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Utilizing Interactive Read-Alouds to Support Oral Language Development

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Reading aloud to children is a critical component of supporting their oral language development. When teachers regularly engage children in interactive read-alouds, including holding conversations before and after book-reading, children have opportunities to practice their oral language skills.

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  • Utilizing Interactive Read-Alouds to Support Oral Language Development

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    Voiceover (with music): How can reading aloud to children help support their oral language development? Which books seem to inspire the most language in your classroom? And why do you think these books inspire so much discussion?

    Utilizing Interactive Read-Alouds to Support Oral Language Development (0:22)

    Teacher: The shark said, help me read this. The shark said…
    Teacher and children: “Then I’ll munch, and I’ll crunch, and I’ll smash your house in.”

    Host: You probably already read stories to your children every day. A great deal of fun and enjoyment can come out of sharing a good book. Children often want to respond to the story by sharing their own experiences or by pointing out something in the pictures.

    Child: Look at his teeth! It’s hanging out. Miss Claudia.
    Teacher: What’s hanging out?
    Child: His tooth.
    Child: The tooth is hanging out of his mouth.

    Host: Because of children’s innate desire to respond to stories, story time is one time of the day when children are likely to fully engage with language.

    Patty (teacher): Our friend the ladybug likes to eat these. Hmmmm…
    Child: Ants?

    Voiceover: Teacher Patty Gardner uses interactive read-alouds to encourage the children in her class to share their thoughts and ideas. Before re-reading a story that she’s read before, she engages children in a conversation that is related to the book.

    Child: He likes to eat aphids.
    Patty: Oh!!!! He likes to eat aphids!

    Patricia Gardner, Preschool Teacher: Grouchy Ladybug’s one of my favorites, because it’s repetitive, an interactive story, and it helps the children be a part of it. The repetitive nature is important for them; they anticipate the text.

    Patty: “Oh, you’re not big enough,” said the grouchy ladybug. And…
    Patty and children: It flew off.

    Patricia Gardner: We’re trying to find different ways for them to participate, and reading a story that we’ve read at least once before. I think read-alouds need to be more interactive because it allows the children on a variety of developmental levels to participate in the story.

    Patty: “Oh, you’re not big enough,” said the grouchy ladybug.
    Child: Look how tiny it is to the lobster!
    Patty: And it flew off. Nice job, Lily, I like how you noticed. Lily noticed how much smaller the ladybug is to the lobster.

    Voiceover: By taking the time to acknowledge and respond to children’s comments about the story, Patty turns her read-aloud time into an opportunity for children to engage in rich oral language.

    Host: Effective reading to children enhances language development in a number of ways. First, when you read a book, children listen to you carefully, because they’re eager to hear what will happen next. During this process, they develop solid listening skills and listening comprehension. Second, as they listen to your story, children make connections between the story and their own lives, and they want to share their experiences. This stimulates their oral language practice.

    Patty: This is called a praying mantis. It’s a very thin bug that stands on its back legs.
    Child: I know what a praying mantis is, because I have one in one of my tag books.
    Patty: In one of your tag books?
    Child: And I saw one in my garden.
    Patty: You did?
    Child: I saw one in…

    Host: Third, book readings provide opportunities to introduce new vocabulary to children.

    Patty: “If you insist,” said the elephant, raising its trunk and showing its big tusks. What are tusks? Put your hand up if you have an idea about what tusks are. Lily, what’s a tusk?
    Child: Um, something that hangs out that’s sharp.

    Host: Children gain the most from read-alouds when they have the opportunity to engage in discussion before, during, and after reading the book.

    Niloufar (teacher): Let's talk about what you think this book is going to be about. Kara? What do you think? And I'll write your words, okay?

    Niloufar Rezai, Preschool Teacher: I selected “Rosie’s Walk” today because there’s pages that do not have text which allows children to engage in a lot of oral language using the pictures to be able to predict what will happen next.

    Child: There's a fox chasing the chicken.
    Niloufar: There’s a fox chasing the chicken; you’re right.

    Niloufar Rezai: It’s always interesting to hear what they think the story is about, and not only hear what they think it’s about, but WHY they think it’s about what they think it’s about.

    Niloufar: Dominic, what do you think?
    Child: I think it's about a farm.
    Niloufar: You think it's about a farm? Why do you think it's about a farm?
    Child: I think it's about a little red hen in a farm.
    Niloufar: Oh, does that remind you of Little Red Hen?

    Niloufar Rezai: The important part of shared reading is the word shared. It allows children the opportunity to engage in conversation.

    Child: He bumped into the rake.
    Niloufar: Oh, he bumped into the rake from the other page.
    Child: And his neck gets twisted.
    Niloufar: And his neck got twisted. Does everyone see that? Thank you. Anyone else notice anything?

    Niloufar Rezai: So that anytime there’s an opportunity to speak and engage in oral language, you’re expanding your vocabulary. And that particular book has a lot of the [positional] words that we want children to learn—over, under, around.

    Niloufar: So what's happening here? Alex, what's happening here?
    Child: He went into, he went in the water.
    Niloufar: He did. The hen went AROUND and the fox went in the water.

    Host: Certain stories give teachers the opportunity to focus in a meaningful way on a specific aspect of language. For example, stories with rhymes, poems, and songs are great at enhancing phonology.

    Patty: A dog, a hog, an old barn…
    Child: frog
    Patty: frog.

    Host: Concept books that focus on size, numbers, and colors are great at developing vocabulary and concept development. EVERY book provides numerous opportunities for you explore language with children in meaningful ways!

    Dr. Theresa Bouley, Professor of Early Childhood Education, Eastern Connecticut State University: When teachers do interactive read-alouds, they’re modeling all the really good aspects of reading. They’re asking children questions; they’re asking them to make predictions. When they start to read they’ll be able to rely on those skills that are there and that knowledge about what reading really is—it’s thinking about the story, and really being active and participating in the story.

  • Author: Dr. Theresa Bouley
    Producer and Scriptwriter:
    Julia DeLapp
    Director and Lead Editor:
    Ken Measimer
    Student Production Assistants:
    Sean Leser, Kristen Chemerka, Megan Saunders, Nicole Ricard, Sarah Pierce
    Production Consultant:
    Dr. Denise Matthews
    Studio Assistance:
    Lisa Curtiss, Paul Melmer
    Featured Teachers:
    Patricia Gardner, Niloufar Rezai