Language Modeling: Parallel-Talk


Everyday when I drive to work, I hear about how our local football team did. “The guy should have passed the ball!” or “Why did they pass the ball when you should have run it?” I’m pretty sure these radio personalities haven’t even played the game; and when they did, there were flags around their waist and they looked forward to CapriSuns at half-time.

I’d probably have a more positive attitude toward the play-by-play and discussion if they were talking about my favorite team. But they’re not. Go aqua and orange!

The broadcasters describe every play of the game. They go into great detail to depict the way the players run or jump, whose blocking for them, or how far the runner is galloping down the field: “They’re at the fifty, forty-five, forty, thirty-five, and runs out of bounds around the thirty-two.” I don’t even have to think hard to visualize what went on during that play. The broadcasters did a great job.

The way these broadcasters report a football game is a technique you can use with young children in the classroom. And there is a term for it: parallel talk. And parallel talk is great for language development.

Parallel talk is the second tier of the language modeling techniques:

Parallel talk is when the teacher describes what a child is doing using language. The teacher is providing words to the child’s actions and creations.

You can think of yourself like that football broadcaster calling the game; you are describing the actions and play-by-play to the audience. However, within the classroom, the action and the audience are the child or children you’re speaking about. For example:

“Cody is playing with a long block. Now Cody puts it on top of the his tower. Cody has made a lot of towers today.”

You can picture a child playing and building with blocks. The child doesn’t need to speak while the teacher parallel talks. The intent is for the child to 1) hear the language, 2) hear the language along with their actions, and 3) subliminally make connections between the language and their actions in their head – thus developing their language.

block area

What’s fun is that children like parallel talk because it is positive attention. They’ll do and say things to see if you’ll “broadcast” the play to the rest of the class. Of course, parallel talk should be between you and the child, but when the time beckons, you can be a loud speaker.

Parallel talk is also great for another area: emotions. Children are learning about everything, especially what it means to label their feelings, or the combination of when they frown, cry and want to be alone. For example:

“I see that you’re crying. You have a frown on your face. You walked over here and now you are by yourself. You must be sad.”

Parallel talk is also great to use with dual-language and English language learners. Consider using this technique because, not only are the children making language connections, but you are presenting another opportunity to expose children to the language.

You know what else…I think I want a CapriSun.

If you haven’t read it yet, read about self-talk, the first tier in language-modeling.


One thought on “Language Modeling: Parallel-Talk

  1. I so agree with this! It can also help turn a frown into a smile. I do this with a 2 yr old I watch if he is getting frustrated about something. I start doing a play by play and he thinks it’s funny. Suddenly, a falling block tower isn’t so frustrating to him.


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