This page has a variety of strategies that can be used in the classroom in order to support and develop your ELLs' vocabulary. For examples of each strategy, please see the Lessons and Activities page.


Each strategy is hyperlinked to an Internet source that provides further information or a lesson plan if you don't have access to 50 Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners or Reading, Writing, and Learning in ESL.

Visual Scaffolding: Providing language support through visual images

Description: An approach in which the language used in instruction is made more understandable by the display of drawings or photographs that allow students to hear English words and connect them to the visual images being displayed.

Implementation steps:
  1. Identify the vocabulary
  2. Collect visuals
  3. Reproduce and organize visuals
  4. Engage the students
  5. Build the file

Reference: Herrell, A., & Jordan, M. (2012). 50 strategies for teaching English language learners. (4th ed., p182-185). Boston, MA: Pearson Education

Preview/Review: Building vocabulary and concepts to support understanding

Description: A teaching strategy usually associated with bilingual classrooms where a teacher or instructional aide gives a preview of the lesson in the students' home language. The lesson is then taught in English and the material is reviewed in the home language to assure content understanding. This strategy can be adapted for English only classrooms through the use of realia, gestures, visuals, etc.

Implementation steps:
  1. Plan and gather materials
  2. Introduce key vocabulary and concepts
  3. Teach the lesson
  4. Review the vocabulary and concepts
  5. Provide additional practice
  6. Assess student progress and understanding

Reference: Herrell, A., & Jordan, M. (2012). 50 strategies for teaching English language learners. (4th ed., p182-185). Boston, MA: Pearson Education

Vocabulary Role Play: Building vocabulary through dramatization

Description: A strategy used to encourage learners to make connections among their past experiences, the content currently being studied, and vocabulary that is new or being used in an unfamiliar way. Students are introduced to new vocabulary and given an opportunity to discuss and use the vocabulary in context through role-playing.

Implementation steps:
  1. Identify key vocabulary
  2. Teach the lesson or read the book
  3. Connect the vocabulary to past experiences
  4. Sort the words
  5. Plan ways to use the words
  6. Give the students time to practice
  7. Perform the scenes
  8. Focus on multiple word meanings

Reference: Herrell, A., & Jordan, M. (2012). 50 strategies for teaching English language learners. (4th ed., p182-185). Boston, MA: Pearson Education

Vocabulary Processing: A multistrategy approach to building and using vocabulary

Description: An approach to vocabulary building especially appropriate for English learners because the vocabulary is introduced in several contexts and the students are given multiple opportunities to use the words in their everyday interactions both in and out of school.

Implementation steps:
  1. Choose vocabulary to explore
  2. Chart and categorize the words
  3. Add context to the words
  4. Find ways to use the words
  5. Encourage additions to the word collections
  6. Build vocabulary journals
  7. Use cognates
  8. Assess growth and understanding
  9. Add technology

Reference: Herrell, A., & Jordan, M. (2012). 50 strategies for teaching English language learners. (4th ed., p182-185). Boston, MA: Pearson Education

Word Walls: Displaying and organizing words for easy access

Description: Word walls are alphabetical lists of words created in the classroom for the purpose of word study and vocabulary development. They can be as simple as a list of words written on a large sheet of butcher paper. These word walls can serve as a reference for students as they write or interact verbally.

Implementation steps:
  1. Begin word study
  2. Use the word wall
  3. Keep the word wall interactive

Reference: Herrell, A., & Jordan, M. (2012). 50 strategies for teaching English language learners. (4th ed., p182-185). Boston, MA: Pearson Education

Word Wheels

Description: An approach that is used to visually portray words that are related in some way, such as synonyms. An excellent resource for developing vocabulary within the context of writing.

Implementation steps:
  1. Identify the vocabulary word (central word)
  2. Make sure the students know the central word
  3. Discuss the different meanings around the word wheel

Reference: Peregoy, S., & Boyle, O. (2008). Reading, writing, and learning in ESL. (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education

Word Wizard

Description: A research-based strategy that encourages students to tune in to new words used in various contexts.

Implementation steps:
  1. Identify the new vocabulary words
  2. Encourage students to notice and note the new vocabulary outside of class
  3. Students report the findings in the next class meeting
  4. Students and teacher discuss the different ways in which the word was used
  5. Create a chart and keep track of the various ways in which vocabulary words are used

Reference: Peregoy, S., & Boyle, O. (2008). Reading, writing, and learning in ESL. (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education