8. My Language Minority students find it difficult to remember the new words in the content area lessons I teach. What can I do?

Vocabulary development is one of the most important goals of content area lessons. To understand content area concepts students must master the technical language of the content areas. A student who cannot “talk” the language of the content area is a student who has not learned the key content area concepts. Thus, understanding how students remember and retain the new words presented in content area lessons is the most important factor in effective teaching and learning.

Research is particularly helpful here. A key research finding states: “Children learn vocabulary better when the words they study are related to familiar experiences and to knowledge they already possess.” This research finding highlights the two key phases of vocabulary development: (1) experience, familiar experiences; and (2) prior knowledge, verbal knowledge, knowledge that students can verbalize before learning the label or the name for something new, unknown.

The key role of EXPERIENCE. New words will be learned, remembered and retained only if the meaning of each word is experienced by the students through their senses –by seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and/or tasting. Student will only learn key content area vocabulary if this technical vocabulary is presented first in its concrete representation through manipulatives, realia, visual aids, concrete objects or scaled models. Only when students perceive, observe, recognize, point to, discriminate, and isolate a key content area concept through exposure to the reality that defines this concept, can students be said to have mastered that concept. For example, the names of colors. Each color is a concept. Only when students perceive, observe, recognize, point to, discriminate, and isolate each color in the rainbow can we say that students have acquired and develop the concept of “red,” or “blue,” or “yellow,” etc. There are many kinds of “blues” –“baby blue,” “navy,” “indigo,” “azure,” “cerulean,” “sapphire,” “turquoise,” “sky-blue,” “Prussian blue,” “cobalt,” “teal,” etc. Only when students perceive, observe, recognize, point to, discriminate, and isolate each of these variations of “blue,” can we say that students have acquired and developed each of the concepts of “blue” named above. Abstract concepts must also be experienced, that is, perceived, observed, recognized, pointed out, discriminated, and isolated. An abstract concept such as “liberty,” or “thoughtfulness,” or “Miranda Rights,” etc., must be understood through a dramatization of a situation, through representations of actions that define each of these concepts. Students will learn only those concepts they can experience. Consequently teachers must FIRST and FOREMOST provide real experiences when teaching any and all concepts in all content areas.


The key role of PRIOR VERBAL KNOWLEDGE. Research has repeatedly shown that “Instruction in which children establish relationships among words is more effective than instruction that focuses only on word definitions. ". . . Teachers can foster connections between words by having students group them into categories such that relationships among the words become clear. Children can use their own experiences to create a cluster of synonyms, such as neat, tidy, clean, spotless. . .” . Another cluster might be examine, scrutinize, inspect, check, explore, investigate, and quiz. One more cluster could include state, province, region, area, district, zone, division, and section. Teachers who plan to introduce new vocabulary words in their lessons should establish, with the help of their students, clusters of words based on their meaningful relationships. Then, AFTER – and only AFTER—these meaningful categories of known words are introduced and reviewed by teachers with the help of their students –the students know these words, they have prior knowledge of these words—teachers should introduce the new content area vocabulary in each of the already established categories. The category neat, tidy, clean, spotless, can now be extended to include immaculate, impeccable, washed, cleansed, scrubbed, unsoiled, unsullied, untarnished, unstained, undefiled, etc. To the category examine, scrutinize, inspect, check, explore, investigate and quiz, the new words probe, audit, dissect, sift, and contemplate can be added by the teacher. And to the category state, province, region, area, district, zone, division, section, the teacher can add the new word dependency.

Only teachers who always plan into their lessons (1) new experiences related to familiar experiences, and (2) new vocabulary words in connection with categories of known words, will succeed in helping students understand the key content area concepts AND remember and retain the new key vocabulary to talk, read, or write about the new concepts.




For more in-depth information, classroom demonstrations, and "coaching" of new and/or experienced teachers, Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK offers:

1. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
2. Cross Cultural Diversity - Multicultural Strategies
3. Effective Instruction for English Learners (L.E.P. students) Parts 1, 2, 3, 4
4. Promoting Academic Success in Language Minority Students
5. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
6. Oral Language / Literacy Skills / Higher Order Thinking Skills
7. 50/50 Dual Language Programs: design, planning and implementation
8. The Structure of English / The Structure of Spanish
9. Transition: Introduction to English Reading

Web Site Programs for Teachers: Numbers 1, 5, 7, 8, and 9.
Web Site Programs for
Paraprofessionals: Number 3.
Web Site Programs for
New Teachers:
Enhanced Cultural Sensitivity - The Challenge of Students Diversity
Identifying / Responding to Students' Language Needs
Phonemic Awareness: Teaching English phonics to L.E.P. students
Relationship Between Reading, Writing and Spelling
Improving Reading Performance -- Building Oral Language Skills)

Write and e-mail any additional questions you may have, and Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will establish with you, your school or district a Technical Assistance Service Contract. Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will answer all your questions promptly and to your satisfaction.


For information and credentials please click on the link below or contact directly:


Educational Consultant, Program Evaluator

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3113 Malcolm Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90034-3406

Phone and Fax: (310) 474-5605

E-mail:  csssadek@gte.net