Courtney Raymond started teaching ELLs ten years ago while working as a surf instructor. After several years of taking international students into the water, Raymond got TEFL certified and entered the classroom. Her first teaching job took her to Chengdu, China where she taught junior high English and worked as a representative of a curriculum company. Raymond later decided to continue her own education by applying to graduate school while still in China. Six months later, Raymond was in Vermont studying at the School for International Training striving for a Master’s in TESOL. Continuing her work with Mandarin speakers, Raymond relocated to Massachusetts for student teaching shortly after completing her Master’s. She currently teaches ELL students at Fairmont Private Schools in Anaheim, California.

As a seasoned ELL teacher, Raymond knows that vocabulary is everything. She states that “[w]ithout words and meaning, students can’t express themselves in the way they desire. Learning vocabulary broadens a student’s repertoire which ultimately empowers them in English, and in self-confidence.” At the beginning of each year, Raymond asks her students what they want to learn. Vocabulary is always their answer. While students acknowledge that vocabulary are the building blocks of language, what’s surprising is how a vocabulary lesson can truly engage students, revealing their enthusiasm and sincere interest to learn.

“As a language teacher, you are essentially handing them the tools, and that is powerful.”

Raymond enjoys working with lower-level ELLs due to the fact that instructors are able to build a student’s vocabulary from scratch. She expresses that the basics of language are fun to teach if you’re able to get creative! Like an upside down pyramid, the teaching begins slowly with bite-sized chunks, however the pyramid fills quickly once students acquire more vocabulary. This enables them to learn more words and learn more quickly because they’re equipped with the tools to make connections. Raymond warns against watering-down material, but encourages teachers to give your beginners more time to understand and process before moving to a new vocabulary set.

Here are three strategies Raymond uses in the classroom while teaching vocabulary:

Speak slowly in the beginning, but speed up in the end – “This is a conscience action I make. I always begin vocabulary units with a slow, clear voice. I make sure the students understand the pronunciation, inflection, root word, and part of speech. When we move on to using the words in sentences, I speak quickly in my natural tone. This gives them tangible and visible self-confidence because they’re having a fast paced conversation in English and they love it! Plus, it trains their ears to better pick up words they know in discourse.”

Always connect words with pictures – “Every single vocabulary word I teach has one or two pictures assigned to it. This takes some time arrange, but it’s worth it. Your students will automatically make a connection that cannot be unseen. I often ask my students to find pictures on their own as well. I find that 90% of the time, they’re right on the mark. This tells me they’re understanding, and that is invaluable.”

Create word groups – “If you have a list of fifteen words you’re covering in class, create groups within that list of words that are of the same families. Make connections between opposites, synonyms, or words that have the same phonemes. Try grouping words according to parts of speech. Do this as a class and you can quickly assess their understanding. When they’re given easy tasks, such as this, students are engaged. But, more importantly, they begin to understand English as a network of words with connections, rules, and exceptions, and that’s when they build fluency.”

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