Oral Language


Play is critical to learning. Children learn best when they can play, explore their world and  interact and talk with adults and peers. From personal experience, I have seen some students disengage with mindless tasks quickly and you may even see some different behaviours.

Centres are an excellent way to share the oral language experience, see their personalities and creativity, and to collect great assessment information.  I often carry around a clipboard with both blank paper, and paper divided into  squares where I can record a child’s name.  You just never know what is going to happen as you share…..

When planning a centre think of these:

  • What is my big ideas, my goal that I am trying to achieve?
  • What are my open-ended questions (2 or 3) so I can begin the conversation? Oral language assessing?
  • Do I have enough materials that they can explore?
  • Pause and Reflect on what you see and hear from your students?

Listeded below are some links within this site that discuss the importance of play.

Colouring sheets to materials that will explore their creativity……..

Research on play vs worksheets http://ultimateblockparty.ca/home/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Play-or-worksheets.pdf

Playing is learning http://ultimateblockparty.ca/home/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Planning-for-Play.pdf

The importance of play http://earlylearningcentral.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/importanceplay.pdf


Making learning English as fun as possible can be vital for children.

Social activities with native English-speakers provide a relaxed opportunity for your child to hear English without the pressure of having to speak it. Participate in casual activities like dinners, barbecues or parties with native English-speakers on a regular basis. Allow your child to interact with both children and adults who speak English so your child can become more comfortable and less self-conscious in English-speaking environments.  Set up play dates with other children who speak the same primary language as your child but are also learning English as a second language.

Make-believe is part of development for children. Children can be remarkably inventive and imaginative and they love to create fantasy worlds .  They also use drama to recreate situations in their lives and to deal with everyday emotions.  Children can use their imagination and feel more comfortable using the English they know in a dramatic play setting.

Other ideas to help make learning English more fun are:
• storytelling
• visual teaching aids like short films, photographs, posters and pictures
• drama, dialogue and poetry
• songs, music and rhymes
• dance and movement
• games and manual activities


The more exposure your child has to English, the more he/she will begin to understand. When children learn a new language, they will typically understand more than they can speak. In the beginning, most children will have what is known as a “silent period” in which they will listen to English being spoken and may respond nonverbally or in their primary language.  They will feel more comfortable responding in these ways, and shouldn’t feel pressured to speak English.   It’s important to allow this period to run its course without interference. Don’t force your child to speak to you or others in English. They need to build their confidence in the new language first.  Children do not want to be corrected or to feel embarassed if they use words from the English language incorrectly. Instead, focus on providing your child with as much exposure to the language as possible. That way your child can acquire English in a more natural, and non-threatening way.

We just transformed our home center to what the children wanted to create – an office.  It all started with one child making a laptop computer out of paper and was pretending to work on it.  so we asked the children at one of our group times what they thought of creating a space for them to use their laptops in an office.  They all seemed very interested so we made a list with them about what they would need to make an office.

Our home centre is now a functioning office.  It contains: computer keyboards, cardboard boxes for computer screens, cordless phones and cell phones, stamps, paper, pens, clipboards, receipt books, file folders, a flie cabinet, note pads, stickynotes, business clothes, daily agendas and planning books, envelopes, etc.  You name it, its in there.  It is amazing how much the children are writing and sending letters to each other. It is great to see all this learning from one centre.


Two students, S1 and S2, were at the play dough centre, talking together and creating objects.

E: I like your creation. Tell me about what you are making,

S1: We’re baking cookies. Good cookies. Do you want one?

S2: I’m hungry!

E: Me too! What kind of cookies are you making?

S2: Chocolate chip! My favourite!

E: Who are you making the cookies for?

S1: Everyone!

E: Everyone in our class? You are going to need some help!

S3: What are you doing?

E: I am glad you are here. S1 and S2 want to make cookies for the whole class. Can you help?

S3: Can I have the rolling pin? What size do you want?

S4: What are you doing?

E: How many are in our class?

S1: You have all of the dough.

E: How much dough do we have all together? How big are you going to make the cookies?

S4: If we use this [playdough container rim] all of the cookies can be the same.

E: How thick should the cookies be? Can you find something on the table that is the right thickness?

S2: This marker cap?

E: I think that could work. Your cookie, and this marker lid are both about 1 cm thick. S2, can you please bring over our can of rulers? How can we use a rule or a marker lid to make all of the cookies the same size?

S4: You could go like this [ S4 shows how to lie the marker lid as a non-standard measure].

S3: We have a lot of work to do!

Consider what we learned about this group of students. An activity that many would question as to its educational purpose (it does not look like an academic activity) became the catalyst for both a  teaching opportunity and as assessment opportunity for mathematics. By guiding the play and the conversation,  I was able to extend the mathematical thinking of this group of children and to document my observations for future analysis and evaluation.


There are many small moments (hence the name of this blog) in a play based classroom that allow us a window into children’s previous experiences and their breadth of oral language. By playing in role with the child and providing some simple prompts the conversation can be enriched and extended. Consider the following interactions and the opportunities provided for both using specialized vocabulary appropriately and for introducing new vocabulary to a small group of children:


This first interaction occured as the teacher passed by the Home Centre:


Sean came over to me with a salad bowl and a large salad spoon, pretending to be stirring something in the bowl.


S-” I’m making you a salad!”

T-”What are you putting in the salad?”

S “Sweet peppers, tomatoes, hot petters and green things!”

-he continues to stir

S- “O.K. That’s it! It’s ready. You can eat it now.”

T- “It looks delicious. Can you save it for me so I can eat it later?”

S- “O.K.” I’ll put it in the fridge.”


He returned to the home centre and put it in a cupboard.



The Home Centre was set up as a doctor’s office. Consider how the children are using the props offered them for their play.

A little girl approached me and asked me to help her and a friend put on large white shirts because they were both going to be doctors. Another student is laying on a mat on the floor covered with a blanket and holding a doll.


T- “What’s happening here doctor?”

S- ” She’s very sick”

T- ” How do you know she’s sick?”

S- “I checked her forehead and she’s hot.”  (She writes something on a piece of paper on a clipboard)

T- “What are you writing?”

S- “I’m writing her name and I’m writing the appointment”  (She has organized several columns on the paper) She puts the clipboard down and touches the doll’s face.

S- “Now I’m checking the baby too” She pretends to put something in the doll’s mouth.

T- “What are you giving the baby?”

S- “She’s sick and she’s got a cold and a cough.”

T- ” How do you know she has a cold?”

S- ” I listened to her cough with that thing–that thing the doctor wears around his neck” (She gestures to some imaginary “thing” around her neck) “and now I’m giving her a medicine.”

T- “The thing the doctor wears is called a stethoscope.”

S- “Yeah! That thing!”  the student picks up a file folder filled with papers she has put into it.)  “I’m checking her file.”


One student says to the “patient” on the floor, “You’re going to go home later on.” The other student says, No, you’re going home on Monday!”


In the building centre three boys are creating a structure using large blocks:


T-”What are you making boys?”

S-”We’re making a maze”

T-”Can you tell me what a maze is?”

S-”It’s something you get lost in. I saw it in a movie and I thought about it.”

S-”Can you tell me how the maze works?”

S-” You close this end so people won’t be able to get in there and then everybody’s going to walk and get lost in the maze.”

T-”Will people find anything in the maze?”

S-”We’re going to build a bridge at the end of it.”


All of the research indicates that children who have a strong oral language base, who understand and use a wide oral vocabulary base are ones who tend to become very literate. We know that children need to learn that what we say, we can write, and what we write we can read. And we know from research that children who are learning to read actually do not have to read every word but should be able to anticipate words when they are reading.  We remind them to use context cues to anticipate these words.  So we must therefore acknowledge the significant role of play in developing a wide range of oral language that is both heard and expressed during play. When adults are available to children while they are playing this adds a new dimension to the richness of the language used.  Here is a look into the block centre with Michael.

Michael is an English Language Learner and is developing his English oral vocabulary.  He loves to learn and look at books and is becoming more and more curious about English words.

Today in the block centre he was reading a book about structures.  Michael looked through all the pictures and then returned to the one of the CN Tower.  He looked toward his teacher Vanessa and showed her the picture.

M: C N Tower!

V: It is the CN Tower. Have you been to see the CN Tower?

M: <nodded and pointed to the concrete base>

V: Yes it is made of concrete.

M: Concrete?

V: Yes, concrete. Lots of buildings are made of concrete. See the blocks on our wall?  Those blocks are made of concrete. Our walls are made of concrete just like the CN Tower.

M: <looking carefully at the classroom walls>  That is concrete. Just like the CN Tower.

M: <pointing to another page in his book of the Eiffel Tower, wrinkled his nose >  Concrete?

V: No, the Eiffel Tower is not made of concrete, is it?   Look at what this is made of. This tower is made of metal.

M: Metal?

V: Yes, what else is made of metal?  <Michael did not answer but did look around for an answer>

V: Here is some metal. The legs of the desk are made of metal. <Michael looked carefully at the legs and touched them.>

M: What’s this made of? <He touched a wooden desk.>  Not metal!

V: No it’s not metal.  That desk is made of wood.

M: Wood. This is wood too! <He looked at the structure his friend was building with the wooden blocks>

Michael went right back to reading his book about structures.

Rich conversations with children do not have to be specifically planned but time spent with individual children should be a part of a teacher’s planning. Know the needs of  each child and when you speak with them customize the conversation to meet their needs. Consider the brief conversation he had with his teacher.  Much was learned  both by Michael about the properties of materials and the accompanying English vocabulary, and by Vanessa about Michael’s level of comprehension and language proficiency. A short but focused conversation about something that was relevant to Michael was more relevant to his learning than a much longer lesson that might have not have met his individual needs.  Play allows children to work at their own level and for the teacher to extend that level.