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April 6, 2022 / Blog

Instructing Dual Language Learners in Your Pre-K Classroom

Pre-k dual language learners are at a critical stage in language acquisition – between ages three and five their vocabulary increases from just 1,000 to 10,000 words on average. Early childhood educators play a vital role in positively supporting this learning stage in the classroom.

All young children are actively learning language, but how do you effectively respond to the needs of dual language learners during a time when their brain is developing?

Ensure an anti-bias environment for dual language learners

All children have a right to equitable learning opportunities that help them achieve their full potential as engaged learners and valued members of society. Dual language learners are supported by creating an anti-bias and culturally responsive environment that allows for inclusivity and diversity recognition at a young age.

These children should see themselves represented in the curricula and environment to encourage and maintain positive self-identities. Different experiences and narratives should be included without singling out or marginalizing other identities in the classroom. Literature should expose children to different cultures, ways of thinking, and a variety of ethnicities and family makeups represented.

Language cultivation can be incorporated during all instruction – including STEAM, social studies and other lessons.

Fostering acceptance and collaboration with families

Teachers who do not speak another language can still honor the diversity of their students and instruct dual language learners by offering opportunities for families to collaborate. Ask for books to be shared from home in the students’ native language. Be vulnerable and ask for help pronouncing or translating words. Take advantage of resources online to listen to native speakers for authentic tone and cadence.

The effort will result in mutual appreciation, respect and the building of a new school family.

Instructional methods to support dual language learners

Once you ensure an anti-bias and culturally responsive environment you can incorporate different methods to support your instruction.

Using anchor text will help children understand how all content areas are interconnected. After reading to the children, refer back to the literature and highlight different aspects that are related to the instruction. This assists the children with creating meaningful context by connecting language to previous knowledge. It also helps with interconnecting math, science, five senses, social studies, friendship, emotions, and language, developing the whole child.

Help children’s language comprehension by using visuals and gestures during instruction. Comprehension checks gauge how well they are understanding the concept by watching their facial expressions and how well they repeat or follow directions.

A great opportunity to model language processing information for English language learners is with the think aloud method. We show children how to be good readers by asking questions about the story. “What was the character thinking?” “They have a round toy; what toys do we have that are round?”

Match children up with a partner for pair sharing. This allows them to rehearse their language skills together.

The importance of story telling

Encourage children to become storytellers and expand their vocabulary with dialogic reading – the active method of reading with, rather than to, learners. This student-centered activity allows children to see different perspectives and ways of speaking while encouraging them to talk about themselves. Ask “Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?” questions to start the discussion.

Every child is unique and grows into language in multiple stages – known as scaffolding. Help children understand language concepts by combining words with gestures, “TALL (move hand up in the air)” or vary your voice up and down, soft and loud when reading. Provide sentence stems, model for the children, so they know what is expected and have children write in journals to advance their skills.

Visual cues help dual language learners distinguish and differentiate as they try to comprehend what they are hearing. Examples include using pictures for easy reference and having designated colors for each language.

Engage children with movement to help them better understand concepts. The Total Physical Response (TPR) allows children to associate text with a movement or reaction. Encourage them to act out action verbs (running = run in place) or emotions (happy = smile).

Patterns and Translanguaging

Patterns help children become aware of the similarities and differences between two languages. Translanguaging is strengthening the home language, ideas, and concepts to increase children’s opportunities for learning language and concepts in a second or multiple languages. Translanguaging is important because it helps with making important connections that relate from one language to another as children are learning.

Many of the Frog Street curriculums are available for dual language learners. For example, our all-new Frog Street Pre-K curriculum is available in English, Spanish and dual language versions.