Never underestimate the opportunities for incidental language which occur in school; no matter how busy the class or exhausting the schedule. The unplanned exchange between an educator and a child can be one of the most powerful learning experiences of the day. So where do we find these opportunities and how do we maximize them?
- Times of transition provide times for talk. The walks to and from places, class tidying time, on the way to the library are a great start. If you often find yourself talking to the same children stop and look along the line. Chances are the student who is shy or anxious, or who has a language or learning difficulty may not be the one approaching you. So make a conscious effort to go and chat. It not only enhances relationships but provides a great opportunity to hear how she or he is constructing language in less formal/conversational settings.
- Playful Learning time is one of the best opportunities to develop oral language. Move around the play space and listen carefully to the chatter. What children say and how they say it lets you know how they’re communicating with their peers. Oral, reading and writing exchanges require an innate knowledge of grammar structure, how our language is constructed. If you hear children consistently using poor or insecure grammar, take the opportunity to model the correct grammar in an authentic setting. Child. “I gode to the shop with Mum.” Teacher. “Oh you went to the shop with Mum? Was it fun?” etc.
- Investigative activities are researched to develop vocabulary. Science, maths and outdoor play provide excellent opportunities to develop vocabulary. There is an increasing amount of academic research into the importance of developing vocabulary. We need to give children the chance to practice new language orally. Without talk time it is almost impossible to consolidate new vocabulary. Children need to play with language.
- Expose children to synonyms, alternate words or phrases, technical vocabulary. It is okay to talk about the use of language for a purpose. For example the way we describe an elephant in a factual report is different to how we’d describe an elephant in a story. Actively encourage children to expand word choice when sharing ideas. When introducing any new learning always expose children to the specific language associated with it.
American sociologist Deborah Tannen said, “We tend to look through language and not realize how much power language has.” We want our children to have power in a complex world. If we can improve a child’s oral language skills we are empowering them to communicate in a range of contexts for a range of purposes.