Develop a Language Rich Vocabulary Strategy for ESL Students

a word wall with sticky notes with vocabulary from the CET-4 Chinese and English Vocabulary textbook to use as a vocabulary development teaching strategies by Suzanne Marie


Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Looking to enhance your teaching approach for English Language Learners? Explore the transformative power of the SIOP Model!

This blog post demystifies the SIOP Model and guides you through its practical implementation. Discover how to seamlessly integrate it into your teaching practice with real-world examples of vocabulary development teaching strategies.

Delve deeper into the article to explore how the SIOP Model can be harnessed to create engaging and impactful lessons on word walls and word maps for teaching English language learners vocabulary.

Elevate your teaching and empower your students with the language skills they need to succeed.

Implementing SIOP Model Strategies To Engage Students

If you’re looking for an effective way to engage students and capture their attention, consider using the SIOP model in your classroom.

The Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) is a research-backed instructional approach. The SIOP Model uses specific strategies to help English Learners (ELs) engage in content as they develop language proficiency.

What is the SIOP Model?

The SIOP Model is an evidence-based instructional approach developed to help teachers integrate language and content objectives effectively.

It includes eight interrelated components that assist in instructing English Learners (ELs) by providing a well-planned, organized, and high-quality learning experience.

  1. Lesson Preparation
  2. Building Background
  3. Comprehensible Input
  4. Strategies
  5. Interaction
  6. Practice & Application
  7. Lesson Delivery
  8. Review & Assessment

These components promote interaction between educators and students to ensure social and academic language acquisition.

The SIOP Model’s eight components focus on increasing comprehension and student learning.

  • Its lesson preparation component entails a plan for instruction that includes objectives, materials, and an understanding of students’ cultural backgrounds and language proficiency.
  • Next, the building background component links students’ prior knowledge and the content they will be learning.
  • Comprehensible input assists educators in adapting language to a range of proficiency levels through visuals, demonstrations, and student participation.
  • Strategies are used to help students pay attention and make sense of the material, while interaction focuses on allowing learners to participate in their instruction actively.
  • Practice & Application promotes using new material in meaningful ways, while lesson delivery allows teachers to use appropriate teaching strategies and instructional scaffolding according to ELLs’ needs.
  • Finally, assessment & review encourages reflective practice as it assesses whether the ELLs have successfully mastered the material presented throughout each component.

Develop a Language-Rich Environment

A key feature of the SIOP Model is developing a language-rich environment in the classroom that fosters interaction and communication.

This means setting up routines, encouraging conversation, and providing opportunities for students to use language to practice academic concepts.

It also involves using visual aids for key concepts, such as using colorful plastic chips to count during math lessons or posters that review frequently used vocabulary.

These visual supports improve comprehension by helping students understand information more easily through a multi-sensory approach.

Vocabulary Development Teaching Strategies Using SIOP

Teaching vocabulary development is an important part of the SIOP Model, and using thematic instruction is a great strategy to combine it with.

Incorporating thematic instruction into your lesson plans allows students to look at language differently. Seeing language in different contexts makes it easier for them to remember and apply new words.

This also allows students to see connections between words and develops their language understanding.

Simplifying Vocabulary and Checking for Comprehension

To help English Language Learners understand the assigned material, teachers should simplify the language for activities and tasks by pointing to objects or pictures and providing synonyms for difficult or specialized words.

Additionally, it’s important to constantly check for comprehension of instructions by having students repeat directions and instructions in their own words. This strategy not only provides repetition of the material but allows teachers to identify gaps in understanding immediately.

When accommodations are necessary for ELLs, it is essential to consider other means of communication, such as visuals or pictures that summarize the instruction and its objectives.

If a student still has difficulty understanding specific tasks or activities, allow a one-on-one session during class to help them catch up on the material if needed.

Engaging Students in Meaningful Activities and Assessing Progress

One way to ensure comprehension of a concept is through meaningful activities emphasizing student collaboration. This could include group activities, simulations, conversations, and games.

Furthermore, teachers should assess student understanding with quizzes paused and approach or withdrawn. These methods will help the teacher gauge which students need additional support and those who require further challenges.

Activities should be engaging, increase in complexity, and contain meaningful instruction.

A great way to help students connect with a new concept is to allow them to:

  • ask questions
  • reflect on their work and experiences
  • apply what they are learning in real-life situations

This will give the students ownership of their learning and take it away from purely a rote memorization of facts to an understanding of the subject within the context of their human experience.

Additionally, continual assessments during activities allow the teacher to periodically stop and assess student comprehension throughout the lesson.

Multiple assessment forms can also be implemented, such as quizzes, exit tickets, mini-projects, or group work.

These forms of assessment provide feedback that informs subsequent instructional steps while giving teachers insight into how students progress toward content objectives.

Examples of Vocabulary Development Teaching Strategies

Teaching strategies such as word walls and word maps are effective when implementing the SIOP Model to promote student vocabulary development.

Word walls create a visual and interactive way for students to review and build vocabulary with words they see in their reading, writing, and content topics.

On the other hand, word maps support students in understanding relationships between words that have similar meanings and may encourage stronger recall of newly acquired words.

The following includes two vocabulary development teaching strategies I use in my classes with English language learners.

Target Learner Population

Grade 10 and 11 students in the international department of a Chinese high school.

Word Walls for Vocabulary Development

We have a large portable whiteboard on wheels in the class where we create a Word Wall for the vocabulary words my students need to learn for their final Chinese exams.

We use the CET-4 Chinese Vocabulary (Green) Book for grades 10 and 11. This text is government mandated for all grade 10 and 11 learners. 

Each week they work on a word list of approximately 30-50 words. They must know the Chinese and English words and their definitions. I work with them to develop context about the words, create lists of synonyms and antonyms, and help them incorporate the words into grammatically correct sentence structure. 

We choose more difficult words to be added to the word wall at the end of each week to create a continuum of the most challenging words to work on within the following weeks and throughout each unit. As they become known, we remove some to create space for additional words added each week.

I created printouts of the vocabulary words and laminated them to stick up on the word wall. My students are given a laminated word and a sticky note at the beginning of class. They write synonyms, definitions in their own terms, and a sentence to describe the word.

Semester Plans

As the semester goes on, we will practice using the most challenging words for games like Pictionary or even Charades and poster-making activities to help build context and memory through languaging and visualization. 

Students will also use these words for writing activities and incorporate the relevant words into other lessons with writing.

At the end of each week, the students take spelling and vocabulary tests with their Chinese teachers using the words from the green book. Our activities are a great way for them to build their vocabulary in a fun and visual manner. 

Word Maps for Vocabulary Development

This video explains how to use a Word Map in your classroom:

My Reflection on Word Maps

I liked the activity as presented by the teacher in the video. I will modify this lesson style to use the CET-4 words and have them work similarly with the most difficult words. 

Some of the vocabulary words are generally known, so we will have enough to work with for definitions, creating visuals, identifying synonyms and antonyms, and writing sentences with the words.

We can pin up the visuals on our large wall at the back of the class as we can break it into a few sections to showcase their work.

I will use the Word Wall and Word Maps as cues when I am giving lessons to incorporate the words into my explanations and activities for my students.


Incorporating the SIOP model while teaching vocabulary development can be improved using word walls and maps.

Word walls are a great way to provide students with visual representation and reinforcement of new vocab words. In contrast, word maps allow students to make connections between different words and concepts.

Both of these methods encourage deeper understanding and long-term memory retention.

Thanks for stopping by!

Until next time,


Related Topics

Further Reading

Word Walls in Spanish Instruction

Top Five Vocabulary Strategies for English Language Learners

Incidental Vocabulary Learning in Second Languages

Learning Strategies for Vocabulary Development

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