RVIS Newsletter - August 2021 (Plain Text Version)

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In this issue:



In order for English Language Learners (ELL) to reach their goal of understanding another language in a proficient manner, they need to consistently practice for as long as it takes. However, because no student is the same, the teacher as well as the students need to figure out certain classroom applications that work for all. Two of the many methods that can be used to help students with their proficiency levels are word study and/or phrase recognition exercises and semantic connection exercises.

Learning a new language requires knowledge on how to organize ideas in a way that native speakers can understand; therefore, from a structural linguistics point of view, focusing on the word order, form and Parts of Speech seems to be a good starting point. For instance, the noun phrase which consists of the combination of the article, adjective/s and Noun/s or the Noun phrase and verb relationship at the sentence level that determines the agent and action or its morphology require a certain word order. Since students speak languages where this may differ, it is necessary for them to understand this and have enough practice to assimilate it into their language use routine. For example,

1. It is a little expensive. —> a little + adjective

2. She needs a little money. —> a little + noun

Although both sentences are syntactically correct, “ a little” plays different roles because of the part of speech it is modifying. In sentence 1, “a little” is working as an adverb since it is before an adjective; however, in sentence 2, “a little” is working as a determiner since it is modifying a noun. By practicing word forms and their function in a sentence, this could be somehow easily understood by ELLs at all levels. However, when learning languages we cannot forget the manner in which some words work together naturally. That’s why, after learning word forms, students need to be introduced to the concept of collocations. Showing students that within the same relationships not all combinations are acceptable is where things become cumbersome.

For instance,

3. She screamed stressfully.

In sentence 3, even though the sentence structure, the word order and function are correct, “scream” and “stressfully” cannot be combined naturally. Instead of “stressfully, adverbs like “loudly” or “hysterically” are appropriate associations. This is not an easy concept to explain, and it requires the help of various resources, such as dictionaries and other reference tools. Nowadays, with the development of new technology, dictionary look-ups can pop-up with a simple tap or the click of a mouse making learning new information fun and less intimidating; consequently, focusing on developing a more enhanced flash card or word study activity (see picture 1) may encourage students to search for new words and/or their word families.

Picture 1: New & Improved Flash Card

The goal of the enhanced flash card is to focus on one meaning and to give students the chance to discover word families, synonyms, antonyms, collocations and parts of speech related to only one definition in the dictionary.In addition, ensuring the flash card is fully completed challenges students to spend as much time as needed searching for all items on the list.

When completing the enhanced flash card, the first step is to find the appropriate meaning of the word to study based on the context of a reading. This focus will control the word search, especially when looking for synonyms and antonyms, and, most importantly, it will be a strategy students can apply when reading and writing. For example,

Sally admires Dr Evans. She has a lot of respect for her professor because he is brilliant. He always knows the answers to her questions and never makes her feel dumb for asking so many. He also graduated from one of the best colleges in the world, Oxford University.

The paragraph in the example introduces the verb “admires” in the first sentence and the noun “respect” in the second one which is supported by “brilliant.” When looking at the dictionary’s definition of the noun “respect”, admiration is chosen because of the words “admires” and “brilliant”. Moreover, because “respect” and “admiration” appear in the same entry, they are closely related, and therefore, synonyms, Also, the dictionary shows that for that specific meaning, the verb and noun need the preposition “for.,” so this needs to be added to the flash card. Finally, It is important to note that not all word families have nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs; therefore, sometimes there is a need to borrow information from its synonyms. In the case of “respect,” in the adverb section, “admirably” should be added(see Picture 2).

Picture 2:

This may take a little time at the beginning since students are not used to the concept of word study, so they may not dedicate the time required to complete this task. However, when given the chance to practice working with it in class and at home, this activity will become part of their language study routine promoting this not only independent but also “incidental learning.”

Integrating Vocabulary study to Writing

Integrating the idea of creating a flash card /word study focused on one meaning is very useful when preparing vocabulary to write and support the topic sentence in a writing assignment. In addition, organization plays a significant role in this exercise because it allows for the generation of new ideas which could be categorized as supporting ideas to develop the topic assigned. For example, if students were asked to write a paragraph, or essay, about somebody they admire and why, they’d usually struggle with finding vocabulary that could help them express their ideas; however, if they were to look at the already completed flash card of the noun “respect,” (Picture 2) which is a synonym for “admiration” or “to admire,” writing down and grouping supporting ideas should not be intimidating.

To provide an easy process of transferring the information gathered on the flash card to an outline, students use the Say/Explain/Example (S.E.E.) rule and chart (picture 3) which is a much simpler version of the theory of evidence chart. This is a task-based activity, which some may consider as a more developed concept of mapping guides, for students to find vocabulary pertinent to the topic, evaluate all the gathered information and assess which piece is relevant to help support their opinion. The S.E.E. chart reminds students of the writer’s need to clearly visualize what they are communicating. The following is an example of how a student applied the enhanced Flash Card and SEE activity in class:

Word study

Picture 3: SEE chart

After receiving feedback and editing the students’ paragraph, the final product was:


All in all, students were very motivated to write since these activities allowed them to break down the essay writing process and focus on supporting their ideas one paragraph at a time in a less stressful manner. The flash card and word study helped them stay on-topic and provided plenty of information for them to use naturally.

Integrating SEE to Reading

Carrell (1985) suggested focusing on strategies learned in writing class such as exploring discourse patterns or text organization could improve students’ reading comprehension.

As students read, they encounter words unfamiliar to them. However, by following the S.E.E rule they learned in writing class, they know that if they do not understand the first idea, the second one will be an explanation or example of it, and so on. This is very helpful because it allows them to infer the meaning of new words based on the fact that they know synonyms and antonyms are being used in the “Explain/Example” to explain the “Say” in the SEE strategy. For example,

(1) Sally admires Dr Evans. (2) She has a lot of respectfor her professor because he is brilliant. (3) He always knows the answers to her questions and never makes her feel dumb for asking so many. (4) He also graduated from one of the best colleges in the world, Oxford University.

SEE - breakdown:

(1) admire (S) => (2) respect for (E) => because => brilliant (E)

(2) brilliant (S) => (3) knows all the answers (E) => and => she does not feel dumb (E) => also => he graduated from one of the best colleges (E)

Although the main idea in this paragraph is “admire” which is supported by “brilliant,” when students are asked to explain it with their own words this is not a difficult task since all the information is in the flash card / word study (Picture 2); therefore, the answer could be:

“Sally looks up to her professor because he is very intelligent.”

In general, as part of students’ assignments, students are expected to skim through long articles looking for important information which will be used to write summaries that paraphrase the writer’s main ideas. This may be a little intimidating; however, if students are aware of the SEE process in writing and apply this rule to their reading, then articles could be broken down into smaller parts.

Also, knowing that the focus is on one meaning, encourages students to further their study of a word’s theme. For example, in a reading about a bank robbery, the vocabulary in the story is related to the themes “crime” and “law.” Students can expand their vocabulary by looking into each theme (Picture 4) in the dictionary or online:

Picture 4:


Speaking naturally and confidently is a goal all second language learning students aspire to; therefore, introducing learning strategies such as a flash card/word study and the SEE rule/chart, can help students improve their vocabulary, have more control the language and organize their ideas easily not only in the classroom but also in their everyday activities.


Carrell, P. (1985). Facilitating ESL reading by teaching text structure. TESOL Quarterly,19, 727-752.

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online - https://www.ldoceonline.com

Leah Carmona is an ALP/ESL Program Assistant Professor at Bergen Community College in Paramus, NJ (BCC). She teaches Grammar, Reading, Writing, and advanced ESL Courses such as TOEFl and Paired Courses, Reading & Sociology. She is the Faculty Liaison for the English Language Resource Center (ELRC) at BCC.