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Essentials › Classroom Strategies › Methods and Techniques in ESL Literacy Instruction › Developing Oral Fluency, Vocabulary and Background Concepts
Developing Oral Fluency, Vocabulary and Background Concepts
Watch how this ESL literacy instructor combines physical movement with oral development to teach food categories.
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LIFE are mainly oral learners. The majority of learning in their lives to this point has been through speaking, listening and watching. They are usually better at speaking and listening than reading and writing in English.
The development of oral language is crucial to LIFE because it provides the basis for the development of literacy: developing oral skills actually enhances learners’ written skills. LIFE are learning to read as opposed to reading to learn, so in a good ESL literacy classroom, all new vocabulary and concepts are taught orally before they are taught in written form.
Teaching LIFE must include the development of:
- a rich vocabulary
- background concepts
- categorization & classification
- spatial relationships
- knowledge and understanding
All of this learning is a crucial step in developing reading and writing skills.
Developing a Rich Vocabulary
Learners need to develop a rich vocabulary so they can communicate both orally and in writing. Learners must hear and say new vocabulary in many different contexts before it is fully acquired.
Here are some steps for teaching new vocabulary to LIFE:
- Teach new words orally first.
- Use realia and pictures to provide a visual of the word.
- Then show learners the word in print.
- Read the new word.
- Finally copy and spell the new word.
- Recycle vocabulary in future lessons.
- Encourage learners to use the new words in speaking and eventually in reading and writing.
Developing Background Concepts
Instructors must teach the background concepts that give vocabulary context and meaning. Because of their limited formal education, LIFE lack various concepts that are generally taught in school, such as grammar, parts of speech, science, geography and the universe. It is important to teach LIFE these concepts specifically because they may not have encountered them before.
In higher-level literacy classes, LIFE need to be able to use the abstract concepts they encounter. In order to teach these concepts, the instructor must first identify what the concept is, then break it into sequences, which slowly progress from concrete examples to more and more complex and abstract concepts.
Developing Categorization and Classification
To prepare for abstract thinking, LIFE need to be able to organize and integrate new information into what they already know. Categorization and classification are both methods of doing this. In an effective ESL literacy classroom, learners gradually learn to apply different principles of categorization and classification to become aware of grouping and regrouping.
Tips for Developing Categorization:
- Teach categorization in a concrete, systematic manner.
- Always start with the oral and move to the written.
- Beginning in Foundation Phase, introduce the concepts of same and different, with different being the easier concept to understand.
- Introduce categorization after learners master the visual discrimination needed to make simple comparisons of same and different.
- Use basic charts with two or three columns and a picture or word bank. A good place to begin is to use two categories of vocabulary the learners already know and that are obviously distinct, such as clothing and food.
- Once learners understand the concept of categories, introduce more categories. Depending on the level of learners, introduce distinctions that are more difficult.
Tips for Developing Classification:
- Use vocabulary that learners already know. Move from the spoken to the written, from concrete to more abstract, introducing a few new vocabulary classification words to assist in the tasks.
- Use games such as UNO or Crazy Eights to teach “one-step differences” where two cards are the same except for one thing.
- Use simple, concrete exercises, such as classifying cars and bicycles as subsets of vehicles.
- Introduce abstract classifications, such as classifying nouns, verbs and adjectives as parts of speech in higher phases.
- Teach classification across hierarchies using a family tree.
Developing Spatial Understanding
Many learners are unfamiliar with using maps and diagrams and using spatial concepts like perspective and scale. Learners will need to develop the concept that a two-dimensional picture can represent a three-dimensional object.
Tips for Developing Spatial Understanding:
- Use realia.
- Teach scale and perspective to understand maps.
- Teach vocabulary and spatial concepts step-by-step in order for learners to work successfully with images and read maps and diagrams.
Increasing Knowledge and Understanding
LIFE may lack knowledge of what we think of as basic facts, such as the earth rotates around the sun, that a virus causes a cold, or that a whale is a mammal. Respect the knowledge that LIFE bring to the classroom and show learners the importance of understanding the world in their new country.