When I first started teaching, and for a couple of years following, I had no idea where to start with vocabulary instruction. I finally learned about Frayer cards in my second or third year, and then I was exposed to Marzano's work because I was lucky enough to see him speak. But then, I learned Margarita Calderon's 7-step method, and it stuck.
As someone who personally loves structure, especially in my lesson plans, I love using Calderon's method because it's quick and easy to start using. It goes even quicker when our students learn the drill and it becomes an organic part of our classrooms. This post explains her method clearly so that you can use it the next day if you want! If her method doesn't speak to you after reading this post, check out this checklist of vocabulary strategies after you read.
When To Use
Calderon says that direct and explicit instruction is crucial for our English Learners. I like to use the 7 steps at the beginning of my lesson, which is my "I do" as a part of the gradual release model. I wrote more about gradual release in this blog post.
These steps should be used with about 5 words or less at a time, and about 5 minutes for each word. So what are the 7 steps?
First of all, this handout is great to have handy so you can use it as a cheatsheet before you get the hang of these steps. Before I even start, I like to have the word pulled up on my projector along with the dictionary definition for the students to see. I also will have the sentence where it appears in their text already out (make sure your students have access to their texts when you are doing this as well so they can follow along) and have a tab open on my computer's projector of a picture of each word to show them. I try to make it relevant to their interests and as memorable as I can!
Introduce your word by saying it three times while your students repeat after you. Some students may think it's a little silly at first, but they normally come around and get into it.
Here is where you need your text out and ready. Ask students to follow along and read the sentence where it appears in their text. They will read silently while you read it aloud.
Learnersdictionary.com and visualdictionaryonline.com are my favorites to show my students the dictionary definition. I just read it aloud while they follow along with me.
Pictures with my student-friendly examples are a must! I will always have another tab open that is up on my projector. For example, we were studying Elizabeth Van Lew last year and one of our vocabulary words was "assiduous". I showed them this picture of The Rock to convey that assiduous means diligent or persistent. The Rock has all those muscles since he is just so darn assiduous!
While I have eyes on my projector, I switch back to the webpage with the dictionary definition and focus on the part of speech, any multiple meanings, important spelling information, or any cognates. I try not to overwhelm them with too much information, so I usually just stick to one or two of these a word.
For example, if the word was "analyze", I would point out that this is a verb and the Spanish word is "analizar". The only downside to doing this is if you have speakers of other languages in the room, so you may want to be sensitive of that and possibly omit cognates if you have, for example, a lot of Arabic speakers in the room.
For this step, I always stress to my students that we are just learning this word so don't be afraid to use or say it incorrectly! What matters most is the attempt. I usually ask my students to turn and talk, and if they are a little more advanced or I feel like we have enough time, I may have them write a sentence and then share (write, pair, share). And once they get pretty familiar with this process, you can always add in speaking evaluation cards to assess each other! Here are some from my TpT store.
Let's use another example with The Rock, since he's one of my personal faves. I'd tell my students, "The Rock is very assiduous about going to the gym. When is a time you are very assiduous? What is something you really want and you will not stop to get?"
At this point, we are wrapping up with the word and I will remind them what we will be working on and that I need to see the vocabulary word in their work. Maybe you will be asking students to discuss Elizabeth Van Lew and you will require them to use assiduous when describing her character. Or maybe you will be working on your culminating task for the text and you want them to use it their writing.
Either way, always return back to the word whether it's that same week or next week, or throughout the rest of the school year. Consistent practice and exposure to the word will up their chances of retaining that word for good. And don't forget- this is a super quick intro to the words! Make it extra fast and not too much rest time in between steps. Then on to the reading!
Read more about Margarita Calderon's method here. And take a peak at an example of a slide from one of my newcomer lessons below, or follow this link to see my how I do it virtually in action!
To learn more about strategies for incorporating language into your lessons, check out my course, My EL Mentor: Creating a Language-Rich Classroom! And if you are a high school teacher, consider joining my membership, My MLL Mentor, to discuss ideas like this with other high school ESL teachers!
I support middle and high school teachers through monthly lesson plans, coaching, and guest speaker offerings in our Secondary ESL Teacher Membership.