4 Essential Strategies for Teaching ESL

How a Picture Dictionary can help you Teach ESL

How Can a Picture Dictionary Help Me Teach ESL?

Do you have newcomers in your class?  Are you struggling with finding different ways to help them?  Do you want something that is different than the typical newcomer curriculum?  Do you just need to supplement your program that is already in place?  In this post I will show you how I use this Spanish - English Picture Dictionary to help me teach my new-comer English Learners effectively.
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Strategy #1: Create activities out of the themes in the dictionary, and understand some basic principles 

So there are some basic principles that you need to know before diving in.  These are simple principles, and they build on each other.  

I will show in detail each one of these principles, but the basic gist is that anyone learning a language needs some vocabulary to start off.

First Principle: Teach Thematic Vocabulary.  Once an English Learner knows some words and phrases, they naturally want to know how to use the words and phrases.  Simple!  Put them into sentences.

Second Principle: Bump the vocab up a notch to sentence structures.  After learning some basic sentence structures, the student learning the English language will want to use discourse and talk with people.  This is the fun part!  You can create discourse with questions and answers.  

Third Principle: Bump it all up and teach discourse.  It is impossible to predict the precise, actual real-world conversations that your English Learner will encounter, but we can all predict the general gist of encounters that we all have.  This is how we can best prepare our learners for discourse.  

Some predictable discourse can include asking where different things are located, like pencils, paper, the bathroom, or the gym.  Other predictable discourse pieces could include questions that are started with 'wh' words: who, when, where, what, why.  

'How' question stems are more involved and will require a higher level of discourse and vocabulary than what a predictable  Q & A discourse could provide.  This could be tackled with sequencing or transition words like 'first, second, next, after that' etc.

And of course, as we know, once a person can start talking and can use discourse effectively, then they can start to write more effectively because they know what the writing should sound like in their mind first.

Strategy #2: Teach words and phrases

Use Vocabulary Cards with Images to Teach Vocabulary for ESL

When you are learning any language, you need to know some words or phrases.  This is basic survival for anyone at any age or place.

So let's narrow this down to the classroom. Your classroom can be a dual language classroom, and ESL classroom or a setting where you are teaching English as a Foreign Language. The principles are the same.

Use the picture dictionary to teach words.  I print the dictionary and show the pages to the children.  We talk about the themes and the different words and pictures in the themes.

Once you have narrowed down a theme that you want to start with you can use index cards to make your own personalized vocabulary cards with the words written on the cards.  You can add adjectives, adverbs and other intensifiers to the words to create phrases and to teach additional vocabulary.

I love to use a pocket chart and sentence strips to show students how to describe a noun, and how to use the correct word order in this process.  Students can use the pocket chart with the index vocabulary cards that you create with them, and then they can add the descriptions to the nouns.  
How can I teach ESL to Newcomers?

Once the students can manipulate the cards creating the correct word order, they will naturally start to read the cards and sentence strips.  This is a super fun moment!!  Encourage and celebrate the moment your newcomers start to read aloud.

This is so great because once they get the confidence to read aloud, they will very likely start to use these words and phrases naturally in their beginning - level discourses.  

If you are looking for vocabulary cards that are made for you, then click on the following links to find some in my Teachers Pay Teachers store:

Strategy #3: Teach sentence structure

What is the Sentence Level for ESL?

So once you have taught basic vocabulary and you have shown your students how to describe the vocabulary words with adverbs and adjectives to make phrases, you can then show them how to create sentences.  

Word order is so important when teaching at the word and phrase level because this starts to form skills and habits in your students' minds.

Word order is so important in sentences.  Again, I use the same pocket chart idea to begin with super simple sentences that are noun-verb patterns, or adjective-noun-verb.  Start simple, and build up.  Use the cards and sentence strips and get your students moving by the pocket chart to form these simple sentences.

When you have a chance to work in small groups at a table, write out the sentences that you are using in the pocket chart and cut them up.  Have students put them in order and read the sentences to you and to each other.  

Take it up a notch by pairing students with a partner and having the students actually write the sentences out on paper.  Then they read the sentences to each other, then cut them up, reorder the sentences and glue them on a paper or in their notebook.  Of course, they will be naturally reading the whole time!  When you do this, you are using all 4 domains: Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing!!  Wow!!!  What a great lesson with amazing student engagement.  Yay!!

Strategy #4: Teach discourse with those words, phrases and sentence structures

How can I teach the Discourse Level to my Newcomers?

So now that you have taught word order at the word and phrase level, you've bumped it up a notch with the same principle of keeping good word order at the sentence level, now you are ready to teach questions and answers to form discourse.

I know that formulaic processes may not sound fun at first, but it is the predictable formula that language learners lean on to help them get going with discourse.  

The best predictable formula is to form a question, and then use the same words and phrases within that question to actually answer the question.

Here is an easy and simple example of the 'formula': 
Q:  What is your favorite color?  A: My favorite color is blue. 

In the example (super simple example!) above you can see that the same words from the question are used in the answer.  Here is a slightly more complex set:

Q: Where is the bathroom located?  A:  The bathroom is located on the second floor. 

In the slightly more complex set we see the word order changing from the question and the answer.  This is so important for English Learners to pickup on from the start.  The best way to teach this is to just dive in and practice. 

Another great way to get discourse going is to teach students how to describe something.  They can describe the room you are in, they can describe the clothes someone is wearing, they can even describe a book cover!  

picture dictionary bilingual cover
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This is usually  a skill that is taught using your newcomer books and materials in the school or academy where you teach, but you can easily amplify this process of description with the sentence strips and cut-up-sentence process that I described above.  

You can easily choose a page from the picture dictionary that you would like students to describe.  For example, you could choose the house, and have students describe it.  Provide them with the words and phrases, bump those up to sentences, and then put the sentences into a paragraph.

Your kids will be so excited, and you will be so happy that they are starting to understand you and others, plus they will be reading, writing AND speaking using this formulaic process!  It's not so bad after all!!

In conclusion, you can use words, sentences and discourse planing as your basic principles to guide you as you teach English Learners more and more language skills.  My English-Spanish Picture dictionary is super practical and can help get you going in this process.  Q&A is a basic, formulaic way to get discourse started, and descriptions are a bit less formulaic and slightly more free-spirited.  

Be sure to check out my picture dictionary here!  

Picture Dictionary Spanish English

I hope you enjoy this process as much as I do.  I know your students will learn quite a bit with the picture dictionary and with your encouragement and solid teaching strategies!  

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