Language development is something near and dear to my heart!

Implementing techniques to improve student's language development will work with any curriculum and any standards!

I teach in a school where the children come to school without language experiences. This means, the students that come to kindergarten are coming to school with a vocabulary that is half of their peers that do have language experiences (books read to them and opportunities to talk and share in experiences outside the home).

I'm including some ideas that are easy to implement in the primary grades to help decrease this gap and provide students with rich opportunities to experience language.  The best thing is that these are all free!

1)  Answer in complete sentences!
This is really easy to implement.  When asked a question, by a teacher or students, they are answered in complete sentences. This is something that the teacher models.  For example, if a student asks, "Where do I turn in this paper?"  Instead of pointing or saying, "over there,"  you would respond with, "You may turn in your paper to the red bin on the shelves."  It takes some practice and consistency, and I've learned that it may take many times to model-  especially in kindergarten.  It is fine to provide students with a model.   However, I always make them repeat the entire sentence.  This is kind of what it looks like.  To be proactive, many times, when we are first learning, I will start the sentence frame for them.

Teacher:  Where did the story take place?  The story took place in the...
Student:  The story took place in the house.

2) Asking the right questions!
When learning about language development decontextualized talk has a huge impact on language development and thinking.  What is decontextualized talk?  Decontextualized talk is talk about the past or future; discussions about abstract objects or ideas that are not present.  Asking thought provoking questions that will encourage discussion is a great way to help students develop language and vocabulary!

What do you think will happen next?
Why do you think that?
What would you do if you were in this story?

This freebie can be kept on your clipboard as a reminder to ask questions that get students thinking and using decontextualized text.

One way to do this is through reading books...which leads to number 3.

3)  More read alouds!
Read alouds are a great way to get children talking!  Asking questions that are beyond the text is critical.  It is also important that the teachers are not just calling on one student to answer the questions.

Turn and Talk is one way to have students share.  All students have a carpet partner, and when teachers stop during read alouds and ask a question, they end it with, "turn and talk."  I like to assign students A/B partners.  This helps make sure that everyone is getting a chance to talk.
I like to find read aloud stories that have some sort of problem or an event that causes the characters to change.  Here are a few of my favorite authors that really get students talking!

4) Experiences that involve critical thinking and talking about ideas.

There isn't enough time in the day.  Two times that work for my schedule are "morning work" time when the students get to school and have breakfast and math workstations.  I love the Target Dollar Spot for this as well as common objects such as:
  • popsicle sticks
  • newspapers
  • unifix cubes
  • straws
  • ping pong balls
  • solo cups

Each week, we have a question that students focus on to help provide some structure and focus.  Some of the popular questions are the following:
  1. What is the tallest tower you can build before it falls down?  What can you do to make your tower taller?
  2. Can you build a bridge that will support 10 unified cubes?  Can you build a bridge that will support 20 unified cubes.  What if you make your bridge longer?  What if you make your bridge wider?
  3. Can you create a rollercoaster that a ping pong ball can ride?
  4. Can you make a pyramid taller than you?  

With all these ideas, the most important part is that students are having an opportunity to share their ideas and learning with their peers and you!

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