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Oral language is the foundation for literacy development. Preschool teachers need to be planful, purposeful, and playful in their daily interactions and experiences (Assel, Landry, Swank, & Gunnewig, 2007) with the children in their classroom to help build a strong foundation in oral language and other emergent literacy skills. When planning for children, teachers need to be able to reflect on what children already know and can do and then plan to further their growth in oral language. Teachers are purposeful when they set clear learning goals for the children. Teachers who are playful in their daily interactions and experiences with children make learning fun, engaging, and encourage them to use their oral language skills throughout the day. Oral language involves speaking and listening. It develops in infancy and continues to develop throughout life. Oral language is essential for children to gain knowledge about the world. It is critical for learning and thinking.
How important is oral language? Read first bullet. Children who don’t develop strong language skills during these years are less likely to be successful beginning readers and their developmental lag behind their peers can continue throughout elementary school and beyond (Juel,1988). Read second bullet. Children who enter preschool with language skills behind their peers, can catch up if they attend a high-quality prekindergarten. Read third bullet. Vocabulary knowledge contributes to successful reading in many ways: 1. Research suggests a relationship between vocabulary and phonological awareness. Children who have a word in their vocabulary may be able to analyze the sounds in that word more easily than if they did not know the word (Goswami, 2001). 2. Vocabulary knowledge helps children decode words or map spoken sounds to words in print. If children read words that they already have in their oral vocabulary, it will be easier for them to sound out, read, and understand them. In addition, they will be able to comprehend what they are reading. If the words are not in children’s oral vocabulary, they have trouble reading the words and their comprehension is compromised (National Reading Panel, 2000).
Children enter preschool with different experiences in oral language. Some children have been in language-rich homes where there are many daily interactions and experiences. While others have come from homes where there were very limited conversations and experiences. The type of environment children have been exposed to for the first 3 to 4 years of life has a great impact on their development in oral language. To show you the “meaningful differences” in language growth for children who have a language-rich environment versus those children who do not, let’s take a look at a landmark language study conducted by Hart and Risley (1995). The researchers conducted a longitudinal study of children and families from three groups: professional families, working-class families, and families on welfare. The study began when the children were between 7-9 months old and were followed until they turned 3 years old. Hart & Risley compared the average number of interactions initiated per hour in each of the three groups. They found 29 interactions initiated per hour in the homes of children who were from families on welfare, 28.5 interactions in the homes of children from families that were working class, and 33 interactions per hour in the homes of children who were from professional families.
They found that in an hour parents in professional families spent 42 minutes of their time interacting with their babies, parents in working families spent an average of 26 minutes interacting with their babies and parents in welfare families spent 18 minutes.
Perhaps the most striking results were the differences in quality of interaction, when the affirmations vs. prohibitions per hour were compared. The average child in a professional family heard 32 affirmations and five prohibitions per hour, a ratio of 6 encouragements to 1 discouragement. The average child in a working-class family heard 12 affirmatives and seven prohibitions per hour, a ratio of 2 encouragements to 1 discouragement. The average child in a welfare family heard five affirmatives and 11 prohibitions per hour, a ratio of 1 encouragement to 2 discouragements. Extrapolated to the first four years of life, the average child in a professional family would have heard 560,000 more times of encouraging feedback than discouraging feedback, and an average child in a working-class family would have heard 100,000 more encouragements than discouragements. However, the average child in a welfare family would have heard 125,000 more times of prohibitions than encouragements. The good news is that children can change adults. If children are in a high-quality preschool classroom where the teacher pays a lot of attention to the children and has a lot of back and forth conversations, the children will mirror the interaction at home. Thus, the children can change their parents interaction.
In the number of words heard, the average child on welfare heard half as many words per hour (616 words per hour) as the average working –class child (1,251 words per hour) and less than one-third that of the average child in a professional family (2,153 words per hour). These results were stable over the duration of the 2 ½ year study.
Major Findings from the study: Children from all three groups of families started to speak around the same time and developed good structure and use of language. Children in professional families heard more words per hour, associated with larger cumulative vocabularies. In professional families, children heard an average of 2,153 words per hour, while children in working class families heard an average of 1,251 words per hour and children in welfare families heard an average of 616 words per hour. Extrapolated out, this means that in a year children in professional families heard an average of 11 million words, while children in working class families heard an average of 6 million words and children in welfare families heard an average of 3 million words. By kindergarten, a child from a welfare family could have heard 32 million words fewer than a classmate from a professional family. By age three, the observed cumulative vocabulary for children in the professional families was about 1,100 words. For children from working class families, the observed cumulative vocabulary was about 750 words and for children from welfare families it was just above 500 words. Children in professional families heard a higher ratio of encouragements to discouragements than their working class and welfare counterparts. This point was another striking research finding. Of the three socioeconomic levels studied, only the children in welfare families heard feedback that was overwhelmingly (80 to 90%) negative. This negative tone surely affects the children's self-concept, motivation level and expectations. What do these results mean for children entering preschool? 1.) The size of the differences between families in the amount of talk to babies is tremendous. 2.) The differences add up to large advantages or disadvantages for children in in oral language before they begin preschool.
The stages of language development are sequential but not all children develop through these stages at the same rate. Birth to 1 year: Read first two bullet points. From 8 to 12 months- once children are able to say first words, they begin to use holophrases. They use one word to represent an entire sentence. For example, a child may say, “doggie,” but it represents, “I see a doggie.” From 1 to 2 years: Besides using one word utterances, children will utter different sounds that are not understandable by adults. Children use nouns and verbs when using telegraphic speech but leave out function words (e.g. articles and conjunctions). From 2 to 3 years: Read bullets. Children enjoy playing with words (e.g. repeat new words and make up nonsense words).
From 3 to 4 years- Children’s vocabulary and sentence structure continues to grow quickly throughout their fourth year. This is a significant point to stress. We want teachers to understand that they can make a substantial difference in the language development of their children by providing language-rich conversations and activities in their preschool classrooms Read 3 bullets. From 5 to 6 years- Children’s vocabulary and the complexity of their language continues to grow. Read 3 bullets It is essential that preschool teachers are familiar with these stages of development so they can help children continue to develop their language from their current stage of development AND also recognize when there may be a potential speech or language problem. When should teachers be concerned? If a child’s language seems to be far behind their peers, teachers should contact their preschool coordinator, supervisor, or school speech-language pathologist. A speech-language pathologist can provide valuable information to teachers on how to recognize the difference between typical mistakes (e.g. a child says “Wabbitt” instead of “rabbitt”) and atypical mistakes (e.g. stuttering or when a familiar adult can not understand what a child is saying) that need the attention of a specialist.
Children develop language rapidly in the preschool years with the help of teachers who purposefully plan and provide language-rich interactions and content – rich experiences on a daily basis. It is not important for teachers to memorize the five primary components of oral language, but it is essential that preschool teachers understand what the terms mean in order to plan and facilitate effective conversations and language activities for the children in their classroom. These components of language are significant not only for the development of oral language, but also for children’s later success in understanding and using written language. The five basic components can be found throughout the VPK standards. For example, Language & Communication: IV. D. Sentences and Structure-1. Uses age-appropriate grammar in conversations. Benchmark: Child typically uses sentences of four or more words, usually with subject, verb, and object order. The basic component that this VPK standard is based on is syntax (grammar). Young children need to develop skills in the five primary components of oral language: Children have to learn that language conveys meaning, semantics. For example, If I say, “Look up,” children need to understand that this means to tilt your head back and look up towards the sky. Children need to understand that the order of words creates meaning, syntax (grammar). For example, “I am going to school” makes sense, but “I am school going to” does not make sense. Children need to learn how to manipulate the smallest units of meaning (morphemes) in language, morphology. For example, when children are talking in past tense they must be able to figure out that instead of saying, “I walk to school yesterday,” They should say, “I walked to school yesterday.” Children need to understand that the smallest units of sound (phonemes) can be combined to make words, phonology. For example, cat has three phonemes (/c/ /a/ /t/). Children need to understand how to use language in social contexts, pragmatics. They need to know what to say, how to say it, and when to say it - and how to "be" with other people.
How can we help children grow their language skills? Lots and lots of talk. It’s important to talk with the children in various grouping formats- small group, whole group, and most importantly, one-to-one. Try to make it a goal each day to spend some time talking individually with each child in your classroom. Sit, talk, and stay for several minutes. If you sit down and show genuine interest in the conversation, it will encourage the child to talk more. Research has shown that there are many effective conversational strategies that teachers can use to enhance the quantity and quality of conversations with children throughout the school day (Roskos, Tabors, & Lenhart,, 2009). Here are three examples: Clarify and Extend: Listen to what the child is saying to you. If what the child says is very short, repeat what the child says. Then, add to the idea and clarify if needed. Here’s an example: If you ask, “Where did you go after school yesterday? The child responds, “ The park.” You can add, “The park is a fun place to go to and play. What do you like to play on at the park?” Question-Tell: Sit down with a child during an activity. Then, focus the child’s attention on parts and details. To help keep the child’s interest in talking, be sure to offer praise and encouragement. Here’s an example: Child: Are all the blocks here? Teacher: Yes. If you sort them by their shape it will be easier to see which ones you will need to build. What are you going to build? Child: An airport. Teacher: An airport? That’s exciting! Have you been to an airport before? I have. There are many different types of planes on the runway. Child: We picked up my uncle from the airport yesterday. Look! I just built the runway! Teacher: Good job! This runway is very long and sturdy. Many planes will be able to wait their turn to fly out with their passengers. Where would you like to fly to? Child: I would like to fly to Disney World. Would you go with me? Teacher: Yes! I would love to go to Disney World with you. Let’s plan our trip. 3. Think-Aloud: A think-Aloud is when a teacher talks out loud about what they are thinking while they are doing something or trying to figure out a problem. Here’s how it works: Encourage the child to participate in your activity. Next, talk out loud about what you are thinking. Finally, model for the child how to think through and activity or problem to a conclusion. Here’s an example: Teacher: Jimmie came to school today and he is having trouble keeping his pants up. Do you want to help me figure out how we can help him? Child: Okay. What do we do? Teacher: Let’s see. What do we usually wear to hold up our pants? Child: A belt. Teacher: Yes, a belt. But, we don’t have an extra one for him to borrow. I wonder what else he can use that will hold up his pants? Child: I don’t know. Teacher: Hmmm. Let’s see what we have in the closet that might work. A ruler? No, that is too stiff and will not bend around his waist. How about a long piece of paper? Child: No, I think that will rip when he runs around and plays. Teacher: I have some extra long shoelaces right here? I wonder if that will work? Child: Let’s try it. (The teacher and child try fitting the child with the shoelace through the child’s belt loop and tie it. Jimmie walks around the room.) It works! Teacher: Yes! We figured out the solution with teamwork! Encourage peer conversations within your classroom. Recent research has shown that peers’ expressive language skills contribute to children’s receptive and expressive language achievements during preschool (Mashburn, Justice, Downer, & Pianta, 2009). There are numerous ways to promote peer-to-peer conversations in the classroom. Some examples are: have children talk about a book in pairs (e.g., their favorite character), provide props in centers that are interesting and encourage conversation, and have children talk during snacks and mealtimes. Of course, you will want to model how the children should interact with each other (e.g., maintain eye contact, wait patiently for their turn to talk) before you expect children to converse with each other.
There are many ways to foster children’s oral language development AND there are also ways that teachers can hinder the development of oral language. Some of the things that may hinder growth are: Correcting children may actually discourage them from using language in the classroom so recast it. Here are a few examples, The child says, “I runned to the swing.” You can say, “You ran to the swing.” The child says, “I want some tandy.” You can say, “Okay, I will get you a piece of candy.” Children do not always have to speak in complete sentences. For example, if a teacher asks, “Are you going home?” The child can respond with just a simple, “Yes” rather than, “Yes, I am going home.’” However, if a child does not use enough words for you to understand what he is saying, it is a good idea to ask them to explain what it is they are saying. You could say to the child, “Tell me more about what you just said.” Research has shown that children who speak more than one language are at an advantage than children who only speak on language. Children who speak two or more languages are better at paying attention despite surrounding stimuli (studies from Cornell’s Language Lab) and children’s metalinguistic awareness (the ability of a child to reflect on and consciously think about oral and written language and how it is used) is more sophisticated than children who only speak one language (Bialystok, 2001). So, you want to encourage children to speak and talk about their home language as much as possible. They can share words, phrases, songs, books, and other things in their first language with you and the other children in the classroom. Children love to play with words and encouraging home language use in the classroom will help children build their confidence to use the language more frequently outside their home and classroom. 4. Early childhood classrooms should be buzzing with conversations. Encourage children to have conversations with you as well as their peers. In order for children to develop their language skills, they need to be able to talk and have lots of interactions throughout the day. Of course, you don’t want to have an unruly classroom with children yelling across the classroom to their peers or everyone talking at once. So, at the beginning of the year, take the time to teach them the social rules of conversation. For example, teach and model how to take turns talking during a conversation. One of the best ways to begin teaching this is during lunch time with small groups of children.
How do children’s vocabulary develop? Children who were exposed to the most interactions in the Hart & Risley (1995) study were the most successful readers in third grade. Thus, vocabulary is developed through rich interactions with adults, including multiple exposures to words. Children who are read to frequently (at least 3 read alouds per day) with discussion before, during, and after the reading will have more advanced vocabulary than those children who have not been read to frequently. Using themes in a preschool classroom will not only build word knowledge, but world knowledge as well. On the next slide you will learn about 5 best practices. All of the practices can contribute significantly to children’s vocabulary growth.
In preschool research literature, there is consensus around 5 best practices that develop oral language and emergent literacy skills: a) shared book reading, b) songs, rhymes, and word play, c) storytelling, d) circle time, and e) dramatic play. Shared book reading should be a regularly occurring activity throughout the day. Most preschool teachers read books in whole group and small group formats, but reading a book with a child one-to-one is equally important. Reading with a child individually can be easily incorporated into the day during center time. Preschool teachers and children are very familiar with songs, rhymes, and word plays. These activities are not only great for building oral language skills, but especially for fine tuning the child’s ear to sounds in speech. In addition, the predictable patterns in the activities help build children’s sensitivity to beginning sounds (alliteration) and ending sounds that are alike (Roskos, Tabors, Lenhart, 2009). Storytelling develops children’s oral language skills (active listening and oral expression) and world knowledge. If you are not familiar with storytelling, invite a guest speaker or another preschool teacher to your classroom who has experience with storytelling. Once you see how it is done, you may feel more confident in trying it yourself. Some teachers may feel more comfortable story telling by using props and puppets. Circle time is fundamental to all preschool classrooms. Many young children learn social interaction skills during this time. Some of the skills they learn are how to take turns in conversations, listen attentively, and make eye contact when speaking with a classmate. All of these skills foster the development of oral language. Research has shown that children’s participation and engagement in dramatic play can cultivate their oral language development, however, the development is dependent upon on the role the teacher plays modeling language (Dickinson, 2001). The strategies preschool teachers use (i.e., repeating the children’s idea) during conversations in dramatic play is associated with the language development of children at the end of kindergarten.
Preschool teachers can build language and literacy through interactive book reading. There are 3 fundamental characteristics of interactive reading: 1) adult sensitivity and responsiveness, 2) child engagement, and 3) repeated readings. Key Behaviors to Use During Interactive Readings: Prompt children to be actively engaged in conversations about the book. Clarify and extend children’s understandings about the book Expand and extend children’s responses. Explain the meanings of vocabulary in the book that you think are essential for children to learn. Prompt the children to use the new vocabulary in their conversations about the book. (VPK Emergent Literacy Course, 2005) For more information on interactive shared reading, please see the power points on storybook questions and storybook vocabulary.
Many preschool teachers play their favorite songs, chant lots of rhymes, and create fun word play games with the children in their classroom. However, for children to receive the benefits (e.g., foster oral language and phonological awareness skills) from participating in these activities, teachers must intentionally plan what they need to teach and how they are going to teach it. An easy instructional framework to use for these activities includes 3 parts: 1.) Say/Sing- Introduce the activity (e.g., sing the song) 2.) Recite & Invite- Say the lyrics, words, or word play sounds. Then, invite the children to say the lyrics or words with you. 3.) Replay. Replay the song, rhyme, or word game several times as the children join in singing, chanting or playing with words. Once children are familiar with the activity, use props (e.g. instruments) to keep children engaged over multiple replays.
A good way to begin storytelling if you haven’t already used this practice is to start with story books such as fairy tales, folk stories, or fables. Choose a story that you like and are familiar with (e.g., Goldilocks and the Three Bears). Read the story a few times and then practice telling the story in the mirror. You are storytelling, not reading, so you don’t need to retell the story word for word. You may want to use props to help you remember the story and keep the interest of the children. Don’t forget to use voice inflections and repetitive phrases. Repetitive phrases will encourage the children to participate. When you tell the story again, the children will be listening for the phrases so they can join in on the fun. Once you’ve told the story to the children, read the book to them. After they have become familiar with the story, you can put the book along with any props in the reading corner for children to practice retelling the story. After you’ve told several stories from familiar books, you will begin to feel more comfortable telling stories that you have made up on your own. Children love to tell stories. If you model storytelling often, the children in your class will want to be storytellers as well.
Preschool teachers include many different types of activities during circle time. Whatever activity you decide to do, it is essential to remember this time offers many opportunities for practicing speaking and listening skills so intentionality is key. You may want to focus on generating whole group conversations so the children can get the greatest benefits possible during this time. It’s easier to extend language in one-to-one conversations with a child than with a group of children. Here are some tips to improve whole group conversations: Allow children to do most of the talking Encourage as many children as you can to participate To keep the conversation going, look to another child for a response after one of her classmates finishes responding. Use praise (e.g. “That’s a great idea!”) and encouraging comments (“That’s very interesting.”) to not only keep the conversation going, but to build children’s confidence as well.
As mentioned previously, research has shown that children’s participation and engagement in dramatic play can cultivate their oral language development, however, the development is dependent upon on the role the teacher plays modeling language. Although most teachers feel comfortable with starting the conversation and initiating the play, many have difficulty helping the children sustain the play. There are several key factors teachers can use to help sustain the play: Make sure there are lots of props for each new theme. Since your theme will last between for 3-4 weeks, you can change some of the props after a few weeks or just add more if the children really enjoy playing with the ones you have already put out. Be sure to ask open-ended questions to keep the conversation going and act interested in what the child is saying. Help children negotiate problem solving Model play dialogue and scenarios by participating in children’s play. Repeated modeling will help children develop the language skills necessary to dialogue with their peers when the teacher is not in the dramatic play center. Remember, the role of the teacher is crucial in enhancing oral language development. Observe and interact with children to monitor progress.
Oral Language and Literacy Powerpoint
THE NEFEC REACH PROJECT
was funded by a grant through Early Reading First 2007-2011. The
information in this PowerPoint is provided by the NEFEC REACH
Workshop Series Website. The information is a consolidation of
professional learning presentations, current research and teacher
The ERF REACH Lead Team
is providing this early literacy information for early learning
educators and professional leaders. We have provided the most
current research as well as practical application ideas and suggestions
for early learning educators to use in their classrooms. Please preview
and adjust the information as needed for the purposes of your
Oral Language …
• is the foundation for literacy
• involves speaking and listening.
• is essential for children to gain
knowledge about the world.
Importance of Oral
Children who develop strong oral language skills during the
preschool years create an important foundation for their later
achievements in reading, especially reading comprehension
(Storch & Whitehurst, 2002).
Children who lag behind their peers in language development are
at-risk for later reading difficulties (Catts, Fey, Tomblin, & Zhang,
Vocabulary knowledge is strongly related to reading proficiency
and overall academic success (Beck, McKeown,& Kucan, 2002)
Hart & Risley compared the mean number
of interactions initiated per hour in each
of the three groups.
Hart & Risley also compared the mean
number of minutes of interaction per
hour in the three groups
Perhaps most striking were the
differences in quality of
interaction, when the affirmations
vs. prohibitions per hour were
Cumulative Language Experiences
Cumulative Language Experiences
Cumulative Words Spoken to Child
Age of child
Stages in Language Development
Birth to 1 year:
First few months - babbling and cooing
8 months - repeated consonant and vowel sounds (i.e., da, da, or ma, ma)
8-12 months - first words spoken (i.e., Mommy)
From 1 to 2 years
One word utterances
Use telegraphic speech
From 2 to 3 years
Continue to use telegraphic speech
Sometimes use functional words
Stages in Language
From 3 to 4 years
Syntactic structures added include plurals and regular verbs
Apply basic rules that govern language
Talk about what they are doing while they are doing the activity
From 5 to 6 years
Their talk sounds like adult talk
Knows that a word can have more than one meaning
Creative in using language
Five Components of Oral
Conversational Strategies & Peer
Clarify & Extend
Question & Tell
Think – Aloud
Talk about a book in pairs
Have conversations in centers
Talk about what they are eating during snack
Thing to Avoid When Talking to
Correct children’s grammar or pronunciation
Demand complete sentences
Reject children’s home language
Demand a quiet classroom
(Bennett-Armistead, Duke, & Moses, 2005)
How Do We Increase Children ’s
Language-rich interactions with adults
Reading frequently to children
Use of interesting themes
Incorporating the 5 best practices into your
Instruction: 5 Best
Shared book reading
Songs, rhymes, and word play
(Dickinson & Neuman, 2006)
Shared Book Reading
Key Behaviors to Use During Interactive Readings:
Prompt to be actively engaged
Clarity & extend
Expand & extend
Explain the meanings
Prompt to use new vocabulary
Tips for Effective Storytelling:
Begin with familiar stories (e.g., The Three Little
Practice, practice, practice
Use props (e.g., flannel board)
Use voice inflections
Use repetitive phrases
Circle Time: Improving Whole Group
Children do most of the talking
Encourage many children to participate
Look to another child for a response
Use praise and encouraging comments
Dramatic Play: Sustaining the
Provide more props
Ask open-ended questions
Help negotiate problem solving
Model play dialogue and scenarios by participating in
Observe and interact with children to monitor progress.
Encourage child-to-child conversations
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setting, and mentoring on the performance of children enrolled in prekindergarten.
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Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary
instruction. New York: The Guilford Press.
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Applied Linguistics, 21, 169-181.
Catts, H. W., Fey, M. E., Tomblin, J. B., & Zhang, X. (2002). A longitudinal investigation of
reading outcomes in children with language impairments. Journal of Speech,
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Baltimore, MD: Brookes.
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american children. Baltimore, MD: P.H. Brookes Publishing.
Juel, C. (1988). Learning to read and write. A longitudinal study of 34 children from first
through fourth grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 437-447.
Mashburn, A. J., Justice, L. M., Downer, J. T., & Pianta, R. C. (2009). Peer effects on
children’s language achievement during pre-kindergarten. Child Development, 80(3),
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the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction .
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preschool. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
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reading: Evidence from a longitudinal structural model. Developmental Psychology, 38,
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