Use Different Words

Preschool classrooms offer children opportunities to hear varied and numerous new vocabulary words. However, although preschool teachers know they have a great opportunity to expand children’s vocabulary, it helps to have some guides. Here’s one for vocabulary.

This guide shares how to say commonly used (such as “smart”) in different and meaningful ways (such as “witty”, “brilliant”, and “intelligent”). If you review all 16 words, they are all words that a preschool teacher would use in the classroom. Why not take the opportunity to change it up and teacher the kiddos new ways to describe something? Inspect the graphic below and see how you can expand your teaching vocabulary.


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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.

Writing with Paint


Writing is necessary, but writing practice is drool inducing for little ones.  If it’s not the first letter in their name (or the first letter in their name), they’re not interested.

Every morning, my students grabbed their daily writing paper.  With writing paper nestled inside plastic pouches, children used dry erase markers to write their name.  Throughout the year, I saw their writing develop.  Still, this daily practice was not fun.  Also, I didn’t want my students to associate writing as simply a task.

Wanting my students to enjoy writing as an fun and creative, I thought of other ways my students would enjoy letters.  All letters.  Every letter.  Not just the ones in their name.

My assistant and I got paint out of the cupboard.  Some paints were water color.  Other paints sparkled.  Eight trays of paint, eight cups of water, and eight pieces of construction paper were prepared on the writing table (not the art table).

“Painting?” one student asked as he approached the table.

“No,” I said. “We’re writing.”

“With paint?”

“Yep,” I said.

My student was cautious, but he couldn’t hold back a smile.  He was eager to see where this letter paint activity was going to go.  Soon, he was writing and painting.  More students joined as colors hit paper.  At the end, all of the students had participated in writing activity.

Although this may seem like a simple twist on a daily activity, it was a big enough change for students.  They saw the writing activity as new and exciting.  They wanted to explore.  Sometimes, teachers are married to their activities.  Sometimes, the marriage is too much, stifling new perspectives and creative twists.  There’s always a new way to do something.

Language Modeling: Self-Talk

Most of the children in my preschool are dual-language or English language learners.  Over seven different languages are spoken among children, staff, and families.  On any given morning, walking down the school hallway sounds like you’ve walked into a Rosetta Stone tutorial.

For the teachers, they face the challenge of not only teaching preschool children basic curriculum, but also addressing their language needs.  One of the goals of our preschool – and the families – is to improve children’s English language proficiency.  This is where language modeling techniques come in.

One of the first language modeling techniques teachers use is one called Self-Talk.

Self-talk is where a teacher will describe what he or she is doing using language.  The teacher is providing the words to describe their actions.

For example:

If a teacher is writing the letter V, they can self-talk and say “I’m going to write the letter V.  I hold my pencil, then go down, then up.  There — the letter V.”

Later in the day, if the teacher is playing with a train set, they can self-talk “I’m going to play with my train.  I’m moving my train down the track.  Now my train is turning. Choo-choo!”

The main point of this technique is for children to hear – and see – the language in action.  What’s most important about this techniques is that the child is not forced to speak.  Self-talk does not involve any child questions; it’s all about the teacher using language to describe his or her actions.

It’s a little weird at first; talking out loud about what you’re doing… like your a little crazy.  But, what’s crazy is that children will really enjoy it.  Dual language, English language learning, and even shy children will observe and hear your language, storing your words in their head.  Give it some time and the kids will start using your words.  Major return on investment.

Language in Seven

Language in Seven

I’m trying to bring all my worlds together so that they work together (and I can keep up with this crazy schedule).  So, today’s post comes from a homework assignment from my graduate work.

Students were asked to share 6-8 items from your childhood that contributed to your language development.  I went to the beach, took out my notebook and spent 30 minutes writing all of the places, toys, and people that affected my language development when I was a child.  I came up with seven.

When I was a child, I visited the school and public library often. It was the only place where I could go and get whatever I wanted for free! I would browse through and collect books by Eric Carle, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? When I entered Kindergarten, I was already reading simple stories.

Legos offered the greatest language development for my siblings and me. We could make whatever we wanted. At one point, my brother and I made a kingdom inhabited by a society of talking horses. There were leaders, workers, soldiers, and even children horses. The horse society had intricate story lines, such as a celebration of a child lego horse being born or the horses mourning the death of one of it’s members. At one point, there was a scandal between the King, Queen, and the King’s mistress.

Sometimes after visiting the library, I would take home plastic bags that had a book and cassette tape inside. I would listen to the tape and follow along with the book. I don’t remember any of the stories, but I remember the voice acting. I would mimic the voices, adding my own hand gestures and body movements to emphasize the words.

Disney movies played a major role on my childhood. After watching movies like The Little Mermaid, Duck Tales the Movie, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, my sister, brother and I would role-play popular scenes from the movies. In fact, we had watched the films so much, we memorized – verbatim – dialogue from the films. Also, songs from the films – although I never sang them – hold a fond place in my childhood.

Playing video games made up a lot of my childhood. My brother and I would sit in front of the television playing Super Mario. While my brother waited his turn to play, I would entertain him by making up Mario’s voice as I played through the level. I would say words like “Oh no! The goomba is going to get me!” Then I would yell out “Squash” as I made Mario jump on the bad guys. I did this kind of voiceover role-playing during many play sessions.

My grandparents speak fluent Spanish. During meal times, I didn’t know what I was eating because they would call the foods by their Spanish names. Beans became frijoles, cheese became queso, and milk became leche. I would eat quesadillas and fidejo. Although I never learned a second language, when it comes to Mexican food, I’m comfortable with Spanish.

When I was going through potty training, I was very afraid of falling into the toilet. My fear was so strong, my mother was having a lot of trouble getting me to go inside the bathroom. So, she decided to sing songs to me to keep my fear at ease. One of my favorite songs to sing: The ABC Song. My mother says I learned my alphabet while sitting on the toilet.