By Sarah Maze, M.S. Ed., Guest Blogger
Oral language is defined as the system through which we use spoken words to express knowledge, ideas, and feelings. As early learners begin to master many skills and standards, Common Core also addresses language, speaking, and listening standards for each grade level.
Strong language skills allow students to communicate with others in the classroom, at home, and other various environments. These skills help children express their ideas and communicate their emotions. All young learners, including second language learners, benefit from instruction in oral language. Let’s look at a few books that can assist in developing these skills within the classroom.
Little Helpers Can Do Big Things is a content-rich book, from the Fables and the Real World series, that teaches different ways children can impact their communities. It is organized by a variety of places, including schools, animal shelters, nursing homes, and community gardens. Two of the Common Core speaking and listening standards for first graders are: 1. Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions (listening to others, speaking one at a time about topics and texts). 2. Build on others’ talk in conversations by responding to the comments of others through multiple exchanges.
Begin by reading the book aloud to students. Then set expectations for paired student sharing, for example:
- Look at the speaker
- Sit still and quiet
- Respond after the speaker finishes talking
Present a question to the class: "What is one way you help others when you are at school?" Then proceed to model the correct and incorrect way to discuss with a student. First, turn to the student and allow them to answer the question. Once they are finished responding, they will ask the question to you so you can offer your answer. Reiterate the expectations for discussions before the fellow partner responds to this question. Carefully monitor that students are listening and taking turns. Follow-up with students asking them to share what their partners discussed with them. Tell students that when they are careful listeners, they remember what their partners shared. Repeat this activity with other questions about the book.
Now it’s time to build upon discussion skills. Remind students that good listeners ask for more information about what is being said. These questions may include, “Can you tell me more about __________.”, “How did you feel about ___________? ”, “What happened next?” You could also write these questions on sticks and give each pair or small group a can of sticks. They can pick an expansion question to ask their partner. Ask the question, “What are some ways you help your family at home? ” Model an exchange with a student by asking them questions for more information. Modeling is a key to success. Again, allow partners to share their own responses. You may want to assign who gets to answer the question first and who will ask for more information first.
After students have had time to practice orally connecting to the text with a partner, it’s time to extend the learning through writing. The book ends with the question, “How can you make a big difference? ” Guide the class in brainstorming age-appropriate ways they can make a difference in their community. Illustrating before or after writing may also help support the brainstorming of students. As students draw, they organize their thoughts and add details that they may want to include in their writing. Then allow students to respond to the question by writing. This can be differentiated. Some students may need the support of a sentence stem: "One way I can make a big difference is by _______." You can write sentence stems on index cards to support students. Other students may be able to write a sentence independently or even a complete paragraph, including a topic sentence and conclusion. After completing the assignment, allow students time to share with the class or in pairs to continue building oral language. Encourage them to explain details in their pictures and ask about each other’s pictures.
Animal Helpers is an informative book that can extend the discussion of helping others. It teaches about a variety of animals that help other animals. To begin, do a picture walk through the book and ask students what they notice on each page. This helps to introduce students to the animals that will be discussed in this book. Pay special attention to the vocabulary words in the back (insect, mongoose, remora, shrimp, and warthog), displaying pictures and names of each animal to support student understanding. Read the book aloud to students. Afterward, play a game matching the animals that help each other and how they help. Later, you can leave this game out as an independent center activity along with a copy of the book. Ask students if they know of other animals that help each other or help people. Some of these may include service dogs, therapy pets (pony, dogs, cats, rabbits), police dogs, search and rescue dogs, etc.
As an extension of helping in a community, you may want to schedule a field trip to a nursing home. Students can share their stories and pictures with the residents there. Another idea is to invite someone with a service pet to be a guest speaker in your class. They can show students how their animal helps them.
Oral language skills include the ability to clearly express ideas verbally and on paper. When provided the opportunity, students can build their oral language skills through guided verbal discussions and written language activities.
Sarah is an elementary school teacher who has taught kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and fifth grade. One of her most unique experiences was teaching orphans in Tanzania, Africa for a year. If you like what you read here, be sure to read more by Sarah on our blog.