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Building Oral Language Skills in PreK-K": Laying the foundation for reading success

Activities and strategies to increase children's oral language skills
Activities and strategies to increase children's oral language skills

Current research underlines the recognized connection between oral language and future reading and writing success.  Researchers have found that oral language skills are essential for visual comprehension, conceptual knowledge, and vocabulary development. They further agree that phonemic awareness is dependent upon oral language.  Since phonemic awareness is necessary to master phonics and phonics leads to reading, it is clear that oral language is a link to reading achievement.  A new book by Scholastic, "Building Oral Language Skills in PreK-K" by Cindy Middendorf, assists teachers in making the most of opportunities for oral language activities in their classroom.

Competence in oral language is a prerequisite for learning to read

 The first chapter,".The What and Why of Oral Language", provides the necessary background on what oral language is: "A complex physical and intellectual process that allows us to effectively process language and to interact with others."(p 12)

Chapter two on "Whole Group Activities" starts out by discussing the building of oral language through teacher talk. Middendorf notes that a teacher's voice is an important tool. A calm controlled voice allows the children to focus on what is being said.  The louder the voice becomes, the more likely the child will stop processing words and react to body language and tone. The teacher is modeling to the children the way she wants the children to speak to one another. This chapter continues with strategies for class discussion. One strategy is to use a talking tool, that is, an object that is passed from child to child to indicate who has the floor to speak. This eliminates the arm waving and, as the author notes, when their arm is up, they often stop listening and are focusing on being the next one called on.  Another strategy Middendorf uses is "Caught on Thought" which is a technique that encourages children to think seriously about the discussion before speaking.

Modeling and directing

The chapter on "Oral Language for Personal and Social Growth" is of particular interest in its discussion of the Language of Rules and the Language of Conflict Resolution.  If we model and teach at this early age the appropriate use of language during stressful times, the acceptable outlets for anger and frustration, and the respectful way to disagree, it can only lead to more self-managed children.

Oral language at home

The last chapter on "Oral Language at Home" is particularly important since "The single most accurate predictor of an individual student's success(in school) is the family's ability to accept,encourage, and support the learner; express doable expectations; and be involved in the day-to-day learning."(p 88 A.T. Henderson and N. Berla,1997)  A tall order for many families that lack resources or motivation; but, the many examples provided of Home Talk, newsletters, family comment pages, and home play bags, will get parents talking to their children and will build strong home-to-school connections.

Overall, this is an excellent resource for early childhood teachers filled with activities, strategies, and reproducibles that will get children ready to read.

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