Oral Language Development for Kindergartners

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Oral Language Development for Kindergartners

Last year was my first year working with 4 year old and 5 year old kindergartners, and I fell in love.  It happened the day that one of them walked up to me and told me she loved me and gave me a big hug.  In my 6 years with middle schoolers that never happened, so I was a pretty easy sell. Feeling a bit unsure of how I could support their classroom teachers, I decided to start at the beginning of language development - speaking.  I especially found this important because there is so little room in the class routine for kids to speak.  It is not a criticism of the amazing teachers I work with, rather a reflection of the insane movement toward accountability testing and "rigorous" curriculum, which has nearly eliminated time for play in 4 and 5 year old kindergarten classrooms.

When I first started my oral language groups, it was quite messy.

Honestly, it was always somewhat messy.  I pledged to make it time for them to talk, time for me to listen, and interject only when things got really off topic.  The following is an excerpt from my Free Kindergarten Oral Language Development Activities TeacherPayTeacher product that explains how more or less I run/ran groups.

While working with Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten students, I have found that objects are the most effective ways to engage in conversations.  It provides students with concrete experiences and removes the abstraction that they are confronted with using books or pictures.  The objects you use may help you to front load a new unit (like sea animals) or to work on high frequency vocabulary for Entering and Beginning Level English Language Learners.  Regardless of where you start, it is important that you start with a small group, some objects, and openness to their knowledge.  Also, don’t forget that this time is not about you sharing your knowledge, but creating a space for them to share – or rather talk!  Making sure to allow proper wait time is essential.  I am sure you have your own strategy, but if you don’t, my go to strategy is simply counting in my head 1 – elephant, 2 – elephants, 3 elephants … until I get to 15 or 20 even!  I like to select animals that calm my anxiety. :) Also, in our data driven system collecting data is important.  This is very challenging for me so I did my best to make it simple.  However, I must admit I often leave the top row blank and fill in a category as I go.  I do this because students say the most amazing things that I often don’t think of and this give me the flexibility to collect all kinds of data.  Finally, how you group your students is really important and challenging.  I find the trickiest part is balancing language models or Bridging and Reaching English Language Learners or Monolingual English students with Entering and Beginning Level English Language Learners.  I find those language models often dominate conversations; therefore, it is often important to set the expectations about how and when it is a student’s turn to talk. Then there are scaffolded prompts to give you a better idea of what to say and how the conversations progress. Not included in the product are the WIDA rubrics I use to collect data and to help me with effective questions that will move language to advanced stages.

The documents are:

  1. WIDA PreK-K Can Do Descriptors (Speaking & Listening page 6 or 8)  http://www.wida.us/standards/CAN_DOs/
  2. WIDA K-12, Speaking and Writing Performance Definitions  http://www.wida.us/DownloadDocs/standards/2012Amplification/WIDA_Performance%20Definitions_ListeningReading.pdf
Once you feel comfortable with the rubrics and talking you can use just about any object or picture for conversation. What do you do to promote conversations in your classroom?

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