What’s the Role of Vocabulary in the CI classroom?

This is a great question! And it is one that many people disagree over! Let’s look at some things we know from the research of Krashen and many others.

  1. Poor readers have the smallest vocabularies. Giving extensive lists just puts these struggling students at a greater disadvantage.
  2. Exposure to oral language promotes growth of vocabulary.
  3. Repetition improves acquisition of vocabulary.

What I know from my personal experience:

  1. As a student, I was given massive lists of vocabulary in both Spanish and English classes, out of context. I did well on the tests because I am a great memorizer. My friends didn’t all do well on the tests and had negative feelings about their own ability.
  2. As a reader in Spanish and English, my vocabulary gets bigger and bigger all the time! My students are only 14-18, I have to be realistic even about what is a cognate for them. It took me a long time to develop the vocabulary I have.
  3. I learn vocabulary I am interested in at a much higher rate than that which I am not… ex: Jim, my husband, tries telling me a computer thing and I get anxious because I don’t understand what he is saying. I respond by speaking Spanish to him so he can see how ridiculous this conversation is.  ex: I tell Jim about my nerdy science readings online and he says “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

What I see in my classroom:

  1. I give a few words that everyone needs to know and then allow lots of room to add self selected vocabulary. The words they choose for themselves are the ones they use most often in conversation.
  2. Even though I don’t give all the clothing (numbers, rooms of the house, etc) at one time, they acquire them all slowly through the year!
  3. They acquire a TON of words through reading!
  4. They actually acquire the vocabulary we use in the classroom! Those old lists I gave were deceptive. It made me FEEL like they were learning a lot more vocabulary than they were… but it was one of those cram and forget type of things for most of the kids.

Vocabulary is important! (If we don’t have words, we can never communicate.) That said, vocabulary has to be sheltered. If we throw too much out, we risk losing enrollment and feeding the mindset of  ‘I can’t learn a second language.’

Try the chuck-it bucket as a way to pare down to the basics and then add a few enrichment structures for the real superstars! If you can present small chunks of vocabulary as the “required structures” for each unit, then the pressure is off for your slower processors to acquire more than they can and the spotlight can shine on your faster processors as they pick up the extra little things you share in readings, in class discussions, and in stories/movie talks.

Have a great year sharing your passion with your students and be patient with them and with yourself. We are never going to be perfect! As a matter of fact, just today I read in Daniel Pink’s book Drive that mastery of anything is like an asymptote (google that one if you don’t remember from math class).  You get close but you never quite get there! In the end of it all, your students will really blow you away with the language they can produce after a year… and even more so the more years they come back!!

 

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Author: senoracmt

I began teaching Spanish in Illinois in 1994. I have taught levels 1-4 in a small rural high school, 8th grade introductory Spanish, Biology 1, and 101 and 102 at the community college level. My Spanish classes are partnered with the community college to offer students 8 semester hours of dual credit on completion of Spanish 4. In 2011 I met Carol Gaab and Kristy Placido and have since co-authored the book "La hija del sastre" with Carol Gaab and authored the novels "La Calaca Alegre", "Bianca Nieves y los 7 toritos." "Vector," "48 horas" and "Bananas" through Fluency Matters. In 2006 I became National Board certified and I have been serving as a mentor both for candidates seeking certification in world languages other than English and a virtual mentor for candidates in all certificate areas. I completed my Masters degree in Spanish education in 2011 and did my research on the use of Understanding by Design to create meaningful cultural units for the language classroom. I am a frequent presenter on this topic, please consider me if you are interested in a workshop on backward design. In 2013 I was named the ICTFL Foreign Language teacher of the year and in 2014 I was selected as CSCTFL's teacher of the year. In November of 2014 I was lucky enough to be one of the five finalists for the ACTFL National Teacher of the Year in San Antonio, TX. What a "Cinderella" experience! You can reach me via email at senoracmt at gmail.com.

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