Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Language vs. Content Objectives - Part I

Why is it important to know the difference?

As dual-language educators it is crucial to understand the difference between language and content objectives. I learned a lot more about this topic, when I was asked by my principal to help a teacher write language objectives in her lesson plans. I will never forget the day, when I met with Mrs.G. Imagine this scenario...

 Mrs. G had been teaching first grade for twelve years. She had deep content area knowledge and wanted to provide all of her students with authentic activities to relate the significance of academic concepts. Mrs. G always felt successful at teaching her class, but that year had been different. She had students with more diverse backgrounds than previous years, particularly students that where beginner speakers in both languages.

As Mrs. G was beginning to feel frustrated with her inability to reach all her students because of their needs. As a result, we discussed about the most important method she had to implement to make her content more comprehensible to all her students — creating and posting objectives that tell the students not just what content concepts they will learn in each lesson, but also the academic language they will need to learn and use to meet the academy standards. With this knowledge, Mrs. G felt more confident that she not only knew what to teach, but also how to teach it so that all her students can be successful.

What are content objectives?

Content objectives are characterized by facts, concepts and skills. There are state, district, school and teacher standards.

What are language objectives?

Language objectives define the language domains (listening, speaking, reading and writing) and make the context comprehensible.


English language learners who have academic language proficiency understand the English that enables them to access learning needed for academic achievement. Language proficiency incorporates both social language proficiency and academic language proficiency. 

Coming soon...

Writing Language Objectives

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Explicit and Tiered Vocabulary Instruction - What, Why and How? - Part IV

I received a lot of positive feedback and great questions from several teachers that are extremely excited to learn more about vocabulary instruction, so I am answering these three crucial questions:

1. What does explicit vocabulary instruction really mean?
While I was explicitly teaching vocabulary, I quickly learned that it is important to make the distinction between oral vocabulary and reading vocabulary.  
Oral vocabulary can be further divided into listening vocabulary (receptive vocabulary) and speaking vocabulary (expressive vocabulary).   
Reading vocabulary is encountered in text and it is more complex than our speaking vocabulary.

2. Why is explicit vocabulary teaching so important?

Vocabulary is a strong predictor of reading comprehension. For our students to understand the text, they must know what most of the words mean before they can comprehend what they are reading. Children with well-developed vocabularies can recognize a new word in text faster and easier, if the word has an identity in their mind. 

 3. How do you choose which words to teach directly?

Isabel Beck and her colleagues have developed a really nice framework for choosing the most important words that should be targeted for instruction.  She divides words into three “tiers”.

Tier I words are the most common words. Examples: come, see, happy, table
Tier II words are high-frequency words. Examples: hilarious, endure, despise, arrange, compare, contrast. Examples: hilarious, endure, despise, arrange, compare, contrast
Tier III words are typically specialized words.   Examples: atom, molecule, metamorphic, sedimentary, continent. 

* She recommends identifying and teaching Tier II words as they occur and can be used across contexts.

Great resources
Book: Bringing Words to Life (Isabel L Beck)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Vocabulary Games- Part III

As dual language teachers, we know that vocabulary is a vital part of education and it is considered a core subject. 

There are two methods to teach vocabulary: through games and formal drill and practice. Well, drill and practice activities are not considered "fun" and students do not internalize knowledge (new words and their definitions). As a result, they just memorize the vocabulary or spelling for the test and then they forget these words the next day.

When students play vocabulary games, they learn new words faster, they use them daily, and they have FUN!

In this regard, a variety of content-supporting interactive vocabulary games are necessary in all classrooms (not only bilingual, dual-language or ESL classrooms).

So, what games are effective? 

Here are games that are easy to set up and they are my students' favorite!

1. The Fly Swatter Game 


word list


• Write the target vocabulary on the board.

• Divide class into teams of 4 or 5.

• Teams stand in line behind starting line (5-8ft. back).

• When the teacher calls out a definition, first one to swat an answer gets a point.

• After the first round , the swatter is handed to next the person.

• The first team to get predetermined amount of points is the winner! 

2. Blackboard Spin the Bottle 


 word list and definitions

• Write 5 vocabulary words on the board, place one student under each word. These students are the "bottles."

• Students at their seats "spin the bottles" by calling out a definition.

• When a "bottle" hears his definition, he spins around once.

• If the student fails to spin, when his definition is called, he must give someone else his place at the board.

3. I Have... Who has?


Index cards with words and definitions


• The whole class can play this after studying vocabulary of a lesson or chapter.

• Write the vocabulary words and definitions on cards and mix them up.

• Each student is given one word and a different definition.

• The first student asks, "Who has_____ (and reads definition)?

• The student who has the word says,"I have______(and reads the definition)."

• Continue to play in this manner. Go around the room. 

Do you play vocabulary games that are fun for your students? 
We would love to hear from you!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Vocabulary- Word Sorts- Part II

I am definitely a word sort fan, mainly because my students enjoy learning vocabulary and spelling this way.
Also, students have to pay close attention to patterns, features of words, sounds and their meaning. 

I learned, while teaching vocabulary using word sorts, that my students were more interested and excited about words. They were internalizing new vocabulary and spelling them correctly. In addition, they were making sense of words and patterns within words for the first time. It is crucial for students to construct their knowledge of words, creating a deep understanding of how language works.

Teaching spelling and vocabulary with word sorts is extremely beneficial; as a result, I made the risky decision to replace my traditional spelling tests with word sorts activities. It took a while to convince my students' parents and administrators, but the results spoke for themselves. 

Types of Sorts

1. Sound and Picture Sorts

Sound sorts are essential because sound is the first layer of English orthography. Sound study can be introduced at a very early stage and develop with a child’s individual ability. Sorting pictures or oral vocabulary is a manipulation of sounds, and this manipulation increases awareness. 

Picture sorts are one component of word study and are used to help beginning readers develop concept of word, phonological awareness, and phonics.Picture sorts most often begin with focusing on initial sound (single consonant, digraphs, or blends). 

2. Open and Closed Word Sorts

Word sort activities involve students comparing, contrasting, and classifying words - considering words from a variety of perspectives.

Open Word Sort activities are students directed. Students sort the words into any categories that make sense to them. They’re thinking creatively and critically.

Closed Word Sorts are teacher directed. Students place words under the correct category heading.


3. Digital Word Sort

Digitized word sorts provide an efficient way for teachers to deliver spelling pattern differentiation. A variety of these are ready-made, including: