Curtain and Dahlberg, Ch 3: p. 50-56
Early language students understand language primarily by recognizing vocabulary. Therefore, it is a teacher's job to help students develop "a useful, working vocabulary" (51). I definitely relate to this. Even as an upper-level Spanish major I still find myself comprehending texts through vocabulary that I recognize. It's tough when I only recognize a small percentage of the words.
The vocabulary that students learn should be made as personal as possible, elaborated on, and repeated in multiple contexts. One vocabulary building activity the authors mentioned that I liked was building a "word chain in which the first letter of each word is the same as the last letter of the word before it" (52).
Students learn vocabulary in "functional chunks," which are high frequency phrases or prefabricated language such as "How are you doing?" Language ladders are one way to learn functional chunks. They are phrases that express a similar idea in different ways. For example, you might have a ladder for "excuses I didn't do my homework." Passwords are another way to teach functional chunks. Once you get a feel for the phrases that are most necessary in the classroom you can post that information on the walls and have students use the language in conversation.
I remember using passwords in my Spanish 2 classroom. In order to get at drink of water or request that the teacher translate an English word into Spanish we would need to use the passwords. I recently observed a kindergarten Spanish class and there was a noticeable lack of passwords. I think using these simple, repetitive phrases would have been helpful in constructing students' grammatical knowledge.