I have been thinking a lot about language development as I watch my two-year-old grandson Jaxson learn to talk. Jaxson is learning to talk by talking to people who talk and listen to him. One day he had an exciting story to tell me.
Jaxson: Daddy ladder
Me: Daddy got a ladder to look at the ceiling?
Jaxson: Daddy broke!
Me: Oh, Daddy made the hole in the ceiling to look at the pipe!
Jaxson [points at ceiling]: Mommy water!
Me: Really? Mommy was upstairs and the water from her shower come down through the ceiling?
Jaxson [makes a motion with hands]: Water! Water Down!
I am his grandmother, so I am hardwired to think everything he does or says is brilliant. BUT, I am amazed at how Jaxson worked so hard to share his story of this interesting event with me, using the words and hand gestures he knows.
Children learn by talking and they need and want to share stories with us.
When children go to school, there need to be continued opportunities to talk. We need to provide opportunities for students to engage in activities that will promote talk that encourages total participation. Here’s how:
- Ask open-ended questions. Don’t have the “right” answer in mind.
- Keep silent to encourage others to talk.
- Get children to extend their talk by asking for explanations and clarification.
- Have conversations together about books (don’t just ask questions to test for comprehension).
It is important that we don’t do all the talking.
Marie Clay tells us, “Put your ear closer, concentrate more sharply, smile more rewardingly and spend more time in genuine conversation, difficult though it is. To foster children’s language development, create opportunities for them to talk, and then talk with them (not at them).” (Becoming Literate: The construction of Inner Control, p. 61)
Michèle Dufresne is author of many Pioneer Valley Books early readers (including the Bella and Rosie series), Word Solvers (Heinemann), and an early literacy and literacy intervention consultant.
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