Success Story: Mr. Jimenez

Mr. Jimenez is using Vocabulary.com with his newly arrived ESL students to build their English language vocabulary so that they can transition to the general education setting. We visited his classroom and sat down afterward to talk shop.
Subject:ESOL Social Studies
Grades Taught:6th - 8th
Years Teaching:2
Using Vocabulary.com for:1 year
  • The idea is that we’re giving them the content in the subject areas and also supporting them to as they learn English.
    Vocabulary.com: Tell us about what you teach — it’s really two classes in one.
    Mr. Jimenez: Yes! I’m the ESOL Social Studies Teacher and I have the Newcomers. That’s a program where we get all the kids who’ve just come here from another country and they don’t have the English language skills yet to access the general curriculum. So they start here to learn the English, and then we assess them and when they’re ready, they move on to the Bridge program, which is the next step toward assimilating in the regular classroom setting. The idea is that we’re giving them the content in the subject areas and also supporting them as they learn English.
  • V: What languages are spoken here?
    J: It’s mostly Spanish but we also get French and Portuguese from the Caribbean, South American and African nations. Buck Lodge Middle School is the highest ESOL population of any middle school in Maryland.
  • Some of these students, depending on their schooling or their situation, may not even be fluent readers and writers in their first language.
    V: So you have quite a range of languages and backgrounds and needs.
    J: Yes — from the different languages they speak, to their previous educational experience in their home countries. Some of these students, depending on their schooling or their situation, may not even be fluent readers and writers in their first language. So they’re all coming at if from different places. But they make progress.
  • V: Can you talk a little bit about the activities you’ve designed to support your students? There are many different resources in your classroom, and it seemed like they had routines in place for the activities you have them doing.
    J: Right, they have the social studies textbook which is in English, they have the Spanish/English dictionary, and they have Vocabulary.com. Then they have their interactive journals. They know when they come in the room to grab what they need and get started. Just knowing what to do when I say, “Ok, we’re doing vocabulary,” and they’re like, “Ok, I need my notebook, the paper, my dictionary.” A lot of it for these kids is the routines.
  • I am trying to teaching them dictionary skills and I want them to learn the vocabulary.
    V: Tell us about those journals.
    J: So every time we do a new unit — generally our units last about two to three weeks — in their notebooks they create a title page for a foldable, which is a piece of paper that they fold into 8 boxes for the 8 core words. First they write the vocabulary word in English and in their language on the outside flap. And then on the inside of the foldable they write the definition in English. They’re copying word for word, and then they translate the definition into their language using a dictionary because I am trying to teach them dictionary skills and I want them to learn the vocabulary.

    So that’s always how we start a new unit — with vocabulary. In the beginning of the year I’m really hand-holding with this, but after the break they’re doing it on their own. In fact they entered new words today. Now we’re talking about the earliest societies, so Mesopotamia, the Phoenicians. It allows them to be creative. I don’t want to always say, “Take a test” I want them to be creative and to learn.
  • V: How does Vocabulary.com work into the mix?
    J: For each unit I make a list, starting with those eight words. Then I add those extra key terms, the bold type you’ll see in a textbook — anything that is really important for understanding. And then I assign the lists for them to practice.
  • It may take a little longer, but I’m trying to show them how to learn — how to search and find out so that they can be correct. Vocabulary.com really helps with that.
    V: How does that work with students whose English is emergent?
    J: With these students who may not be able to understand all the language, I am teaching them how to not just do the “eeny, meeny miney, moe” technique! I’m showing them how to do that extra step and think it through. So if you don’t know a word, look it up in the Vocabulary.com dictionary, or first try to understand what it is in Spanish, and then begin to relate things within our textbook using the pictures, the keywords, to make those connections. And that way it’s not about guessing. It’s about trying to teach them to utilize all the resources to figure it out. It may take a little longer, but I’m trying to show them how to learn — how to search and find out so that they can be correct. Vocabulary.com really helps with that.
  • V: In addition to the many language resources you provide, and you’ve also integrated instructional technology for them to use. What an important skill for any student — learning how to use those tools, how to find out what you don’t know.
    J: This is something I’ve just started really using this year. I also use Google classroom and Smart Notebook, so then I actually record my lessons and they can go back and access the video and hear my voice again if they need to. They’re able to hear me repeating the word and the lesson, and then they are working through the definition in English and Spanish. And with this I’ve released a lot of responsibility to them. And now they’re using their Vocabulary.com list, their interactive notebook, my video, the textbook.
  • V: You’re really asking them to do a lot, to dig deep and be very active in their own learning.
    J: Yes, and that’s a big part of it. Because a lot of these kids, they’re coming from an environment where everything pretty much was always done for them. So now I’m releasing that responsibility, so they can retain the information that they’re learning and what they’re doing.
  • V: All these steps in the process, which are so intentional in terms of getting them to really do the hard work of learning a new language — It’s really extraordinary when you think about how much hard work they’re putting into this to learn English.
    J: Exactly. You see them growing. My prime time class, they’re 8th graders. And you know you start to get a little emotional because you know they’re leaving. And you may see them again, they may come back and visit, they may not. But just the impact that you’ve had on them, seeing where they came from and taking the next step.
  • You see the growth that happens over time compared to where they were at the beginning of the year.
    V: Speaking of progress, It’s getting toward the end of the year. Where are your Newcomers now?
    J: It’s going really well. The biggest challenge that we always have is the influx of new students. Right up until the end of the year, we have students arriving and entering the program. I think January was our biggest month when we received twenty new students. In January after the holiday break we did Access testing, and we moved close to thirty students from Newcomers to Bridge. And then there will be another group moving up to Bridge in the fall.

    You see the growth that happens over time compared to where they were at the beginning of the year, but then I also think about myself as a teacher. Where I was last year and this year. I actually was selected as a Fulbright Fellow. Ever since I decided to become a teacher, I’ve tried to really think about what impact I can have. So I’ll be going to Peru for six weeks this summer and I’ll will be writing a bi-lingual curriculum that we’re going to use.
  • V: Congratulations! Tell us more!
    J: I’m writing a curriculum on Machu Picchu and the Inca civilization. So we’re going to create a thematic unit between the four of us and that should be very exciting for next year. Unfortunately even though a lot of them are from Central and South America, they don’t really understand or know the history of the region. So I’ll be recording the trip, and of course working on all the vocabulary lists!
  • We’re really utilizing Vocabulary.com. I absolutely love it.
    V: How great! We’re glad it’ll be part of what you’re creating for next year:
    J: We’re really utilizing Vocabulary.com. I absolutely love it. I see some of my students, and they’ll write the words over and over again. I’m seeing the growth beyond just, “I’m doing what Mr. Jimenez said I have to do.” Now I see more of, “ I’m doing a little extra so that I can get the words.” I’m seeing these kids go the extra mile. If they finish another assignment, they go to it automatically, they learn, they listen. They’re utilizing Vocabulary.com to help them with their writing, their listening skills, the pronunciation. They are really doing well with it.