Fun & easy strategies to teach more complex vocabulary

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On this episode of Bilingual Avenue, I host a consulting call with a member of the Bilingual Avenue club, Angelica Engelmann.  We chat about how to: teach grammar, support the community language learning process and fun ways to learn vocabulary.

The Question

To what degree, if at all, should grammar be specifically taught?  We are going to amp up our writing this year and I’m wondering if it would be helpful or harmful to explain basic conjugation and adjective agreement (as opposed to just giving the correct form)?

The answer

Grammar for most children takes off after the two word combination stage.  On average, children need to be able to understand 200-250 words before they start can begin to master grammar concepts yet they are primed to pick up grammar.  It is important for us to listen to our children’s grammar mistakes as they give us an idea as to what our children are struggling with in their language development.

We can indeed have specific grammar instruction in the classroom.  Setting specific times throughout the school day may prove to be particularly helpful.  However, specific instruction should not replace the one-on-one modeling that we can do when a learning opportunity arises.  The key is to find a balance where we are not overcorrecting our children while still demonstrating correct grammar structures.

The Question

As a homeschooling family we are in a unique position to do the majority of our instruction and schoolwork in the target language (Spanish)  However, I am concerned about adequately developing their reading and writing skills in English.  Should I also include some direct instruction of reading/phonics and writing in the community language or would that undermine the acquisition process?

The answer

Just like in a classroom setting, bilingual homeschooling families can designate a dedicated time for instruction in the community language.  I recommend creating boundaries around when and how the community language should be taught during the instructional day. I also suggest to Angelica identifying a way to make up the time that is spent in the community language during school hours with additional exposure to the target language at another point during the day.

It is important as bilingual families that we remember that many literacy skills will be transferred from one language to the other.  However, there are some elements that are unique to each language and we will have to teach our children those separately.

The Question

As a homeschooling family we are in a unique position to do the majority of our instruction and schoolwork in the target language (Spanish)  However, I am concerned about adequately developing their reading and writing skills in English.  Should I also include some direct instruction of reading/phonics and writing in the community language or would that undermine the acquisition process?

The answer

Children learn vocabulary through context or explicit definitions. As multilingual families, we switch back and forth between these two strategies.  Sometimes we convey meaning to our children by modeling and providing clues to our children for vocabulary.  Other times we can teach them a definition and over time instill an understanding of the word.

Research has shown that a child should be exposed to a book six time for optimal vocabulary instruction. A child should then be taught the target word at least six times during each of those book reading sessions for a total of 36 exposures to the vocabulary in context.

Here are some strategies to provide the 36 exposures!

  • Preview in Context with Books – select 5-6 words from a book that you are about to read.  Then, read the word in context and see if the children can discern the meaning. The idea is to get a conversation started with your kids using the words. Last, you read the story together.
  • Spanish Vocabulary Book – Keep track of all the Spanish vocabulary your children are learning.  Make it a challenge to see how many Spanish words are being learned.
  • Act it out – Have some fun with the vocabulary.  You can act out a words and then turn it over to your children to act it out as well.
  • Make a board game – A board game like Candy Land can work really well.  Assign categories for each color of the board.  For example, if you land on a yellow square your child has to give the definition of the word.  If they land on a blue square, they have to come up with a synonym.  You can assign other colors to antonyms, sentences, etc.  This is a great way to review!
  • Beach Ball – Write a few words on a beach ball with either sharpie or stickers so you can reuse it later.  Toss it around with your children and take a look at the word that is closest to your child’s thumb when they grab the ball.  They can then share with you what the word means, use it in a sentence, etc.

The key with vocabulary is to make it interactive! Which one do you think you will use?

Autobahn

Angelica hopped on the Autobahn and answered a few questions to help other families on their language journey:

  • What is your favorite resource for supplementing Spanish in your home?

Movies that they already know and/or are familiar to them. It takes the burden off Angelica to always be the source of Spanish exposure and she is learning in the process.  Apps in Spanish have also come in handy.

  • What is the best advice you have received as a bilingual parent?

A mantra shared from the Bilingual Avenue Members’ Club: Progress not Perfection!

HELP US SPREAD THE WORD!

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