Language Building Strategies That Work!

*Recent article posted on Texas School Ready Connect

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The focus for this month’s newsletter is scaffolding and narrative talk, two language building strategies that teachers can use to help build young children’s vocabulary and oral language skills. There are several intentional opportunities to provide language support within classroom routines and instructional time. The National Early Literacy Panel (NELP) reported oral language instruction is best delivered in small group or on-on-one with children (National Center for Family Literacy).

Scaffolding refers to a variety of instructional techniques used to move children progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process. This temporary framework is used as a support until the child demonstrates success of the task.

Narrative talk simply means adults and children are having conversations. Adults respond to a child’s question by asking for more information, as well as giving the child new information. Teachers should plan conversations that introduce new vocabulary words that relate to the topic of learning and enrich children’s language throughout the day. Narrative talk allows adults to provide examples of words and their meaning within a context in which the words have an understandable real-life application.

Even before a child begins to talk, there are ways to use narrative talk. Some examples include modeling early words, parallel talk, labeling items, and self-talk. Modeling early words refers to when a child babbles early sounds (such as saying (“ah”), and the caregiver makes eye contact with the child and responds by repeating the sound and introducing a second sound (/m/), then combining the two sounds to say a simple two-syllable word, ma-ma (Hamilton, 1977). In parallel talk, the adult describes what the child is doing or seeing. The adult can be thought of as a broadcaster, watching the action and describing it to the child, without expecting a response. Labeling involves naming concepts, objects, and actions for the child. Finally, practicing self-talk involves the adult thinking out loud and describing what he or she is doing for the child.

As children begin to talk, more scaffolding activities can be added to build their language. Adults can expand on a child’s simple word utterances. For example, when a child says “gog” (referring to a dog), an adult would respond by saying “the dog barks” or “furry dog.” (Robertson & Weismer, 1999). Another activity is recasting. In this strategy, the adult will add more information, for example when a child says, “I want eat,” and the adult responds, “What do you want to eat?”

It is also beneficial to continue to scaffold and use narrative talk by restating sentences, repeating important words, using gestures, and responding to children’s comments. Asking open-ended questions that build higher-level thinking skills, and having reciprocal conversations throughout the day, will help develop new vocabulary and enrich a child’s language.

It is also important to add complex sentences when communicating and to provide increased opportunities for conversations with adult scaffolds to continue to build oral language learning. Providing these opportunities for children to practice oral language, speaking, and listening is crucial in the early years of language development.

teaching tips

Language building strategies are ways to expand and extend language heard and used by children.

Strategies include:

Label: name objects, concepts and actions.

Describe: tell how something looks, sounds, tastes, feels and smells.

Explain: tell how something works or why we do things.

Compare: tell how items are the same or not the same.

Link: make the connection between new objects, ideas, or concepts children already know or have experienced.

Find specific strategies to support language building in the CIRCLE Activity Collections for Pre-K/K. Here you’ll find numerous activities under the domain Language and Communication that support Listening and Comprehension, Social Communication Skills, Speaking and Expression and Vocabulary.

Learn more about increasing children’s oral language skills in the eCIRCLE online courses: Setting the Stage for Children’s Talk and Building Vocabulary.

notable news

  • Register now for FREE webinars in December and January. Check out the webinar calendar here.
  • TX-KEA will offer middle-of-year (MOY) literacy and math items in January.
  • New FREE online courses covering the Infant, Toddler, & Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines are now available! After logging into your CLI Engage dashboard, find the courses under Full Course Catalog.
  • Interested in using the Classroom Observation Tool to set teaching goals and track improvement? We’ve posted an introductory course to using the tool and sample COT video resources here.
  • Part 2 of the Read with Me: Promoting Early Literacy Skills course series will be available in January! This course is the latest in a free series designed to support infant and toddler teachers. Read more about the series here.

recommended resources

What Works: An Introductory Teacher Guide for Early Language and Emergent Literacy Instruction. National Center for Family Literacy.

Robertson, S. B., & Weisner, S.E. (1999). Effects of treatment on linguistic and social skills in toddlers with delayed language development. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 42(5), 1234-1248.

Hamilton, M.L. (1977). Social learning and the transition from babbling to initial words. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 130(2), 211-220.

CLI Engage Website

Texas School Ready Website

Children’s Learning Institute Website

Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines

Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines

Texas Early Childhood Professional Development System (TECPDS)

Building Emergent Literacy Skills with Dr. Laura Justice

Check out our newly released Laura Justice Videos in the PPCD Gallery:

Dr. Laura Justice was in the studio this summer sharing her expertise around building emergent literacy skills with our young children.

Topics discussed include:

– Preschool “Readers”

– Precursors to Skilled Reading

–  Effective Interventions for Quality Read Alouds and more!

You can also check out our free expert interviews on our Region 13 You Tube Channel.