Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Stages of Learning a New Language: The Early Production and Speech Emergence Stages

Last week we described the first and very important stage of language acquisition, the silent period. This week we move forward to tell you about the next two stages of the five-step process. We also offer ideas teachers can use in their classrooms to help children as they acquire a second or even third language.

The second phase is called the early production stage. During this time, children are likely to understand and use about 1000 words. These are usually single words (nouns and verbs) along with simple phrases.

Children in the early production stage benefit from singing, playing musical games, participating in rhyming activities along with engaging in word plays. They can often respond to simple questions but do not always engage in conversations with native speakers. .

The third stage of language acquisition is the speech emergence stage. While not always grammatically correct, children try to chunk phrases into sentences. They often have a vocabulary of about 3000 words and are more likely to talk with native speakers.

In the classroom, it is more beneficial to give children in the speech emergence stage a good model of correct usage rather than correcting their attempts at speaking the new language. Children are able to understand basic texts when they have illustrations to support the content. As with the first two stages, pictures and comprehensible input are valuable teaching tools.

Stay tuned – next week we discuss the final stages of language acquisition. You will have knowledge to assist your ELLs in the New Year! 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC – 2.A.04. & 2.D.01.
Head Start – IX. A., B., & C.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Stages of Learning a New Language: The Silent Period

Many of us work with English Language Learners (ELLs) and their families. To help us better understand how to help these children, Maggie’s Big Home will discuss the stages of second language acquisition over the next 3 weeks. We will describe the stages and offer suggestions as to how you can support ELLs in your classroom.

Most people (children and adults) who are immersed in a new language go through a Silent Period. This first stage of language acquisition is very important. Although it appears nothing is happening, key connections are being made. A silent period will vary in length. It can last from a few weeks to over a year.

There are several factors that can influence how long a silent period lasts. A child’s personality can play a big role, as some children are more outgoing than others. They feel comfortable in different situations and are not easily intimidated. Other children are naturally shy. We need to take into consideration individual personalities. Culture also plays a role. In some cultures, females may be expected to be quieter. This may influence how long a silent period lasts, too.

An important role for teachers is to realize that the silent period is a natural part of second language acquisition. Children are listening and processing. They are likely striving to understand what is being said to them. As teachers, we need to be sure children have the time they need. We should not force anyone to speak until they are ready. When we give children opportunities to take part in small group activities with peers, they are likely to feel more comfortable in trying out their new language.

Next week we will discuss the Early Production Stage and the Speech Emergence Stage.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC – 2.A.04. & 2.D.01.
Head Start – IX. A., B., & C.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Common Phonological Error: Affricates

Take a look at these pictures. They represent sounds that are often difficult for our emerging readers.



The initial sounds in these words, j, tr, dr, and ch are called affricates. Many teachers have never heard of this term, despite the fact that these letter combinations are often confusing for young children. It may seem perplexing to us, but these sounds are made in a certain location in the mouth, which leads to them being easily confused. 

Look at your students’ authentic writing. You may see words such as chrip for trip, jran for train, or even jiv for drive. We can understand the vowel changes in these words but we may wonder why the consonant substitutions are occurring. When teachers (and families) know about affricates, these types of errors are easily fixed. 

We suggest placing little toys around the room, as our pictures indicate. Children will wonder what you are up to! You can hand out jellybeans as treats, as further incentive to talk about affricates.
You can have children sort pictures according to their initial sound. For example, include pictures of a dress, dragon, drum, train, tray, truck, chimney, chain, chin, jar, jet, and jump. Children place these in columns according to the sound they hear. For children who make many errors with affricates, begin by having them compare pictures of only two letter/letter combinations, such as j with tr. I add the other letters as children progress.
In our experience up to a third of emerging readers confuse these sounds. If affricates are not understood, teachers and families are easily confused as to why these substitutions are occurring. If we can’t identify the cause, we can’t fix the errors. 

For more, see our activity this week. Be sure you are signed up here to receive these free offerings.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.E.06
Head Start - VII. B & C.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Child Friendly Presentations: I Do, We Do, You Do

How can we help our young learners understand new knowledge, strategies, and ways of approaching learning? If we think about the words in the title of this article, we have a good roadmap of how we can guide children through learning. 

We often begin by showing children how to do something new. Let's think about tying shoes. We don't just tell a child to tie his or her shoes. We show them how to do this. Often we talk about a process as we are showing a new skill. For example, in the case of tying shoes we might say, "Let's make two bunny ears from the shoelaces." Then we do this for the child. This is the "I Do" stage of teaching. As adults, we are doing something and the child is watching. We have talked about this in depth in our post about modeling - http://www.maggiesbighome.com/2016/10/teaching-skills-to-children-use-modeling.html 

The next part of teaching is the "We Do" phase. This often takes the longest as we are partners with children and try out a new skill or strategy together. That is key. We are still right there, guiding children, as they attempt the new learning. In the case of tying shoes, we sit with a child and orally review the steps in securing shoes as the child ties laces. We may repeat directions, give children parts of a new skill to do while we do other parts, or guide small groups of children as they work together. The key is to allow plenty of time for practice under the guidance of the adult.

Finally, we invite children to continue to practice the new learning on their own. Aptly titled, the "You Do" phase of learning, we say, "Now it's your turn. You do it!" Children have opportunities to independently practice doing something like tying their shoes. 

When we follow these three sequential components of teaching and learning, children receive the adult guidance that is necessary for learning something new. We have found it beneficial to share these concepts with families and to advise them that the "We Do" phase often takes a lot of time as it is expected that practice makes permanent. 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.A.10 & 2.A.11
Head Start - IV.A., B., & C.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Read-Alouds: Comprehension and Cognates

Read-alouds are more than just fun for our young learners. By clearly and explicitly asking children to engage in meaningful comprehension activities like making predictions, describing characters, and explaining plot, we are teaching this important component of reading (see http://www.maggiesbighome.com/search?q=reading+umbrella). We can have children turn and talk about their "guesses" (predictions) based on the cover of the book and/or a picture walk. Turn the class into actors to show understanding of character traits and behavior. Give children a paper, folded into four parts, to highlight the key parts of a book's plot. These are developmentally-appropriate ways to teach comprehension skills as we read. 

Read-alouds can even provide us an important opportunity to showcase the knowledge we have in our classrooms. We can use the vocabulary in a book to help ALL children understand the power of cognates (words from different languages that are related to each other). This helps speakers of languages that descend from Latin. 

About 40% of English vocabulary can be related to Spanish words. This helps our Spanish speakers but also demonstrates to English speakers that they may be able to make connections with words in other languages. 

As you read books orally to your class, ask Spanish speakers to raise their hands when they hear familiar Spanish words. They may raise their hands when you read family or center as the Spanish words are closely related (familia, centro). 

Talking with your young children about "words that are relatives" is a perfect opportunity to invite Spanish-speaking family members of students into your classroom. They can read books in Spanish and English speakers can then raise THEIR hands when they hear a familiar cognate like familia! Showing learning from all sides is important! 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.E.03, 2.E.04, 2.E.06, 2.E.09, 2.E.10.
Head Start - VII. B & C.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Talking Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! This year we are thinking about how language can be developed at home and school. Encourage families to invite children to help as food is prepared. You can give a list of suggested topics to discuss. Here are a few ideas that represent math, literacy, social studies, and science:

  • Discuss how to measure ingredients.
  • As a family member works, they could talk through the sequence of making a certain dish.
  • Discuss the different food groups that are represented on the table.
  • Talk with children about the number of ingredients in a specific dish.
  • Ask children to pick out a favorite part of the meal and tell why they like this.

Encourage families to discuss with children their own cultural traditions as they relate to this holiday. Some people have a tablecloth that is used year after year. Everyone who sits at the table signs the tablecloth. Other people spend a special time, remembering the past year and the many things for which they are thankful. In our home, we are talking about the immigrants in our family tree that came to the United States. Older family members are sharing these stories with younger family members. We are coloring the flags that represent our past immigrant families.

The idea is to talk - and talk - and talk!

For more art-related Thanksgiving ideas see our pages http://www.maggiesbighome.com/2015/11/family-time-with-preschoolers.html and http://www.maggiesbighome.com/2014/11/thanksgiving-preschool-crafts.html.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Making Ten With Falling Leaves

Leaves are falling all around as we prepare to say good-bye to autumn. Use this end of fall symbol to enhance your children’s mathematical skills. Not to mention...this activity can help young learners develop listening and fine motor skills, too.

Give children a tree, like the one below. 

Next give them a 10 frame as shown:

Pre-cut fall leaves of various colors.

Give the direction that children are to choose two colors. They should count enough of each color to make 10. They can check this by placing their fall leaves on the 10-frame. This is the type of direction that is clear and simple yet helps children learn to listen to you and follow your expectations.

Once children have confirmed they have 10 and only 10 leaves, they can glue them on their tree. We like using squeezable glue bottles as this helps strengthen hand muscles – good for developing fine motor control.

Finally ask children to count their leaves and write a number sentence. Share these number sentences and discuss the many ways we can make 10.

We find that not many children choose 0 so you may need to show that 0 + 10 = 10. As a follow-up, ask children to use different materials in the classroom to show this. 

Standards Alignment:

NAEYC –2.F. 11 & 12.

Head Start -X. A. & B.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Benefits of Playing School

Playing school! What fun for many children. And we are finding that both girls and boys benefit from this favorite pastime of childhood. This is an activity that you may want to encourage families to enjoy at home because it is much more than merely play-acting. Family involvement can encourage children, acting as the teacher, to practice many important skills and concepts.

The child as teacher may have a family member sit at a desk or on the floor to practice numbers or sight words, as shown below. 

Good review: Writing numbers and asking a family member to name the numeral.
Pointing to sight words gives children a chance to think clearly about each word as they need to give feedback as to whether a family member reads it correctly!
This is a helpful way for children to verbalize their understandings of school-readiness concepts. It also allows for practice, in a developmentally-appropriate way, of key skills.  Children can use papers, stapled together like books, and write practice activities for their “students.” They may use toys like blocks to demonstrate math concepts. 
The child sets up a "teacher desk" and prepares blocks to demonstrate patterning for his "students."
Children can even set up their own classroom, as shown below, with stuffed animals (and a family member) as students. 

Arranging desks can give you insight into what a child likes about school.
An important benefit of this is that families get a window into the child’s mind. This will help direct them as to what children remember and value about school. What a wonderful way to communicate with families!

One topic we have considered is the benefit male faculty members have on a child’s propensity to play school.  We know the importance of male role models. Does having a male in the classroom mean young boys are more likely to play school? The child in these photos loves to engage in this activity. He is fortunate to have a male kindergarten teacher.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC –  2.A.12, 2.B.01, & 2.B.04.
Head Start -  II.A., II.B.,  & 4.A.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

ELLs and Environmental Print

Many preschool teachers use environmental print to help children learn letters and letter sounds. That big M for McDonald's or the letters in a favorite grocery store, pizza place, or even sports team can help children make gains with their alphabetic awareness. 

But, we often need to be aware that newcomers to the United States may not know the letters, signs, and meaning of this environmental print. It is up to us to be cognizant of this and find other ways to heighten awareness for finding letters in various places.

You can bring in newspapers in different languages. Often families receive these and will be happy to share. Find books in a child's home language and go on letter "hunts" using these. Look on the Internet for types of environmental print that speakers of other languages may be more accustomed to seeing and using. 

There are many ways you can find print that your newcomers are used to seeing. The first step is being aware that we need to do this.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.D.01., 2.D.02., & 2.E.03.
Head Start - VII.D. & IX.A.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Importance of Those "Little Words"

How can you help your young learners get ready for school? One of the key oral language skills children need is the ability to understand and use words that we often assume children know. These include words like on, that, above, can, where, why, etc. The list goes on. Often termed high-frequency words, these are included on sight word lists for kindergarten and first grade. But, research tells us that children have a difficult time reading these words automatically if they do not understand their meaning or how to use them. In other words, children must be given plenty of opportunities to use these words in context if they are to eventually read them.

This means we need to emphasize questions words like what, who, how, etc. We need to ask children to repeat the questions we ask, and we should encourage them to ask their own questions using these words.

"Little words" like on, over, above, etc. can be said while pointing to objects. You can make a game of lining up by putting hands on heads or arms above heads. This helps children act out the meaning of these words.

Words such as can and was are often the first sight words an emerging reader learns to read and write. Sentences are given like:

________(name of child) can run. 
________(name of child) was happy. 

You can make this process more efficient by making a game of this by saying, "____ (name of child) can go to the line." Later, have children act as the leader to call children to the line. This helps them hear and use these words in context.

For more sight words that your preschoolers will learn when they enter school, see any listing of the Dolch Words on the Internet. This list is a good resource for those "little words" that you should emphasize.

Understanding and using these sight words is especially important for our English Language Learners. Research (Helman & Burns, 2008) tells us that our speakers of other languages have difficulty learning these sight words. Our schools are set up with the assumption that all children know the meaning of these words. But ELLs do not have a working knowledge of the syntax of English. Often we ask young readers if something makes sense. But children who have not heard these words used in context all of their lives cannot answer the question, "Does that sound right?" We need to give them background knowledge to help with this. Rather than always emphasizing nouns or even verbs, we need to remember to highlight words from the Dolch list, too.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.D.01 & 2.D.03
Head Start - VIII. A. & B.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Teaching Skills to Children: Use Modeling

We can help our young children learn when we show them what we are thinking. Modeling is an important teacher skill and even one you can help families learn. When we model we talk about all that is going on in our heads. Essentially, we invite children into our brains! We find they like this concept!

A few tips about modeling:
  • Be sure you do not talk longer than the age of your children. So, for 4 year olds, only model for four minutes.
  • Be sure you use hand signals to show children when you are thinking. Point to your head.
  • Change your voice tone when you are thinking and when you are reading.  This is a signal to children.
  • We like to change our body position to show when we go back into our brains. You can see this on the video below.
These tips will help you to model more effectively for young children.

Watch the video below. It shows these tips in action! 

For ELLs:
The comprehensible input of hand signals, body movement, and voice tone helps our English Language Learners to better follow your modeling. 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.B.01 & 2.D.04
Head Start - VI.A. & IX.A.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Apple Opinions: Teaching Children to Support Their Choices

It’s fall – that time of year when treats abound. Our classrooms and homes are awash in pumpkins, scarecrows, and all kinds of yummy apple products. Apples are perfect for many learning objectives.

One important goal for children is to give an opinion and be able to support this opinion with reasons. Using apples to accomplish this objective is an age-appropriate way to engage children in this type of discourse.

Bring apples as a healthy treat for children. Be sure to share different varieties and cut them into slices. Let children sample the apples. 
Then give children a paper that looks like this:
The boxes allow children to draw pictures or make attempts at writing words.
After sampling the apples, children can complete the paper by drawing pictures or writing a few words. Remember, inventive spelling can be a window into a child’s emerging literacy abilities. Click here for more information on the Continuum of Writing.

You may want to engage in a conversation emphasizing that children need to think for themselves. A reason such as “my friend says she likes this apple best” is not a good reason.

Have children share their finished work. Praise children who supported their reason for preferring a certain apple. These might include:
  • I like the taste best.
  • It is crunchy.
  • It is easy to chew.
  • It tastes sweet and I like sweet.
  • It tastes sour. I like that. 
As you can see, the support for an opinion will vary. The important component is that children are learning to support their opinions with connected details. 

By providing a hands-on activity such as sampling different apples along with a choice of drawing or writing, speakers of other languages can easily participate.  

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC – 2.B.03 & 2.D.06.
Head Start – II.A. & IV.A.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Using Your Students’ Backgrounds: Funds of Knowledge

Have you ever heard the term, funds of knowledge?  When we learn about the funds of knowledge that children have, we are learning about the background knowledge and the culture of our students. This allows them to function in their homes and neighborhoods. The idea behind this key phrase is that our students bring a rich background of knowledge and cultural awareness to our classrooms. When we understand this, we can make connections and learning will be more efficient and richer.

Head Start personnel conduct home visits, as do many other teachers. As these home visits are held, we can and should let go of the deficit lens that we often use. Teachers naturally want to “fix” things so we look at what is missing rather than what is there. We have to shed this tendency to determine the funds of knowledge our students bring us. Is the home bilingual or multilingual? This is helpful for brain development. If the family speaks one language, how can the vocabulary be used to enrich lessons? How does the food of the family contribute to your curriculum? What folktales and other stories does the child know? How can these be used in the classroom? Once we look at what a child brings to us, we can build on these positives.    

We want to encourage the home language of the child. In order to do that, we can provide literacy materials for the family. This link will take you to two books, one in English and the other in Spanish. They are complete with suggestions for the family. We hope you will share these as you gather more information about each child’s funds of knowledge.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC – 2.D.01
Head Start – II.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Using Wordless Picture Books!

Have you discovered the joys of wordless picture books? Books such as Chalk by Bill Thomson and The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney are just two examples from this wonderful world that is just right for encouraging oral language, understanding of story structure, and the development of critical/creative thinking.  And a big benefit in our eyes is the way these books can draw in our ELLs. Studies show that families, who speak a language other than English, are engaged and have valuable interaction in their home language when given wordless picture books.

For emerging readers, show them the cover and ask if they can predict what the book will be about based on the illustration. Then open the book. Remember this act alone is modeling for children the way to hold books and turn pages. Encourage the child to turn the pages, taking in the illustrations. Let the child’s imagination soar!

Then go back through the book a second time. An adult can begin by telling a story in his or her best expressive voice to match the illustration on the page. This model will likely encourage the child (children) to use an expressive voice, too and will show that the sky is the limit for storytelling!

When finished, have the child share his or her favorite parts of the story you told together and/or point out a favorite picture.

Be sure to take out the book again, a few days later. Set the stage by starting your story with different words or from a different viewpoint. This gives children “permission” to tell the story a different way.

Be sure to invite families to be a part of the wordless picture book experience, in any language. This would make a helpful Family Night Demonstration.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC – 2.D.02; 2.D.04; & 2.E.04.
Head Start – VII. A. & VIII.B.