There’s a great amount of complexity and work that goes into planning a balanced literacy block for our early learners. It is important that, while planning language objectives within the block, the teacher includes extra supports and scaffolds for English language learners. These supports help learners grasp content vocabulary more thoroughly. In this article, there are ideas and resources for language development within interactive read aloud, flexible language groups, and literacy centers that will support all learners.
Early Literacy Activities
Interactive Read Aloud
Having a selection of emergent storybooks to read to students and students to read over and over again is a great way of familiarizing early learners with language objectives. Students can begin to use the target vocabulary while describing, explaining, and eventually predicting content within the text. There are a lot of great Emergent storybooks, such as Goodnight, Gorilla; Kitten’s First Full Moon; Three Billy Goats Gruff; Goldilocks and the Three Bears; and The Gingerbread Boy, which can be used effectively in this setting.
Every interactive read aloud should be started with three things to set the stage for students’ successful completion of the learning objectives. First, conduct an opening conversation that gets students engaged in the book and with each other by turning and talking to one another about what they already know about the topic or message. This intro conversation can help determine initial knowledge base of the class and create a personalized experience that allows students to relate to text.
Second, the teacher should briefly explain the genre, whether the text is informational or literary. Explaining the genre is an important set up for the vocabulary the teacher will be introducing. Students will be able to prepare themselves for learning about characters, setting, and plot versus table of contents, labels, and bold printed words.
Third, the teacher should frontload important vocabulary. The vocabulary should be introduced on a picture vocabulary card with the word written under the picture. In addition, the teacher can include multi-lingual terms as appropriate. The teacher should have examples and perhaps an action to go with the vocabulary words taught. Students should clap out the syllables of each word.
Once vocabulary is introduced the teacher can read the book, stopping to engage in discourse when the vocabulary words are encountered. There should also be a bulletin board or place in the classroom where the picture of the front cover of the book and the vocabulary picture cards are posted for students to reference. The teacher can reread the books throughout the week, month, and school year in many different ways (felt boards, puppets, etc.) and languages. The stories should become very familiar to students, so they can read and retell the stories in the center.
Flexible Language Groups
Within the guided reading block, the teacher can add in a flexible language group, and within this group, the teacher can use additional resources to guide students in meeting language objectives. The focus of these lessons could be word study and foundational skills. The teacher should plan on which content or background knowledge vocabulary they will be teaching for the day. The teacher should have language picture cards (a visual of the word that’s being taught), language objects, and sentence prompts that help guide each student with language structures for discourse. Additionally, the teacher can introduce the word along with the students’ home language.
After the word is taught and the students have shared a discussion on the word, the teacher can pursue activities that will give students further practice. The teacher can present a book that has the vocabulary in it, and students can picture walk through the book stopping at the vocabulary. Then the students can read the book practicing the word in context. The teacher can have the students write a simple shared sentence using the vocabulary word or do a simple sort of the words they have learned. The teacher can also create a simple sentence with the vocabulary word, cut it up, and have students put it together the right way, or paste it into a notebook, write the sentence, and draw an accompanying picture. These lessons can span over two days and then the teacher can choose a new focus for the flexible language group.
Language Focused Centers
In addition to providing interactive read aloud and flexible language group supports, the teacher should also have a few centers that concentrate on language. First, the teacher can create a library center with tubs of the emergent storybooks the teacher has been reading in the preceding lessons. The students can reread these books to themselves or with a partner using the language the teacher has taught. The teacher can also create a simple mini book of that story that students can color, read, and take home.
Second, the teacher can introduce a reader’s theater where students have puppets and props to act out the stories. The use of the puppets and props adds a tangible physical component that reinforces vocabulary, storytelling, and overall learning.
Third, the teacher can create a listening center where students listen to the stories they have been reading during interactive read aloud. Afterward, they can draw a picture of their favorite character or part of the story.
Fourth, there can be a center focused on retelling the story. The teacher can have a cut and paste retell or have flow chart where students draw pictures of the story and what happens first, then, next, and last. The teacher can teach students how to make certain they add key details into their drawings, labels, and words.
Throughout the balanced literacy day, teachers need to focus on students’ language development by implementing extra supports into their interactive read aloud, flexible groups, and language focused centers. Teachers should have vocabulary picture cards to teach academic language, language objects, and sentence starters to support oral discourse. The teacher should have many fun activities where students can independently practice using the academic language. If there is need for extra support the teacher can pull flexible language groups during guided reading. What resources are you implementing throughout the day that support your students in language development?