Today I took a city tour of a major US city. While all of the tourists were taking in the city sites, I couldn't help looking at the city with teacher eyes: those eyes teachers use every day as they lovingly work for the equality of instruction. I reflected on several books that I have been reading and of what I know as a teacher about the affects of systemic poverty on education. I know that I can't single handedly fix the 30 million word gap that faces our nation, but I will do everything in my power to help the students I teach have a fair and equal shot at public education.
One way that I continue to strive for an equitable education is through the explicit teaching of oral language. These activities are important in all grades, but to help lessen the gap for young children, it is an absolute must for teachers of preschool and kindergarten to strategically teach oral language.
One game I love to play with my students is called "What's in your bag?" To play this game, divide students in pairs (matching high vocabulary with lower vocabulary students). Give each student a baggie of "stuff." Find things that are common to home or classroom settings. The dollar stores, garage sales, amazon, etc. have great small objects that are perfect for the baggie. Ask each student, one at a time, to describe the contents of their baggie to their partner. Instruct students that if they are unsure about an object they can ask their partner, another student nearby, or the teacher to explain what the object is.
Model this "describing." Pull an object out of a baggie. "This object is a jack. (Or what small object you choose to describe). A jack is a small toy that belongs in the game Jacks! To play the game, you have 10 small jacks and a little ball. To play, you throw a ball in the air, grab and jack, and then a ball all before the ball drops!
After pairs have about 5 minutes to share and describe objects in the baggies, switch pairings if you have time.
Keep these baggies in a container within easy reach because once you try this activity you will want to do it again and again. Each time your students play, you will see greater development in vocabulary. At times, I have students with advanced vocabulary pull out a bag of their choice and demonstrate describing objects. Actually, these little bags are filled with possibilities. So, my suggestion, hit some garage sales this summer and fill about 30 baggies with 10 objects!
You will also find some more great vocabulary building games below.