When my students look up a word they don't know, they almost always pick the wrong definition or just pick the first one. How can I teach them how to pick the right meaning?

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Have you taught them connotation v denotation yet? This may help them to understand that they must analyze which of the definitions makes sense in the context in which they have encountered it. There is a great free lesson available on the web. Can’t recall the website, but I found it just by googling Connotation v Denotation lesson.

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If the goal is to understand the word, I give them a definition that matches their level. Then, they work with the word in order to understand it. They make connections by translating it and the definition in their language, write other words or draw pictures that will help them remember the word, and create a sentence. Definitions are pointless if the students don’t know the language of the definition.

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One of the most useful tools that I encourage kids to use is wordhippo.com. Kind of like the thesaurus site but more user friendly.

I work at a high school (instructional support) in Chemistry , Earth Science, and Physics. I also tutor ESL after school. For beginner level students working on science, I have them find pictures of the (science) vocabulary word and write a sentence about it. Then, we discuss. I like this approach better than “copy and paste”. As you know, some kids are coming from impoverished areas/villages of the world where they might attend school for a 2-3 hours a day. Basic fundamental science topics that the US covers in elementary school might be completely new to ESL learners. As you know, bridging this gap is difficult but I feel it is imperative not to push through the completion of the assignments but to use the assignments in conjunction with ESL lesson plans.

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