextual everyday conversations, acquiring new vocabulary becomes a formidable task within the context reduced, cognitive demanding academic environment. In the next few posts I will give a brief overview and review of seven sources that propose strategies to guide ESL teachers and materials developers in their creation and choice of resources for English Language Learners.

In the article Current Research and Practice in Teaching Vocabulary, Hunt and Beglar (1998) give an overview of three main approaches to developing vocabulary: incidental learning, explicit instruction, and independent strategy development. In addition, the article offers seven basic principles that material developers should apply when creating materials for L2 learners.
Hunt and Beglar (1998) argue that most of the vocabulary acquired by both L2 and L1 learners is through incidental reading. They propose the use of graded readers (books leveled by reading ability) to strengthen the vocabulary of beginning learners and to scaffold their reading and vocabulary acquisition, until the students are able to read more authentic materials. Furthermore, they recommend that instructors use corpus linguistics inventories, such as West’s General Service List, and Xue and Nation’s University Word List, to swiftly and explicitly develop a student’s working academic vocabulary. They suggest the use of vocabulary flash cards and dividing vocabulary into increments of 5-7 words per lesson. Moreover semantic maps, cloze activities, and crossword puzzles are among the activities recommended to expand student’s word knowledge of previously learned vocabulary. They also mention helping the student develop fluency through timed and paced readings as well as sight vocabulary drills. As a final component they advise that students have opportunities to experiment using context clues as a means to independently develop word meaning (Hunt & Beglar, 1998).

Next to come: Rob Waring's article Writing a Graded Reader.

Hunt, A., & Beglar B. (1998). Current research and practice in teaching vocabulary. The Language Teacher, 22(01).

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