Where It All Begins: Oral Language

With the push for higher standards of academic achievement, teachers sometimes forget that oral language is the foundation for all literacy skills. As a result, when planning instruction, teachers should begin by looking at the Common Core Standards for Speaking and Listening.

At the very early stages of academic preparation, young children need opportunities to express themselves verbally, both in free play and with more structured academic content. Teachers should create opportunities for children to talk with a partner and with a large group about academic content in order to stretch oral language skills and develop vocabulary. Simply having students turn and talk to a partner, after some thinking time, provides the opportunity to express ideas orally. In large group discussions, teachers can help develop oral literacy by developing structures for students to respond to other students. Starter stems will help students get started in sharing their ideas.

Teachers can also ensure student engagement in listening to each other by creating gestures that demonstrate what students are thinking about their classmates’ ideas. Students indicate that they are thinking the same thing by extending the thumb and pinky and making a motion between themselves and the student who is speaking. The hand with all fingers extended can be rotated back and forth to express uncertainty: indicating that the student needs more clarification. Thumbs up indicates a great idea that I hadn’t thought about, and two fingers can be used to indicate that I agree but have something to add to the points already made.

In addition, teachers need to challenge students to be very intentional about the language choices they make. Using college talk is one way to accomplish this. Teachers replace common things that they say with academic language. Instead of telling students to stop talking, the teacher could say, “Terminate the conversation,” or ask students to “classify” objects or words rather than sort them. Teachers should also encourage students to find and use $10 words.

Another easy technique that addresses the standards is the ACE question-answering strategy. A stands for Answer the Question. Students should change the question into a statement and use complete sentences. C is Cite the Evidence. Students provide evidence or demonstrate their reasoning. And E asks the student to explain, evaluation or extend his thinking. Creating a routine like this encourages students to continually be looking for evidence or the reasoning they used to determine an answer to a question and leads to paragraph development in writing.

In conclusion, in order to create good readers and writers, teachers start by focusing on oral language and providing students with opportunities to develop these skills.

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