Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Oral Language Development: Instructing English Learners, Pt. 1

Our previous oral language post covered a little bit of why focusing on oral language development is important for reaching the eventual goal of literacy. Today, we will explore that topic in greater detail, using the Oral Language Development Series as a guide.

Developed through a collaborative process between the New Teacher Center and Hameray Publishing Group and written by a team of reading specialists and teacher trainers (Barbara Allen, Allison Briceño, Adria Klein, Bee Medders, Deb Nemecek, Nicki Smith, and Susan Wray) the Oral Language Development Series filled a gap that existed in resources available to teachers and reading coaches.

As the authors describe, "the Oral Language Readers were born of a need to better serve English learners and their teachers. As mentors at the New Teacher Center, we often hear teachers say that they knew what the student’s language level was, based on a formal placement test, but didn’t know what to do to help develop the student’s language skills. They wondered what type of instruction to use, what they should focus on first, and how they could track progress." The language readers are the solution to this problem.


The way that the language readers are leveled is that each topic contains a wordless book to be used for assessment and then language structures that increase in complexity from 1 all the way up to a maximum of 7 in some topics. Here is a sample of a book from the My Family topic, leveled at Language Structure 6: 

Today, we will focus on use of the wordless book from the same topic—how it is intended to be used in assessment, and a couple of other ideas for activities using the book as a focal point.

For assessment, you will want to focus on determining which language structures a child already possesses in his or her oral laListening to students talk is one of the most powerful formative assessments you can use. From the teacher's guide: "capturing and analyzing brief snippets of students’ oral language is a crucial component of supporting their language development. Teachers should listen to, record, and analyze student interactions in a variety of settings: whole group, small group, one-on-one, between peers or with a teacher...there are a variety of ways to capture student talk. In addition to using paper and pencil, teachers have been recording student talk with their phones, video cameras, iPad, iPod, digital recorders, and so on. The method used to capture talk is up to you."

The New Teacher Center has developed an app for iPad that is specially designed for this kind of assessment, but paper and pencil works just as well. The image below shows a screenshot from the app in use, and can give you an idea of how to structure your chart if you will be using paper or a spreadsheet.

In the above assessment exercise, the instructor shows the student the indicated page from the book and prompts the student to describe what she sees. Below are the corresponding pages from the book (images and page order has changed slightly since the above screenshot was taken):

Aside from simply asking the child what actions can be observed in the scene, a wordless book also makes a good prompt for vocabulary-building activities. Since each of the topics takes place in a simple and likely familiar setting (especially those topics that use photographs rather images, an instructor can ask the child how many objects in each scene the child can name.

Examples from the above images include the following:

Bedroom scene: bed, picture, items of clothing, door, floor, etc.

Yard scene: ball, fence, items of clothing, etc.

Kitchen scene: pot, cupboard, etc.

Garage scene: broom, trash can, door, etc.

Another way these books could be used is to ask the child what he or she thinks the people in the picture might say. For images with multiple people in them, this might be a conversation between the two people; in other topics where there is only person in an image, it might be a comment on whatever is happening in the scene.

Giving the child more than one type of prompt can give the instructor a better idea of what language structures the child is comfortable using. While the higher-leveled language structure books describe with increasing complexity only what is happening in the scene, the wordless Entry books allow great flexibility in how they are put to use to assess and encourage oral language development.

For more information on the Oral Language Development Series, click below to download a summary of key points about the books and to view the teacher's guide!

New Call-to-Action          Oral Language Development Series Free Teachers Guide

Check back soon for more information on oral language development!