III. Communication Skills, Including Oral and Written Language
Research-based instructional approaches that foster communication skills, including oral and written language, promote access, opportunity, and academic achievement.
Since the late 1990s, a growing body of evidence supports the conviction that while oral language is a naturally occurring phenomenon and an important precursor to written language, the latter is acquired through explicit instruction. “Written language was invented as a way to represent spoken language using abstract symbols that must be taught” and “for most children written language must be learned with a lot of explicit instruction and requires a lot of practice” (Peregoy and Boyle, 1997, p. 2) . The abilities to communicate in both oral and written form greatly impact academic achievement and future success. Children experience language at the oral level first, by listening and speaking, and then move to the text level, by reading and writing.
Research consistently supports the notion that oral language, while not sufficient on its own, provides an essential foundation for the development of reading and writing skills in children (National Institute for Literacy, 2008), adults, and English-language learners (August & Shanahan, 2008). “Using words expressively requires a deeper level of word knowledge… and the ability to use a word in speaking or writing demonstrates true ownership of the word” (Moats, 2009, p. 7). The transfer of vocabulary knowledge from oral language to written language allows the ability to communicate without face-to-face interactions.
Neuro-cognitive and reading research further demonstrate that the intentional promotion of oral abilities (through storytelling, modeling vocabulary usage, engaging in rich conversation, etc.) contributes to learners’ later success in reading, writing and general academics. (Moats, 2009, p.7; Sousa, 2005, p.11).
The NELP findings strongly suggest that deliberate literacy-focused activities during preschool and kindergarten can significantly advance young learners’ oral and written language development. Children are better able to develop oral language vocabularies when their family members take part in conversations often. In fact, “the number of words that an infant hears each day is the single most predictor of later intelligence, school success, and social competence” (Straub, 1999, p. 80). Guo & Harris (2000) found that “cognitive stimulation in the home is by far the most important influence mediating the effect of poverty on such development” (p. 442).
“Speech is learned early without direct instruction; it is difficult to prevent children from learning to use oral language” (Moats, 2000, p. 81). Educators must provide students with a variety of language rich experiences to foster communication with others. Activities to promote oral language development in children could include code-focused programs, book sharing, parent programs, and language-enhancement instruction. Code-focused programs would include explicitly teaching students sound-spellings (mapping the sounds of English to the spelling patterns for those sounds). After hearing the sounds, matching them to spellings for the sounds, students should be given opportunities to practice reading those sounds in decodable text. To ensure mastery of sound-spellings, teachers should incorporate word and sentence dictation focused on the targeted sound-spelling. When students are able to use that sound-spelling independently in their writing they will have made the transfer to using it to communicate in written language.
Since print is everywhere – in books, on signs, on labels and in logos, “we need to intentionally draw children’s attention to the symbols in the environment; point out specific letters and words; read high-quality books on a daily basis with individual children and in small groups; use books that positively reflect children’s identity, home language, and culture; and provide many opportunities to engage in play that incorporates literacy tools” (Paulson & Moats, p. 74). Through engagement with print in their everyday environments, students develop an understanding that the function of print varies according to its purpose or use in different text forms. This print awareness plays an integral role in the process of learning to read; it is the earliest introduction to literacy for children (Gunn, Simmons, & Kame’enui, 1998). One activity that integrates literacy tools is book sharing, which could involve the use of Read-Aloud texts to explicitly teach the conventions of language. Teachers would direct student attention to the qualities of text in books (e.g., titles, specific words, alignment of print on a page) and print in the surrounding environment.
Strategies to Promote Oral Language
Children who are provided a wide variety of experiences and opportunities to talk, tell stories, read storybooks, draw, and write are generally successful in learning to read and write. (Paulson & Moats, 2010) Educators must provide opportunities for interaction with others and use of language. Use of instructional routines focused on actively engaging all students give students purposeful opportunities to practice language to gain proficiency in communicating with others. Inside/Outside Circle (Grognet, Jameson, Franco, & Derrick-Mescua, 2000), Choral Response, Think-Pair-Share (Lymna, 1981), Dialogic Reading and PEER are cooperative learning structures that can be used to give all students the opportunity to use oral language with multiple peers.
Students stand in two concentric circles. One circle faces in. The other circle faces out.
Students form pairs by facing another student in the other circle.
Students in one circle begin speaking while the students in the other circle listen.
The speaking and listening roles reverse.
The circles rotate so each student has a new partner. Speaking and listening resumes.
When all students are expected to give the same answer orally, the use of Choral Response would be appropriate.
Ask the Question
Give a Signal
Give Wait Time
Question: “The color of the sun is ___?”
Signal: Raise your hand
Wait: Hold hand up
Initiate Signal: Lower hand
Everyone says, “Yellow.”
The use of Think-Pair-Share gives students opportunity to rehearse a response with a partner before sharing with the whole group. Partners can give one another corrective feedback or help elaborate on an answer.
Ask or Write the Question
Wait to Give Think Time
Students Share Answer with a Partner
Then, students share partner’s answer with another set of partners or whole group.
Pair: Partner #1 and Partner #2
Ask: “What is the main conflict in the story?”
Wait: Provide wait time for partners to share answers. (Partner #1 share, then Partner #2 share)
Share: Partner #1 share Partner #2’s answer with a new student or whole group. Partner #2 share Partner #1’s answer with a new student or whole group
Dialogic Reading, a method of instruction developed in the 1980s where children learn to become the storyteller, impacts oral language development.
Dialogic reading can be used by teachers and other adults with children individually or in small groups. Adults can be trained in the principles of dialogic reading through video followed by role-playing and group discussion. While reading books with the child, the adult uses five types of prompts (forming the acronym “CROWD”):
Completion: The child fills in the blank at the end of a sentence.
Recall: The adult asks questions about a book the child has read.
Open-ended: The adult encourages the child to tell what is happening in a picture.
Wh-: The adult asks wh- questions about the pictures in the books.
Distancing: The adult relates pictures and words in the book to the child’s own experiences outside the book. (Children should be allowed sufficient time to respond to questions and prompts.)
These prompts are used by the adult in a reading technique called “PEER.” The adult does the following:
Prompts the child to say something about the book
Evaluates the response
Expands the child’s response
Repeats the prompt (As the child becomes increasingly familiar with a book, the adult reads less, listens more, and gradually uses higher level prompts to encourage the child to progress beyond naming the objects in the pictures to thinking more about what is happening in the pictures and how this relates to the child’s own experiences.)
Strategies to Promote Written Language
According to Hart Paulson & Moats (2010, pp. 70-80), “Writing is a complex process that requires the integration of a number of skills and develops in a sequence of identified stages. These skills include an understanding of print, the development of motor skills, and the generation of ideas. ” Transfer of knowledge about phonemes, phonics, grammar and syntax is evident in written language. Proficient use of the conventions of our language ensures that ideas are clearly communicated to the intended audiences. Modeling, scaffolded practice, specific feedback, and instructional routines providing purposeful practice of communicating through writing are critical components of written language instruction.
Written Responses: Same Answers
Ask the Question
Students Write Answer on White Board
Give Wait Time
Students Hold up White Board
Question: “The three branches of government are _____?”
Write: Students write answer on white board
Wait: Walk around and monitor.
Say: “Everyone…” Students hold up white board with answers.
Written Responses: Varying Answers
Ask the Question
Students Write Answer on White Board or Paper.
Give Wait Time
Check Answers with Partners
Randomly Call on Individual Students
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Question: “List the main events that led to the Civil War.”
Write: Students write down answers.
Wait: Walk around and monitor
Check: Partners check answers with each other and make necessary changes.
Call: Randomly call on individual students to share partner’s written response.
Modified versions of Think-Pair-Share, Think- Write-Pair-Share or Think-Write-Pair-Revise-Share, should be used to give students a chance to get feedback from a peer before sharing with the group. Students then read their written response.
Students need authentic purposes for writing and opportunities to write for a variety of purposes and audiences. RAFT (Santa, 1988) is a writing strategy that helps students understand their Role as writer, the Audience they are writing for, the Format for the writing (letter, poem, narrative, etc), and the Topic they will be writing about. This strategy can be used across content areas to write to communicate with others. Student understanding of writing as a form of authentic communication is critical to academic and future success.
- Colorado’s newly adopted (2009) Academic Standards assess oral and written expression and listening skills development.
- The CDE Exceptional Student Services unit’s Guidelines for Identifying Students with Specific Learning Disabilities discusses the role of oral and written abilities in academic development.
- The Reading Rockets website has many tools that support oral and written language instruction.
Oral vocabulary instruction includes instruction on the root-word origins of English words (Ebbers, 2008).
- Hart & Risley’s research provides a context for oral language instruction.
- How School Librarians Help Kids Achieve Standards