Context is everything for English Learners

English Learners have to work twice as hard as their peers to build English skills and keep pace across subject areas. For these students, a lack of vocabulary knowledge and contextual strategies can pose a significant barrier to comprehension, particularly in the upper-middle and high school grades.

The first step in helping EL students master vocabulary usage is to teach it in context. In BrightFish Reading, we tackle this through direct, explicit instruction of key vocabulary from each story unit so that when a word is encountered in the text, students will recall its meaning. Students learn the definition of each word as it is used in the text they are preparing to read. Usage examples along with supporting images help to reinforce the concept. In the activities, students apply each new word by selecting the best usage sentence from a list of distractors, sorting similar and opposite words, and using the target word to complete sentences and write their own compositions. Corrective feedback helps students use context clues to understand and apply word meaning.

When using a reading program to bolster vocabulary development in EL students, there are a number of instructional strategies that can accelerate their progress. The goal is to enable EL students to integrate new words with what they already know and recall the meaning of those words when they encounter them in passage text.

Here are a few strategies that can help EL students boost their vocabulary development:


1. Make sure students are not just glancing over supporting visuals in the definition and applying vocabulary activities. Ask students to describe the illustrations and explain why a picture was used as an example as it relates to the definition. If you are unable to sit with your students 1:1 during this activity, have them jot down their explanations in a story journal that you can review together later.

Each BrightFish Reading vocabulary activity includes usage definitions, read-aloud options and supporting images.
2. Create multiple opportunities for students to paraphrase the definition of words based on their usage in the story. Students can write down the target word definition and then rephrase it in their own words, either verbally in small groups or on their own using their story journal. After students finish a story unit, ask them to go back to their written definitions and revise as needed.

3. Give students the opportunity to hear a fluent pronunciation of the words they are working on, either by sitting with them or using a technology program with read-aloud options. Ask students to repeat a word after listening to it. Hearing it and saying the word in sequence will help to facilitate its storage in memory.
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