Is This Text Comprehensible for my ELLs? Let the Vocabulary Profiler Help!

Using authentic texts with English learners is great…

…unless, of course, they are way too hard for the students.

This is actually one of the top challenges for teachers in content-based language teaching (CBLT) systems, finding texts that are both authentic and comprehensible.

In a study on CBLT teachers, Cammarata (2010) commented, “The difficulty for the teachers was to find the right equilibrium between authenticity and complexity as they struggled to find a way to simplify the content in order to make it comprehensible for the students while keeping it interesting, cognitively engaging, and within the realm of the proficiency level of the learners (Cammarata, 2010, pp. 102-103).

But how do we know if the text we have chosen will be appropriate? That’s where the vocabulary profiler on VocabKitchen.com can help.

What is the Vocabulary Profiler?

VocabKitchen.com has a wonderful tool called a vocabulary profiler to assist teachers when using authentic texts with their learners. It can help identify key vocabulary to teach as well as identify any place that may need to be modified.

As defined on the website, “A vocabulary profiler is a tool that checks if a piece of text contains words from a vocabulary list. The vocabkitchen.com profiler shows matches in two ways. Matched words in the original text are given a different color, or you can view a list of all the words in a table organized by level. You don’t need an account to use our profilers.”

The tool can highlight vocabulary from two lists, a list for CEFR and a list for AWL. For the purpose of this post, I will focus on the CEFR list.

What is CEFR?

Before continuing, it’s important to understand what CEFR is and how it is used.

CEFR stands for the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. It is used to classify language levels of ELL’s. The system has 6 levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2 (listed from lowest to highest). The ‘A’ levels are beginner, the ‘B’ levels are intermediate, and the ‘C’ levels are advanced.

The most-widely used language tests (Cambridge/TOEFL/etc.) give CEFR measurements on their reports.

For those of you teaching in K-12 settings that use Cambridge exams, the following levels correspond to the following exams.

A1- Movers

A2- Flyers/KET

B1- PET

B2- FCE

If you want more information on Cambridge Exams and CEFR, check out http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams/cefr/

How to use VocabKitchen.com’s Vocabulary Profiler?

If you know the CEFR level of your students, using the vocabulary profiler to analyze a text is quite easy.

For the sake of this example, let’s say I have a class of students who has passed the KET, putting them at a CEFR A2 level, and we are studying endangered species. I found an article on Scholastic News titled “Good News for Bears? about grizzly bears being removed from the endangered species list. I think this may be the perfect article for our class.

The first thing I want to do is copy the text into the CEFR vocabulary profiler (I will only do the section “Saving Grizzlies” for this example).

The result is this:

As you can see, the tool highlights words in different colors based on which CEFR language level they correspond to.

Since my students are at a CEFR A2 level, I can assume anything in blue or green is fine. I will concern myself with words in orange and red.

Since I want my students to progress to a B1 level, any words in orange will be perfect candidates for my students’ vocabulary list. Those words are:

  1. Land
  2. Hunt(ed)
  3. Fear
  4. Population
  5. Total
  6. Live
  7. Government
  8. Action
  9. Protected
  10. Scientist

Knowing my students, any words I think they already know (like ‘scientist’ and ‘live’) I will remove from the list. All others I will pre-teach and do vocabulary activities with.

After that, I will want to consider any words that are in red, pink, and any words not highlighted. I notice the only word in red is “bear”. I will assume my students know what a bear is or will figure it out quickly with a picture, so I do not need to do anything with that. And this article contains no words in pink, so we are ok there, too.

However, there are some words in gray that could possibly be candidates for modification or for my vocabulary list. If I ignore proper nouns (names and places), I am left with the following words:

  1. Settlers
  2. Roam
  3. Habitat

Since there are only three words and those words are good ‘academic’ vocabulary, I will add them to my vocabulary list. However, if the list were longer or there were words that I felt were just too much for my students, I would consider modifying the words to easier synonyms.

Conclusion

After using the vocabulary profiler on VocabKitchen.com, I have determined that this article will be very manageable for my students in terms of language, and I now have a good vocabulary list to use with my students before we start reading.

While this tool is great, there is one point of caution. The vocabulary profiler DOES NOT grade texts on their appropriateness for age levels. Yes, the vocabulary profiler can help you with language concerns, but it will be up to you as the teacher to determine whether the content is appropriate for your learners. Be careful not to choose texts that are too abstract or cognitively demanding.

What do you think about the vocabulary profiler? Is this a useful tool for your teaching setting? Let me know in the comments!

Resource

Cammarata, Laurent. (2010). Foreign Language Teachers’ Struggle to Learn Content-Based Instruction. L2 Journal, 2(1). Retrieved from: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/8g91w2r7

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