Digital Vocabulary-Building Tools

In prior blog posts, I’ve established that I’m currently enrolled in a state-mandated Sheltering English Instruction (SEI) class and that I have a fascination with digital classroom activities. So when my good friend Megan from Breaking Grad(School) showed me the following list of vocabulary-building activity ideas featuring a few digital options, I got super excited and sat down pretty shortly afterwards to start writing this post.

As a requirement for my SEI class, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on how to meet the needs of English Language Learner (ELL) students in my English Language Arts classroom. One of the major hurdles that ELL students have to face on their journey to fluency is the immense quantity of English language vocabulary they are required to learn while simultaneously completing their academic content work. To help them succeed in this challenge, creative, strategic, and engaging vocabulary-building activities need to be integrated into everyday classroom work. If vocabulary acquisition can be paired with activities that also boost digital literacy skills, then that’s even better!

In the interest of gathering and recording an arsenal of such activities for future classroom use, I’ve selected a few of the ideas from the aforementioned article from Education Week to summarize below.

  • Have students follow a “word of the day” account on Twitter! There are a number of account options to choose from. You can ask each student to tweet a sentence using that day’s word and a class-specific hashtag (#MsHashemsELA9). The class-specific hashtag will allow you as a teacher to monitor individual student participation, but will also allow students to read one another’s sentences. Education Week’s list even suggests reviewing the tweets and selecting a few sentences to read as a class. You can do this daily, weekly, or just whenever you feel like it!
  • Try creating your classroom word wall on Pinterest or Instagram! Essentially this would be a class-wide Pinterest board or Instagram account on which you or students would post images paired with key vocabulary words and their definitions. This allows students to capitalize on images or memes to help reinforce their vocab words, which could be extremely useful for visually-oriented students or students who don’t have a high comfort level with the English language. Students can comment on photos with sentences that use the vocab word in context. Education Week has helpfully created a sample board on Pinterest that can be viewed here. You can also see their image below for ideas:

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  • Assign vocabulary-rich online articles for homework reading! Education Week suggests news outlets like The New York Times, CNN, and National Geographic as potential sources for relevant, high-school level reading. I would add Time Magazine and BBC News to that list. Finding sources with key vocabulary words used in context will not only give students an opportunity to see those words in action, but will also help students use their literacy and vocabulary skills to engage in current events.

It is worth noting that many of these ideas operate based on the assumption that every student has access to a device (smartphone, tablet, or computer) that allows them to participate. Before using these activities in a classroom, it would be important to establish that this assumption was correct in order to avoid placing a particular student at an unfair disadvantage.

In a classroom where access to the necessary devices is not a problem, these activities, which are incredibly helpful for use with ELL students, are also extremely applicable to fluent English-speakers. As with most smart lesson-planning aimed to engage ELL students, the skilled integration of vocabulary-use into daily lesson material benefits the entire class. These ideas offer all students the opportunity to build digital literacy skills, practice digital writing (which I discuss the importance of here), and authentically build comfort and flexibility with new words. So thanks, Education Week and Megan!