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Emergent Literacy for VPK Instructors

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There are many ways you can encourage children to talk more when you sit and stay. One of the most effective ways is simply showing a genuine interest in what they have to say. More specifically, if you listen carefully to what a child says and then expand on what he says, you just might be surprised at what he has to offer. Here are some tips for making this happen.


1. Comment and wait

First, comment on what child is doing and then wait. When you follow the child's lead and wait for his/her response, you are encouraging the child to use language. For example, if a child is building roads in the block center, you might walk up and comment, "These are some interesting roads," then pause and wait for the child to respond to your comment

2. Ask a Question

Next, ask a question. Questions that can't be answered with "yes" or "no" encourage children to talk. You might follow a child's response with another question that requires even more information. For example, if the child responds "I am building roads to the city," you might ask, "What will the people see when they drive on your roads to the city?" Or "What will the people do when they get to the city?"

3. Respond and Add

Finally, respond by adding a little more. When a young child responds, his/her answer may be very short. By repeating what the child says and adding a little more, you are showing the child a new way of saying something. If you ask the child what kind of signs the people will see on the way to the city and he/she answers "McDonalds®," simply saying "People do see McDonalds® signs on almost every highway" demonstrates for the child another way of answering. If you ask, "Where are the cars?" and the child answers, "The road," you can respond by saying, "Yes, the cars are on the road."

4. Follow the Child's Lead

Remember, keep the focus of your conversation on the meaning of what the child is saying, not whether or not the child is saying everything perfectly. Children's language will grow and improve as they are included in conversations. If you want a child to talk, you need to follow the child's lead. This means that you need to talk about what the child is interested in at that moment. It might be about something he is looking at or something he is doing.
1. Create play-based learning centers.

This is an easy way to sneak play into your daily routine. Whether traditional play centers (sand, dramatic play, blocks, etc.) or a collection of bins on a shelf, having play materials available is the first step to adding more play into your routine.

If you don't yet have centers, start with a few bins and add things like puppets, blocks, puzzles, and games. Switch the contents often and connect them to classroom learning.

For instance, you might have:

Puppets for characters in a book you read together
Blocks with task cards relating to what you are learning in math (ex. build a castle that has 6 triangles)
A matching game of science concepts (ex. match the animal with their habitat.)

2. Use Manipulatives

Young children are concrete learners who learn by doing. This is why play is such a powerful tool!

Instead of using pencil and paper to teach new concepts, use manipulatives.

They don't have to be fancy teacher-store items either. I once had a class whose favorite manipulative was a big bucket of old keys!

Manipulatives aren't just for math! I use:

Cars to practice blending sounds,
Slinkies for stretching out new words
Letter tiles for spelling
Legos for letter formation
Art materials for just about everything.

3. Play Games

Use games to practice and review concepts. They don't have to be complicated or even competitive.

Young students love:

Guessing games
Eye spy
Hide-and-seek type games
Solving puzzles together.

4. Take Play Breaks

We know our students need breaks, and recess is often too short.

After a bit of hard learning, reward your students with a play break.

Pull out your learning centers and let them have a few minutes to relax and re-energize for your next lesson.
5. Take Your Learning Outside

There is lots of learning that can be done outside, no matter the weather.

My students have :

Created snow sculptures to represent the characters in a book,
Practiced writing words in the snow and mud,
Collected seeds, flowers, and grasses and sorted them, measured them and divided them into fair shares
Found shapes in the playground structures
Gone hunting for letters and words.

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6. Use Puppets

Dramatic play is natural for children and puppets and stuffed animals that talk are quickly accepted as teachers and friends. What's more, students will often listen and respond to a puppet in a way they never would for a teacher!

Puppets in my classroom often:

Approach the students with a problem for them to solve
Ask the students to teach them something (a great way to assess what your students have mastered, and reinforce a concept for struggling learners at the same time.)
Introduce a new song, game, or activity
Reinforce rules and manners

7. Act it Out

Instead of having students retell a story - act it out!

You can also act out:

Scientific processes,
Mathematical operations
Concepts such as fractions, patterns, and ordinal numbers
Letter formation
Sentence structure
Social problem solving
and whatever else you can come up with!

Students love to be chosen to be actors and they will be fully engaged in learning!
8. Play With Your Students

When students are playing, don't be shy - join in!

Playing together builds bonds with your students and creates a classroom community of shared learning and fun.

Plus, as a participant in the play, you have the ability to scaffold the student's learning and to stretch them and challenge them and help them to grow!
9. Make Learning an Adventure

Imagine two intros to a lesson.

The first: "Today, we are going to learn about African animals."

The second: "Today we are going to go on an adventure! We are going to take an airplane and fly to a place halfway around the world. While we are there, we are going to meet some weird and wonderful creatures that live in this amazing place. Are you ready to begin our journey?"

In the first lesson, the teacher might show some photographs of each animal and talk about each one. In the second lesson, the students actually pretend to get on a plane, land in Africa, and view the photos of animals placed around the classroom in the role of explorers in a new land.

Both lessons will teach the same content, but one feels like playing. The best part - to the students, a journey to a new place in their imagination is almost the same as being there, and they will remember the lesson months later.
10. Create Parent Buy-In

Parents love their children and want them to learn - and so do you!

If parents (or administration) are giving you a hard time about play in the classroom, try to show them all the learning that is happening.
1. How do you post and use purposeful and meaningful print in your classroom?
• For example, is your daily schedule posted with words and graphics?
• Do you point to this as you start each day and show children how you use the schedule to remind you what is coming next?
• Do you have directions posted for special activities, like how to make Play-doh™, or clean-up steps for after you finish painting?
• Do you have a children's art gallery that displays the child-artists' names in large print and child-dictated titles for the masterpieces?
• Do you have language experience charts posted that include photographs and captions of a field trip you took with the class?
These are just a few examples of the many ways to use and post meaningful examples of print in your classroom.

2. Do you have alphabet posters hanging at the children's eye level?
• Do you refer to these posters often for instance, when you are showing children how to make a "D" when writing "Dear" at the beginning of the note you are writing for the class?
• Are your students encouraged to use alphabet posters to write their own messages?

3. Do you have lots of high-quality, age-appropriate story and informational books in your classroom? Do you have theme-appropriate books in each center, like books about trucks and construction in the block area?

4. How do you help children notice the conventions of print?
• Do you point to print while reading and talk about how the print is organized as you are writing with children?
• Do you use enlarged print with familiar songs, finger plays, and rhymes?
• Are children allowed to use the pointers and charts during their center time to pretend read and sing their favorites?

5. Do you have a child-friendly, comfortable and inviting book corner in your room?

6. Do you have an inviting writing center available for your students during center time? Is it well-stocked with plenty of enticing writing tools and materials?

7. How do you create literacy-enriched play settings in your classroom?
• For example, do you turn your pretend center into a restaurant with menus and order pads, or a flower shop with pots of labeled flowers, order pads, and catalogues?
• Have you ever made a veterinarian's office in your classroom? If so, did you include books about different pets, reference manuals, prescription pads, and bills?
• Do you play in these centers with your students to show them how to use the reading and writing props in the center and teach them new words to use for their pretend-play?
• Do you have appropriate books and writing supplies in every center?
• Are there colorful, inviting and engaging alphabet materials and books such as magnetic letters, letter puzzles, and letter charts available for students to manipulate?

8. Is there plenty of student-to-student conversation and adult interaction with students—in other words, do you provide an active classroom with regular opportunities for children to talk with each other and with you?