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Vocabulary Acquisition for English Language Learners

By Oliver Smith

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Learning English is not an easy task. One of the problems is that English has a very rich vocabulary, meaning students have many words to learn. On top of this, there are several ways to teach vocabulary, and students may find some methods better for them than others. One thing is for sure: it's always a good idea to teach vocabulary in context. Putting the words in a phrase or sentence helps students so much more than just giving them the words and definition alone. Try to use the new words in speech as much as possible when you are teaching them, to model how to use them. Repetition is key to remembering the words over long periods of time, so it's essential that your students practice a lot.

Stand-alone words, especially in lists, are not an effective way for students to learn vocabulary. Giving the students the key words within sentences will better help them understand the new words and how they can be used. Students and teachers can use Storyboard That to quickly and easily create their own visual definitions or scenes to demonstrate the meaning of the words both individually and within a context. The advantage of having students create their own visual definitions is that they are personal to the student. Students are, therefore, more likely to remember them. After creating these visual vocabulary resources, students can easily revisit them at any point. When students have completed an activity, the storyboards are saved in the student’s own account, but also shared with the teacher.


To Pull Over
To Pull Over

Example

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Layouts for Vocabulary Activities

Storyboard That makes it simple for students to create their own visual vocabulary resources. Students can blend together text with visual elements, such as characters, shapes, scenes, and props to create their own illustrated definitions of the keywords. Storyboard That offers a range different layouts which are suited to different vocabulary activities. The variety of layouts also allows students to select what works best for them (unless the activity requires a certain layout).

Traditional Storyboard

The traditional storyboard layout is useful for making visual vocabulary lists. Students can write the word in the title box of the cell and in the description box, they can write their own definition of the word. This can be done in English or in the students’ own language. Students can then create a visual definition or add some examples in the cell. This format can also be easily printed and cut up into flashcards or labels.






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Spider Map

Spider maps are useful for showing how words are related to a central theme. Clustering words can help students make connections between the words, increasing the likelihood they are to remember them. Spider maps are limited to only ten cells. If you have a word list longer than this and wanted to include them on one storyboard, you should use a different layout, like the traditional layout.






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16x9 Storyboard

The 16 x 9 layout is great for labeling activities or any activity where you need a bit more space. You can give students images (or even upload your own) and have them label the image with textables. You can increase the size of the cell as well, to make sure that students have plenty of room to include their ideas (or use the handout and poster layouts). Additionally, the description box is larger when you use a 16x9 cell, which gives students more room to use more complicated written input. In the description box they could use the target language in a sample sentence, write a detailed definition, or include a list of synonyms.


Labeled Scene
Labeled Scene

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T-Chart

T-Charts are great for comparing different words, especially antonyms! This layout could be used when comparing different words used by different parts of the world, like American and British English. Another way to use T-Charts is to create a list of extreme adjectives and compare them to their corresponding “normal” adjectives.






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English Idioms

Idioms are described as a phrase, or expression, where the meaning can’t be worked out from the individual words. For example, time flies means time goes quickly, but this could cause confusion with some students if they try to interpret the idiom literally. There are thousands of idioms in the English language and they are used commonly in speech. Many idioms are specific to cultures, countries or even regions within a country, which makes it even more difficult for students to learn. Similarly to phrasal verbs, it is important to use them regularly in context when talking to your students in class. As with all vocabulary, repetition is key. An interesting activity to do with idioms is having your students compare literal and figurative meanings of idioms. They'll then have visual definitions that give both the meaning and ideas about when to use them.


Idioms
Idioms

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Prepositions for ELLs

Prepositions are really well suited to visual definitions. Trying to explain what they mean with words alone can be really difficult. This activity could be used with younger students or beginners with words like in, under and between. This could also be extended to older or more advanced students by using more difficult prepositions such as among, opposite and until. Teaching prepositions can also be a place where you introduce or reinforce vocabulary, as you'll need to pick an item to move around second one!


Visual Prepositions
Visual Prepositions

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Storyboard That's Export Options

As with all storyboards on Storyboard That, any vocabulary storyboards can be exported in a range of different formats. Any work that you or your students complete can be quickly and easily put into a presentation or other document, or even printed. Using the export tool, flashcards with the vocabulary words and the visuals can be printed with a couple of clicks and cut up. Flashcards can be used in games where students have to match the visual with the word. The best thing about games is that students learn even when they don’t know they are!


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