You are on page 1of 2

10 Ways to Build ELL Vocabulary


If you teach English-language learners, you know what a challenge it

can be to keep vocabulary instruction fresh and engaging. Thats why
we recently asked educators in our WeAreTeachers Helpline group
to share their favorite ways for growing ELL vocabulary in middle
school. Heres what they had to say:

1. Act it out: Shake up your usual vocabulary routine and get

students out of their seats by playing a game of vocabulary
charades. Write the words that you want to practice on index
cards, and invite teams to take turns choosing a card and acting
out the word.
2. Use word walls: Middle schoolers arent too old for word walls!
Try creating different walls or display areas based on some of
their favorite topics (e.g., sports or movies) or categories related
to surviving middle school (friendship words, cafeteria words).
3. Label everything: When you have English-language learners in
your classroom, everything from your stapler to your pencil
sharpener to your wall clock should be labeled. Get students
involved: Have them create labels by cutting out and collaging
pictures and words from magazines.
4. Use photographs: Written routines should include photographs
to help reinforce the vocabulary words at hand. If you post
instructions for turning in homework, for example, include a
photograph of a student acting out each step.
5. Build words using play dough: Teacher Jill T. recommends
giving each student a small container of play dough. Choose a
vocabulary word, and challenge all students to make something
that represents the word in under one minute. Pick a winner from
each side of the room, who then act as judges for the next
round, says Jill. Seventh and eighth graders still love play
6. Draw pictures: When learning new words, have students
illustrate their own pictures or representations of the word. This
combination of visual and verbal exercises can help kids retain
new words more quickly. A fun variation is to have students make
comic strips or books featuring their new vocabulary.
7. Teach Greek and Latin roots: It may be old-school, but theres
no doubt that teaching word roots and origins is a fast path to
understanding entire word families. Try having students create
flow charts with the root at the top and all of the related words
below. Or invite students to write a song explaining a word root
and related vocabulary.
8. Focus on synonyms: Teaching synonyms is another quick way
to build vocabulary in a deep, meaningful way. If they have
learned emblem, they should also know emblematic and
badge, banner, coat of arms, etc. says teacher Krista C.
9. Play word games: Word games like Hangman and 20 Questions
are great for gaining English-language skills and reviewing
concepts in your curriculum too. Try playing Ancient Egypt 20
Questions for example, where all the answers tie in to your study
of that time period.
10. Partner with native speakers: You might ask students what
20 words do you think all middle schoolers should know? and
have native speakers partner with English-language learners to
create a presentation sharing their choices.