Oral language skills lay the foundation for learning to read. Without good oral language skills, our students will show a huge deficit when trying to move through school. Unfortunately, some students are deprived of good language practice before they come to Kindergarten. The way I choose to combat this deficit is to immerse our students in language every day.
Now, small group and whole group experiences are both great for allowing students to hear and use different types of language. However, I am quite aware that one-on-one experiences are most meaningful for children. With that being said, I believe it is important to make time, every day, to expose my most needy students to good examples of language.
Each day, my low language, ESL, speech and even shy kids should get a little extra time from me. When I can be with these specific students one-on-one, I can be that great example of a speaker for them and I can monitor and adjust their language as I go.
This practice helps to lay out a fun, short and sweet way to participate in meaningful conversations with my students. The more and more I do this with my students, the more results I will hear. As time goes by, my students will begin to mimic my good language and conversational skills. Soon enough, all of the students I "chat" with will be speaking like little adults. I am continually amazed at how much progress my students will make, with just a little effort from me each day.
How long do I "chat"?
Each student, according to my timer (or phone), should get 1-2 minutes. 1 minute should be the minimum, as it is necessary to have at least that much time for a conversation. 2 minutes should be the maximum, as I still need time to talk to other students.
Who do I choose to "chat"?
I look at all ESL and speech kids. Next, I look at my really shy kids. Finally, I look at those kids who have trouble speaking in complete sentences or sharing ideas with others. I would do not this with ALL kids every day because that would take too much time; however, I do try to make sure every struggling child is seen at least two or three times per week, while my "high-fliers" only see me once.
Here is a video of Chicka Chat!
What do I use to "chat"?
I need a sign on my door, like the chicka chicka chat chat poster that I made, to let people (like other staff members and students from other rooms) know not to interrupt my conversations.
The sign on my door says:
"Chicka Chicka Chat Chat 7:40-8:00am. Please do not interrupt. Thanks!"
I also have a signal to call your students to you. I use a bell that dings- when I ding, they listen for their name.
I always need to have my students doing something. I typically have them working on "morning work" and/or review work at this time. The tasks my students are doing require them to talk to each other and review the previous day's skills- they should not need me and they know my expectation is that they continue working and do not come ask me for help.
I use a timer or a phone.
Finally, I need a place. I use two old chair cushions on the floor in my classroom library. When the student comes to talk to me, I sit or lay on a cushion and they do the same.
- This builds trust and community; it also makes them feel special!
I also choose a little something extra- to have a prop. Since I call it "Chicka Chicka Chat Chat," I have a plush Chicka tree that the student who is talking to me can hold. (This is just something extra cute for me and for the kids to enjoy!)
It is hard to know who to "chat" with and when. I have tried many different things, and this is the one schedule I feel works for me.
Monday- Chat with all ESL and speech students.
Tuesday- Chat with all shy students, low verbal skills students and ESL students.
Wednesday- Chat with all speech students and 3-5 extra students.
Thursday- Chat with all ESL and speech students.
Friday- Chat with all shy students and 3-5 extra students.
Here is the reasoning for this schedule...
I like to meet with my ESL and speech kids as much as possible.
However, I do not meet with them every day, as this would make the rest of the students jealous. For this same reason, I choose 3-5 extra students on 2 days so that every kid, no matter what their language ability is, can meet with me at least once a week.
Sometimes, if my schedule changes around or something happens (like picture day, etc), I will choose a student to be my "Hallway Chatter" and they can walk next to me and whisper.
Some years, I have found that I can't schedule blocks for this in my day; at times like that, I have changed to do something like this:
I take a few moments to think about all of the times I am silent that I could be talking to a student! To and from lunch. To and from the playground. To and from the bathroom. There's time for 6 per day right there! I can always fit students in at times like that!
I always introduce this in whole group; this way, I can avoid questions about it later.
"I just wanted to let you all know about something I am going to start doing.
Every day, I am going to chat (or briefly talk to) some of you. Some days I might pick certain people and some days I might pick others. If I don't choose you, that's okay- you can just continue doing your work. If I do pick you, I will let you know. Let me tell you a little bit about how this works, in case I do pick you! I am going to call this time of our day "Chicka Chicka Chat Chat" because I will be chatting with some of you."
"The way "Chicka Chicka Chat Chat" works is that I will call names. I will ding my bell and call a name; if it is your name, you will come and meet me ______(point or go to your designated spot). This is our special and private "Chicka Chicka Chat Chat" place. Once you sit down, I will start the timer. Then, you can begin talking. You can talk to me about anything!"
"There are just a few rules for when we talk. You need to speak in complete sentences. Can you say that rule, please?"
(Students will say, "You need to speak in complete sentences.")
"Yes! Also, if you say something and I correct it, I want you to repeat that for me. So, if I correct you, repeat after me. Can you say that rule, please?"
(Students will say, "If you correct me, repeat after you."
"Great! The final rule is: Be a good speaker and a good listener. Can you say that rule, please?"
(Students will say, "Be a good speaker and a good listener.")
"Fabulous! You guys have been over all of the rules. I am sure you will do great with them. Now, remember, you can talk about anything and everything you want to with me! But... when the timer goes off, you need to finish your sentence and then head back to your table. Do you think you all can figure out how a "Chicka Chicka Chat Chat" goes if I end up calling you?"
(Students will most likely say yes. If someone hasn't understood, I can re-explain later to them.)
"Lastly, there is one more rule that you should know. If I am doing "Chicka Chikca Chat Chat," you cannot come up to me. If you were chatting with me, you wouldn't want someone to come and interrupt you. So please, do not interrupt. Do. Not. Interrupt. Please say that back."
(Students will say, "Do not interrupt.")
"Great! Now that you all know all of the rules, we can start meeting and doing "Chicka Chicka Chat Chat" tomorrow! I hope you all are as excited as I am!"
The purpose of these quick conversations is to expose my students to language. When I meet with a student, I know what their language level is; I then work from there. I am very cognizant, as I meet with these students, that they are looking to me for a good example of language and conversational skills. Use your best talking during these times.
When I first meet with my students, I say something like this:
"Now, I am going to be meeting to "chat" with you sometimes. When we do this, I am meeting with you just to talk. When I call you, I will set the timer and you can begin talking about whatever you want. If you don't know what to say, just tell me and I will start talking to you about something. Since this is first time though, I want to just make sure that you know my expectations for when you come and "chat" with me:
1- Please speak in complete sentences.
2- If I say something to correct you, please repeat it.
3- Please practice the rules of being a good speaker and being a good listener.
4- When your time is up, please finish your sentence, go back to your seat and get back to work.
Now that you know what I expect, I am sure you will be ready to meet and "chat" the next time I call you! I look forward to chatting with you soon!"
For this first time, I always call my students for two minutes at a time. If the conversation above doesn't take me two minutes, then I tell my student(s) how much time is left and let them begin the process. I remind them: as soon as the timer goes off, their sentence must be finished and they must leave promptly.
Rules I follow:
I always speak in complete sentences with proper grammar and fluent pacing.
I always correct a student if s/he does not speak in a complete sentence- then I have him/her repeat it.
I always look at the child and nod as s/he speaks. I respond when necessary.
I always make sure we are in the "special spot"- as privacy is important because I never know what s/he might say.
I always encourage them to begin the conversation.
Finally, I always evaluate my student's language skills before I begin. I may have to use less vocabulary words with my approaching kids. With my speech kids, I want to make sure they can repeat what I say without feeling threatened. However, I always challenge them to work on their problem sounds when they speak (one-on-one, safely) with me.
With my beyond-level students, challenge them to speak with more words and longer sentences. I ask those students thinking questions or have them expand on their simple thoughts.
With all of my students... I am engaged and I am appreciative that I get a moment or two with them!
Here is a video about who I choose to chat and here are the questions I use to get them talking!