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.

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