What Is It?
Accuracy in word identification is a key component of becoming a successful reader and writer. Quick and easy identification of words enables fluency to develop which, in turn, permits better understanding of the material read and greater clarity in writing.
To encourage automatic decoding skills, it is important that teachers select a list of core, high-frequency words for students to learn. Through focusing on this list of core words, students learn to manipulate words and word parts in written language, which will enhance word identification in reading and use in writing.
Teachers may develop a list of core words from common word lists or from words used to teach spelling patterns. This list can also include commonly misspelled words. Each grade level should have its own list of words. As students advance through the grades, they work with increasingly challenging core words, and their understanding of common spelling patterns improves along with their vocabulary and comprehension.
Implications for ELLs
The success of a piece of writing depends largely on the writer's vocabulary choices. In order to communicate effectively, writers need to know many words and to know those words well. This means knowing the various meanings a word may have (e.g., Mean, root, log, and citation are all examples of words with multiple meanings.); knowing how to use the word grammatically (e.g., We use a mop to mop the floor, but we don't broom the floor when we use a broom; we sweep it.); knowing the words it typically occurs with (e.g., toxic waste; poisonous snake); and knowing its level of politeness or formality (e.g., kids versus children, fake versus fictitious). Because this knowledge requires time and multiple exposures to each word in a variety of contexts, English language learners (ELLs) are likely to need a great deal of work in vocabulary in order to read and write like their English-proficient peers.
Young writers also need to know how to spell words conventionally or how to represent them phonetically so that readers can understand them. To learn all of this, ELLs need rich listening, speaking, and reading experiences, multiple exposures to words, and explicit teaching of definitions and usage. Using words in writing to express their ideas is a culminating experience in which ELLs and other students make words their own!
Strategies for Supporting ELLs
When working with English language learners (ELLs) at varying levels, effective teachers work with and augment the core word list for their grade level in several ways.
Their classroom word walls and word webs include words that were taught in previous grades. They define words that students have asked for in their writing (e.g., How do you write video games? I don't know how to write Santo Domingo. How do you write grandma?). Teachers make sure to include content-area and thematic words by connecting with the science, math, and social studies curricula as well as to cross-curricular themes.
In classrooms where many ELLs can already read Spanish, lists of Spanish-English cognates (i.e., "sister words" with common origins and meanings across languages, telephono/telephone, sal/salt, estudiar/study) are posted on the wall for Spanish-speaking students' reference. Picture dictionaries, labeled posters, and graphic organizers are also posted and discussed for the benefit of all children.
Glimpse of the Classroom
In the front of the room, Mrs. R. has a large bulletin board entitled, Our Word Wall. On the wall, a new word is added each day. In addition, high-frequency words that appear in speaking and writing are listed. Today, the teacher introduces two commonly confused words: were and where.
Several easy sentences using the word were are printed on the board. Mrs. R. and the class discuss the word, how it is spelled, and if it makes sense in these sentences.
Next, she writes two more sentences using the word where. Again, the class reads and discusses these sentences.
Mrs. R. now conducts a compare/contrast activity. The class explores the similarities and differences between the words.
Lastly, Mrs. R. writes four sentences on the board with deleted spots where the two words might occur. Students are asked which word would be an appropriate fit. Then, they are asked to spell it. Following their spelling, Mrs. R. writes it in the appropriate blank.
She says, "These are two, often confused words, so when you are reading and writing, make sure that the word makes sense and is spelled correctly."
These words are displayed on the word wall for consultation whenever students need them in their writing.
Questions to Think About