Just over a month ago, I wrote Why We Should Use Big Words with Little Kids. I would strongly recommend reading that if you haven’t already. Today is simply an extension of that post, connecting the concepts I wrote about there, with early literacy .
Connecting the two is not hard at all when you think about it. Oral language is the foundation for literacy! In many cultures, stories and records began with oral traditions, which later evolved into written records. We read and write because we are a verbal society, not the other way around. Without a firm grasp of language and a strong vocabulary, reading becomes a series of nonsensical sounds. It is the meaning derived from those sounds that makes it magical.
Having a strong vocabulary also fast-tracks the decoding process and facilitates comprehension. Think about your own reading habits. Have you ever come across a word in print that you had never heard before? In case you haven’t, here’s one to try: sgiomlaireached. Did you suddenly sound like a struggling reader? As you decoded that word, how certain were you that you had done so correctly? It’s much harder to read words we don’t have in our own vocabulary. (By the way, if your curiosity has gotten to you, you can find the definition–as well as several other strange words here.)
Be Language Rich
So here are a few ways to enhance oral language skills with those you love and teach:
- Read and discuss a variety of genres.
- Engage in dialogic reading. (using “WH” questions during shared reading — “Why did he hide in the tree?” “Who is he talking about?”)
- Use rare words around children. Not necessarily those on the list I mentioned above, but words adults often “dumb down” for kids. I often dangle out a new word and wait for children to ask what it means — showing me they’re thinking about words. Or I’ll use a new word, followed by simpler words that clarify the meaning.
- Be expressive, narrative, and engaging as you speak or read.
- Engage in (and encourage) original story-telling as well as story-acting.
- Use decontextualized speech (talking about the “there” and “then” rather than the “here” and “now”). This helps make that mental connection to the abstract.
- Support dramatic play.
- Encourage conversation. Children obviously build more verbal skills by being verbal than by passively listening to lectures.
- Provide puppets for children to use. This is particularly useful for children who may be too shy to speak up on their own.
- Let children be heard! Use PVC phones (which are quite easy to create yourselves from run-of-the-mill pipes at Home Depot) to help children hear themselves (which also encourages fluency and phonological awareness). Provide microphones. Whether pretend, connected to an amplifier, or the echo type found in dollar stores, these props encourage children to speak and can create a system for taking turns speaking.
- Create a word journal where children can write (or have you write) new and interesting words which they can then illustrate to convey personal meaning.
How do you encourage verbal growth in the children you love and teach?
Top photo by Tim & Annette.