When I first started teaching first grade, I thought of literacy as just reading and writing. I saw it as a separate entity. I never thought about it as I taught math, science or social studies. I taught my students how to add and subtract and I taught them about the water cycle and famous Americans. I was that good little first year teacher that taught the curriculum just like I was suppose to.
When I first started teaching , my school was made up of mostly English speaking students and they shared a relatively common vocabulary. As the years moved on, I noticed my school’s culture changing. My school demographic shifted to almost 50% English Language Learners. It was at this point that I learned a difficult and important lesson. I couldn’t continue teaching the way I always had. Something in my approach had to shift too.
My routine was comfortable and efficient. Every day I called my students to their individual reading groups. I introduced the stories and reviewed difficult words. Then the students would read independently.
Then one day when one of my students asked, “What’s an umbrella?” I realized something I hadn’t recognized before. This student pronounced the word correctly, but he didn’t know what an umbrella was. He identified the word without understanding it. You see, this student was from EL Salvador, and he had never seen or heard of an umbrella. I explained what an umbrella was and moved on to the next reading group.
I called my next group, and went through the same process. This time a student asked, “What’s a rooster!?” The little girl had the funniest look on her face. Again, she said the word beautifully. She was from Taiwan and had never seen a rooster before. I explained it and moved on.
I also noticed that my students seem to struggle with other content areas.
It was later I realized that I had to quit assuming all students shared the same life experiences and vocabulary. I was presented with new challenges of providing equity to students in my Title One School, with almost 50% English Learners. I had to think and teach differently!
Because of these new challenges, I sought out best teaching practices that would provide ways to expose my students to rich vocabulary in meaningful ways. I knew my students needed to make relevant connections daily. I also realized that I needed to provide literacy in all my content subjects, not just for my English Language Learners, but for all my students!
I wanted a teaching tool that could help me build rich vocabulary and improve writing skills in every subject! I spent so much time trying to find something that would just be apart of my students’ everyday experience and that wouldn’t take up a lot of our academic time. Teachers have so much to teach in so little time!
The light bulb went off in my head, I began to think of a teaching tool that helped create relevant connections for my students. I could introduce rich vocabulary with pertinent themes that were part of their units of study. I could do this in just a matter of minutes at the beginning of the school day and continue it throughout the day. I could build on the unit of study , and provide better understanding for my students. I could even use these words to teach phonemic skills in an organic way, that could be applied to each new reading experience.
I could do this by introducing a word a day at our calendar time and building on a theme with the week’s words.
I discussed this idea with my daughter and business partner, who is now a teacher and we decided to create a monthly vocabulary calendar that would be thematic.
I used this vocabulary tool daily and I saw significant improvement in my students’ reading, writing, and overall literacy! I had 100% of my students, which were over 50% English Language Learners, pass the PALS assessment. I actually accomplished this 2 years in a row! I was so thankful!
My success earned me an “Exceeding” on the “Student Academic Progress” standard of my evaluation.
I loved how excited my students would get finding out the new word for the day. They would also look for that word in other places around the school or in the books they were reading. I always encouraged them to be great “word detectives.”
As you can see, these students are definitely connecting to this vocabulary and having fun as they do it!
Students are gaining confidence in their writing because they have a bank of words and a theme to provide connections.
Are you a teacher like me that struggles with teaching relevant vocabulary to English Language Learners as well as difficulty getting your students to write? Do you need a simple tool that can help you teach literacy in all your content areas?
Then this Literacy Tool is for you!
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Try this literacy tool in your classroom and watch your students learn great vocabulary, improve their phonics skills and gain confidence in their writing!
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