Oral Language

What is it?

Oral language (OL), sometimes called spoken language, includes speaking and listening—the ways that humans communicate with one another. OL skills provide the foundation for word reading and comprehension. They are at the heart of listening and reading comprehension, serving as a predictor for both.

 

Oral Language

What is it?

Oral language (OL), sometimes called spoken language, includes speaking and listening—the ways that humans communicate with one another. OL skills provide the foundation for word reading and comprehension. They are at the heart of listening and reading comprehension, serving as a predictor for both.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are oral language skills important to literacy?
  • Oral language is the foundation of written language
  • Reading is a language-based skill. The relationship between oral language and reading is reciprocal (Kamhi & Catts, 1989) with each influencing the other to varying degrees as children progress through school.
  • You must be able to understand language at an oral level in order to be expected to understand it at the text level.
  • It’s difficult to learn to read words if you do not know what they mean
  • Children with weak oral language skills are at risk for learning to read and comprehend.
What is Academic Language and how do I teach my students to use it in my classroom?

Academic Language, also referred as Academic or Standard English, is the language of the classroom and text. Students must have a command of Academic English in order to achieve in school. Teachers should be attuned to their own spoken language and model Academic English by creating spaces and providing opportunities where they would expect their students to use Academic English in both written and oral forms. With younger children, begin with explicit teaching and modeling.  Show and Tell, and Circle Time are great places to expand sentences and provide models with Academic English.  And keep in mind that all children–whether native English speakers or English Language Learners–receive the same practice and correction. For older children, consider starting with writing because the students have time to think about academic language, as well as time to revise.  Then, after giving time to rehearse, ask students to make an oral presentation.

Tips for teachers and administrators 

Teacher tip: Pair up Purposeful Partners

Establish classroom routines for oral language practice by assigning “purposeful partners” as talking and working buddies.  Think carefully about how to pair students to increase rigor and cognitive output. This may take up to three weeks of trial and error.  Consider your students’ behavior and cognition—e.g., will pairing two quiet students prompt each to speak up, while pairing chatty students help them be better listeners?  Formally train partners to turn toward each other, to look each other in the eye, to each take a turn answering a prompt, and to be alert for a call back signal. Integrate a brief purposeful partner task into every activity to increase numbers of students participating and to develop an efficient, familiar routine.

Teacher tip: teach Academic Language

Explicitly teach and practice “academic language,” the language used in the classroom and workplace, the language of text and assessments, and the language of academic success and power.  Try these academic phrases.

Teacher tip: Use Formal Frames

Use this formal frame activity to help students produce competent verbal or written responses. These begin as sentence starters, but add critical grammatical and lexical clarification and support.

Tips for Principals

Beware of a too quiet classroom!  You should hear the hum and buzz of children talking to one another and engaging with the teacher throughout the day.

Read More to Learn more

Beck, I.L., & McKeown, M.G. (2001).  Text talk: Capturing the benefits of read aloud experiences for young children. The Reading Teacher 55, 10-35.

Goldenberg, C. (Summer 2013).  Unlocking the research on English learners.  What we know—and don’t yet know—about effective instruction.  American Educator 4-12, 38.

Hirsch, E.D., Jr. (Spring 2003).  Reading comprehension requires knowledge–of words and the world. American Educator 27 (1), 10-22, 28-29, 44.

Spear-Swerling, L.  (Summer 2016). Listening comprehension, the Cinderella skill. Giving the neglected stepchild her due. Perspectives on Language and Literacy 42 (3), 9-15.

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