The Science of Reading and Oral Language


Good listeners become good readers.

This summer, I'm diving into LETRS training on the Science of Reading.  If you've been around my corner of cyber space for a bit, you know I was introduced to the Science of Reading a few years ago through RISE training in my home state.  It was mind-blowing.  Like a where-has-this-been-all-of-my-life kind of PD.  And I just wanted more.  So, I'm digging into LETRS.  And it's intense.  And so, so good.

As I process it, I'll be blogging about some nuggets of wisdom I've learned along the way.

So... let's talk about talking.  What is oral language?  Why should I care about it as a primary teacher?  Isn't that the speech path's job?  What can I do to increase the listening comprehension of my kids?

What Is Oral Language?

Oral language is simply the way we communicate with each other.  In honor of the Friends Reunion I just binged, let's look closer at oral language, Friends style! :)

It includes the words we speak...

The nonverbal cues we give while we speak...

And listening as someone else talks to us.

Kids with strong oral language skills are able to speak in complete sentences and carry on a conversation with someone in a way that is easy to understand.  They are also able to listen and comprehend what someone else is saying by asking and answering questions about what was said.

Why Is Listening Comprehension Important?

So what?  Why do I need to worry about listening comprehension and oral language?  Isn't that my speech path friend's job?

Yes and no.  Yes, speech paths do help kids with deficits in language.  But, scientist tell us there is a HUGE correlation between oral language and reading comprehension.

Read that again.  If I can't hear it and understand it, I can't read it and understand it.

Ya'll.  I know that seems intuitive.  And it makes total sense.  But, the first time, I read this, I thought, 

OMG.  Why in the world did I not spend more time doing read alouds and talking about stories with my kids...especially my ELL babies.  

I mean, I did read alouds.  I love a good read aloud.  But, if I'm being honest, storytime got cut short in my first grade classroom many times because of all the things I had to make sure I was doing.  And you can bet your bottom dollar that my firsties' reading skill suffered because of it.

How Can We Increase Listening Comprehension?

So, what can we do?  If I could go back and do those 10 years in first grade over again, what would I do differently?

I'd work on listening comprehension.  I'd target kids with low language skills.  Kids learning English as a second language.  Kids who only spoke English, but who still struggled to carry on conversations.  Kids who couldn't answer simple questions about stories we read together.  Kids who couldn't answer simple Who/What/Where/When/Why/How questions.

I'd target those kids and pull them back in a small group during intervention time.  I'd have real, organic conversations with them.  I'd warm up by drawing some table talk cards to read and answer.  I'd read a short book and ask questions as we read.  Sometimes, even after each page if needed. (Think like when a Mom reads to a toddler.... "Where's the spider?"  "What is the spider doing?")  

For whole group oral language lessons, I'd tell jokes and talk about multiple meaning words or other skills you can target with jokes.  (I LOVED using these joke slides with my second grader this year!)

Another thing I started doing my first few years and then abandoned because #time and I didn't know any better is explicit tier 2 vocabulary instruction with read alouds.  After I first became familiar with the Science of Reading, I started doing more of these.  We did these once a week during 2nd grade last year and we used them in kindergarten when I did a long-term sub.  It's an easy way to practice oral language, while increasing your kids vocabulary and oral language skills. You can find the specific ones I've used here or try the freebie.

And I'd do it all without asking kids to decode.  No reading.  Just listening comprehension.  Because the Simple View of Reading tells us that language comprehension is ESSENTIAL to reading comprehension.  

It's not the only factor of a successful reader.  But it's a necessary part.  And it doesn't have to be done with word recognition.  You can work on language comprehension on its own, and feel good, knowing you are increasing your kids reading comprehension skills.  

If I could go back 15 years and tell my first-year teacher self just that, I would.  I'd tell her to give herself some grace, and not stress if every small group literacy time didn't include kids reading or writing actual words.  

Because oral language is that important to the literacy success of our students. 

Because good listeners make good readers.