Improving Children’s Oral Language
Courtesy of: Texas Child Care / Summer 2003
During their early years, children need supportive adults who will engage them in conversation, read to them, and provide experiences in which they can learn new words (IRA and NAEYC, 1998). Children also need adult role models for reading and writing activities – reading the newspaper and writing a note to parents, for example. Children with these experiences will have a tremendous head start when they begin school.
Offer Oral-Language Activities
A rich environment enhances children’s language development indirectly. You can also enhance development directly by providing activities aimed specifically at improving oral language skills.
- Provide props.
Place props in the dramatic play center or use at circle time. A dentist kit, for example, may encourage the children to talk about their experience in going to the dentist.
- Discuss art work.
Encourage children to discuss their creations: “Tell me about your painting.” “How did you feel while making this collage?”
- Talk while playing.
Encourage children to talk while playing in the block building and dramatic play centers; these activities are interactive and collaborative. While children are playing and talking, their vocabulary will improve because they hear themselves and remember some of the words they have heard adults use.
- Tape a story.
Read a story and record it on tape. Make the tape available for children to play and enjoy as many times as they want.
- Encourage pantomime.
Encourage a child to retell their favorite story or pretend to be a character from the book in front of a mirror.
- Play a rhyme game.
Say “Ball rhymes with call.” Spell out the words – “Ball, b-a-l-l and call, c-a-l-l.” Encourage the child to say the words to feel and hear how they rhyme.
- Play “Objects in a Bag”
Place a few items such as a cap, plastic cup, and spoon into a bag. Invite the child to pull an object from the bag and talk about it. The child can describe the object and talk about how it’s used.
- Record sounds in nature.
Take an audio recording of sounds from the outdoors. While playing sounds such as birds, moving vehicles, and dogs barking, encourage children to talk about what they hear. Encourage children to write about or draw pictures representing the sounds they hear.
- Solve a puzzle.
While working with a child to solve a puzzle, talk about the pieces, colors, and shapes. Encourage conversation.
- Take field trips.
Expose children to a variety of experiences by visiting the zoo, library, park, and museum. Encourage children to make comments and to ask questions.
- Read or tell a story every day.
Vary the reading format, using books as well as flannel board and puppets, for example. Have a well-stocked book center that children can use on their own.
Use books to stimulate oral language:
- Always have available a variety of books.
- Choose high quality books about topics such as animals, places, and things that children like.
- Choose books that positively reflect children’s identity, home language, and culture.
- Discuss the story before, during, and after reading.
- Discuss the title and what might happen in the story. Encouraging the children to make predictions stretches their thinking and imagination.
- Point to the pictures and talk about them.
- Help children relate words to their prior knowledge and experiences such as taking a bath, eating, or playing outdoors.
- Read in a natural way, as if you were talking. Use expression by changing your voice tone with each character. Use hand and body gestures.
- Pause to explain unfamiliar words.
- Encourage parents to take advantage of times in the doctor’s waiting room and at the laundromat by talking and reading to the children.