Introduction and Assessment

The early childhood classroom offers a vital social setting for developing young children’s oral language skills. As the basis of communication, oral language development involves learning how to listen attentively and to make meaning from hearing language in social situations. It also involves knowing what to say and how to say it in different social contexts. For a comprehensive description of early years’ oral language development, see the Literacy Place for the Early Years K­–3 Planning Guide, pages 36–45.


  • The Literacy Place for the Early Years Oral Language Kit provides varied activity-oriented materials for developing, enriching, and refining young children’s language development in the early childhood classroom.
  • The materials and lessons are planned to:
    • use a developmentally appropriate approach to language learning by weaving in play as well as whole-body and hands-on activities
    • focus on developing children’s language for social communication, inquiry, and problem solving
    • build a dynamic language foundation for literacy learning and all other curriculum areas
    • emphasize the growth of children’s use of appropriate language structures (e.g., sentence complexity, grammar, vocabulary, clear articulation)
    • highlight language strategies that teachers can use to promote the development of extended listening and talking in low-stress ways
  • The materials, lessons, and activities in the Oral Language Kit can be used for whole-class or small-group teaching. Choose the groupings that meet the needs of your students.


Oral Language Development Continuum

The Literacy Place for the Early Years Oral Language Continuum outlines developmental expectations for kindergarten-aged students. It clusters these expectations within three areas:

1. Language for Social Relationships focuses on the ability to listen, converse, discuss, inquire, and problem solve with others.

2. Language for Learning emphasizes listening and speaking expectations when using language to engage in literacy learning and other curriculum areas.

The student’s awareness of the rhythms and sounds of oral language (e.g., recognition and use of rhymes, identifying syllables by clapping, and stretching phonemes to hear sounds in words) are important in literacy learning in kindergarten. As such, the Phonological and Phonemic Awareness section of the Literacy Place for the Early Years Working with Words Continuum is included in this section of the Oral Language Continuum.

3. Language Structures describe the student’s ability to use appropriate grammatical structures and clear articulation for the expression of ideas.

For more information on these developmental expectations, see the Oral Language Development Continuum in the Literacy Place for the Early Years K–3 Planning Guide, pages 60–63 and the Kindergarten Working with Words Guide: Phonological and Phonemic Awareness, on page 76.

Using Observations

Informal but planned and purposeful observations and assessments are most appropriate for young students. Document your observations of students, for example, as they play in the block centre, build a road together on the sand table, share books with each other, retell a story with puppets, discuss a Shared Reading poem with a partner, or ask questions about a story you are reading to the class. Listen to their language and ask yourself how these students communicate. Do they make a social connection, listening to each other and taking turns informally? Do they express feelings or offer opinions? Do they tell a story? Do they add ideas to what another person is saying? Do they ask questions and solve problems? Can they understand each other? Examples of questions you might ask yourself include:

  • Does Rowan take turns in conversations? (Language for Social Relationships)
  • Does Anwar use relational concepts (e.g., prepositions) when he explains? (Language Structures)
  • Is Mari’s articulation clear enough for other students to understand her? (Language Structures)
  • Can Marc generate rhymes? (Language for Learning: Phonological and Phonemic Awareness)

Note: These questions can emerge from the Oral Language Assessment Scale.


This recording tool is based on the Oral Language Development Continuum and the Phonological and Phonemic Awareness section of the Working with Words Continuum. It allows you to monitor student progress over the course of the year.

You may record your observations on sticky notes or other anecdotal record sheets and use them to check off oral language behaviours on the Kindergarten Oral Language Assessment Scale.

You may decide to use this scale two or three times a year for each student, using different coloured pens to indicate the time of the year (e.g., purple for beginning of the year, red for mid-year, and green for the end of the year).

Alternatively, you could focus on particular areas or behaviours and monitor selected items when activities focus on them (dating your observations). For example, when doing lessons on a poem/song from the All Together Now big book, you may decide to monitor for phonological awareness (e.g., ‘Recognizes rhymes’ and ‘Generates rhymes orally’). When discussing the conversation cards related to maps, it would be a perfect time to monitor for ‘Understands and uses relational concepts (e.g., ‘over,’ ‘under,’ ‘next to,’ ‘in front of’).’ This approach is highly recommended as you can use your assessment observations regularly to both monitor needs and to initiate appropriate teaching.

Kindergarten Oral Language Assessment Scale

Teaching Tip: If you need more detailed information on one or two students who are at-risk language learners, use the Kindergarten Oral Language/Phonological and Phonemic Awareness Checklist.


  • Early childhood classrooms develop a climate and a context that support language learning through play, experimentation, story reading, centre explorations, singing, discussions, and other activities that promote active listening and talking. The following Oral Language Teaching Strategies, emphasized in the program, can be used during whole-class, small-group, or individual communications and can be woven into conversations and discussions during any activity.

    Note: Varying groupings (whole class, small group, partners, individuals) allows you to meet a wide range of student’s language learning needs as you can communicate with many, a few, or individual students.
  • Each strategy is intended to stimulate, expand, or refine aspects of language development, including the non-verbal aspects of social communication (e.g., making eye contact with the speaker).
  • You may already use many of these strategies in your classroom and this list will serve as a reminder and confirmation. Some strategies may be new to you. If so, select one and emphasize it during a lesson to try it out. With repeated use it will become part of your overall strategy repertoire.
  • An Oral Language Teaching Strategy has been suggested for use in each lesson. That may be the time to emphasize it, or practise using it. Of course, you will want to combine it with other successful strategies you already use.
Oral Language Teaching Strategies
Although you may wish to offer some prompts that focus on details and  exact responses, the majority of your prompts should be open-ended and invite a range of answers and thoughtful reflections. Closed prompts ask for “Yes,” “No,” and other short or single word responses. Open-ended prompts often result in deeper and more extended responses. For example,

Avoid: “Are they angry with each other?” (Closed prompt)
Consider: “How are they feeling? How can you tell?” (Open-ended prompt)
Model good listening by making eye contact with the student who is speaking to you.

Support good listening by noticing it and commenting on it, for example, “I noticed Rahim was looking at Andy’s face when he was talking. It’s important to look at people when they are talking as it shows you are listening to them.”
Listen to the meaning behind the student’s communication and respond to that. Clarify the meaning with the student, for example,

Student: “I don’t know… I think he ran… last… later.”
Teacher: “You’re not sure, but you think Ben ran in a later race?”
Avoid corrections and model appropriate language such as grammatical structures, for example,

Student: “Nobody done it.”
Teacher: “So you’re saying nobody did it.”
Expand language and check the meaning with the student, for example,

Student: “Red boots.”
Teacher: “Do you mean the bright red boots with the blue stripes down the sides, or the ones with
  Superman on them?”
6. ENCOURAGE PARTNER TALK (e.g., Turn and Talk)
Encourage students to talk through their ideas with a partner before sharing their ideas with the group. Some students talk more with a peer than in a large group setting and this offers opportunities to talk aloud and express ideas when large group performance is not an issue.
Encourage the expansion of conversation through ‘piggy-backing’ (adding to another person’s ideas), for example,

Teacher: “Evan said…. What do you think about that?”
Teacher: “So Joanna thinks… and you added to her idea. It’s good to listen to other people’s ideas and add
  to them.”
Encourage role-playing to help students to develop understanding and empathy for another viewpoint, for example,

Teacher: “Let’s all pretend to be the girl in this picture. What is she feeling? What would she say?”
9. DISAGREE AGREEABLY Help students to cope with disagreements in social situations, for example,
Teacher: “Is he looking happy right now? So is there something else you could say that doesn’t hurt his

Help them to disagree in discussions, too. For example,

Student: “NO, he’s telling his brother that he’s GOOD at soccer.” (Disagreeing in a loud, argumentative
  voice with a student who had a different interpretation of the picture.)
Teacher: “It’s okay to disagree about what’s happening in the picture. You could say, ‘I think something
  different is happening,’ and use a quieter voice when you tell us.”
Help the child who is shy, or finds it hard to talk, by offering low-key prompts to elicit responses, for example,

Teacher: “Tell me about that, Jake… was it hard to do?”
 “Did you mean…?”
 “If I started the idea, could you finish it? I can see….”
Teaching Tips:
  • Using puppets sometimes helps reluctant talkers to share ideas.
  • If a student needs extra time in order to organize ideas, you could consider saying, “I’m going to ask you    to tell me about… in a minute, Emma.”


Materials in the Oral Language Kit are intended to be used to promote a wide spectrum of oral language development.

Each item (e.g., a wordless book or a conversation card) or cluster of materials (e.g., puppets and sequences of photographs depicting social situations) has an accompanying teaching plan. Each teaching plan includes a suggestion for an Oral Language Teaching Strategy to highlight during the lesson.

The materials are clustered in five main areas:


The 10 songs and poems in the All Together Now big book are intended to be sung and/or chanted aloud. Seven of them have accompanying actions so that students can engage in playful, whole-body movements.

The audio features songs that students can listen to and join-in with, as well as music-only tracks allowing students to create their own versions of the songs. Fluent readings of each piece are also provided.

A digital version of the big book is provided on the Media Key for use with an interactive whiteboard. These digital texts have annotation tools, audio of the fluent readings and songs, plus a digital cloze option for each selection.


  • to develop awareness of the rhythms and sounds of language and to engage students in joining in with rhythmic language
  • to encourage playful language activity through action songs and lively poems
  • to focus on language comprehension and careful listening
  • to focus on phonological and phonemic awareness in developmentally appropriate ways

Instructional Tips:

  • Lesson plans are arranged in a Before, During, and After Reading (or Singing and Reading) format.
  • Lesson plans offer suggestions for initial and further lessons, and provide ideas for focusing students on playful language activities, expanding comprehension, developing phonological awareness, and enriching print concepts.
  • Suggestions for extending into classroom centres are also provided.
  • The songs and poems are engaging and the students will want to revisit them over the course of the year. Over time, they will build a repertoire of familiar favourites which supports their literacy learning. Familiar texts help students to acquire early reading concepts (e.g., print tracking, concept of a ‘word,’ word recognition, and letter-sound associations).

ELL Note: Big Book and Songs

As some English Language Learners (ELLs) come from cultures and countries where books are read and written from right to left, ask students to correctly place the book on the easel so it is ready to be read. Flip through the book with the class, count the pages, and talk about the directionality of the print.

Recite a familiar action-based rhyme or poem with the class such as ‘The Itsy Bitsy Spider’ or ‘Head and Shoulders’ as a way to introduce the concept of poetry. Ask ELLs if they know an action song in their first language and invite them to share it with the class.

Partner ELLs with peers or adult volunteers to review the vocabulary contained in the graphics/illustrations accompanying each poem. Find different ways for the ELL to practise the repetition of the poem such as: holding the pointer (with a partner, if needed) and pointing to the words while the audio is played, shaking an instrument or clapping hands, or using a loud voice when it comes to reciting certain words, echoing the voices of other students, and so on. Once the ELLs are ready to recite independently, the support of the audio, a puppet, or a prompt may increase their confidence.

In the writing centre, ELLs can work with a partner to draw a few pictures from the poem and label them.

Invite ELLs to practise the poems regularly either with a partner or at home with their families.


There are 36 conversation cards provided with the Oral Language Kit. They are intended for large- or small-group use in promoting language development.

  • The Conversation Cards are intended for display as cards you can hold on your lap, or place on an easel or ledge. The I-Spy cards are larger and will need to be displayed on an easel or ledge, just like your big books.

    Note: The Conversation Cards are also provided on the Media Key for use with an interactive whiteboard.
  • An Oral Language Teaching Strategy is outlined at the beginning of the lesson and highlighted occasionally within the lesson.
  • The main lesson follows this plan:
    1. Focusing on the Picture (looking at the overall visual display and thinking about what is happening)
    2. Going Deeper (interpreting the visual information)
    3. Connecting (linking personal experiences with the visual information)
    4. Predicting (asking what will happen next)
  • Brief lesson extensions are provided with each teaching plan if you wish to connect the oral language focus with shared writing and reading sessions.
  • Suggestions for follow-up activities for centres are also provided in each teaching plan.

The following purposes reflect the overall intent of the teaching plans using the Conversation Cards. Particular purposes for selected items are listed within each area.

Overall Purposes:

  • to promote oral participation, conversation, and discussions
  • to encourage social problem solving through oral means
  • to enhance vocabulary
  • to focus on active listening and turn-taking in conversations and discussions
  • to extend language contributions and provide models for more complex language structures
  • to develop understanding of non-verbal forms of communication (gestures, facial expressions)
  • to use language to describe, explain, inquire and question, make connections, sequence, analyze, predict, infer, synthesize, and evaluate

The conversation cards cover six areas:


Eleven single photo images depict emotions and interactions in the context of social events. Students are engaged in discussions and role-playing, using language to understand and describe social situations. The photographs cover a wide range of situations.

1Boys Wrestling
2Kids at Pool
3Arguing Sisters
4Girl on Bike
5Boy with Ice Cream
6Soccer Girls
7Kids in School
8Boy and Dad
9Girl and Horse
10Kids and Mom Shopping
11Polar Bears


  • to focus on using language to communicate during social interactions
  • to develop understanding of people‘s viewpoints, feelings, and emotions (empathy)
  • to make connections with personal experiences

Instructional Tips:

  • Make yourself familiar with the photograph prior to the lesson so that you can offer prompts that help the students to comprehend the overall scene and the subtleties in the interactions and emotions. Read through the teaching plan and take note of the oral language strategy you will be highlighting when teaching.
  • Space out the use of these photographs across the year and intersperse them with some of the other Conversation Cards (e.g., Maps, Art, or I-Spy Scenes) to provide variety in communication opportunities and to enable you to see growth over time in understanding and discussing social situations.
  • It is a good idea to start with one or two single images before progressing to the sequenced sets which require interpreting social situations over three cards.


Twelve cards show sequences of photographs that depict social events over a short time frame, so that viewers have the opportunity to develop understanding of social situations as they unfold.

There are four sets of sequential events, each with 3 cards.

CardsPhotograph Sequences
12–14Sharing Things
21–23Following the Rules
26–28Including Others
29–31Being Patient


  • to focus on using language to communicate during social interactions
  • to develop understanding of people‘s viewpoints, feelings, and emotions (empathy)
  • to make connections with personal experiences
  • to help students develop the concept of self-regulation

Instructional Tips:

  • Make yourself familiar with the photograph prior to the lesson so that you can offer prompts that help the students to comprehend the overall scene and the subtleties in the interactions and emotions. Read through the teaching plan and take note of the oral language strategy you will be highlighting when teaching.
  • Consider using a particular sequenced set to provide an expanded teaching opportunity in the classroom. For example, if including others in activities and games is an issue for some students, consider using the sequenced set of cards, ‘Including Others’ to discuss the situation.


Two wordless comic strips are provided. ‘Hide and Seek’ shows a child trying to find her cat, and ‘A Hat Story’ depicts a missing hat that is used as a nest by birds.

CardsComic Strip
24–25Hide and Seek
34A Hat Story


  • to engage students in interpreting and talking about humour
  • to explore non-verbal behaviours (facial expressions and body movements) that contribute to communication and humour
  • to encourage students to track a story over four sequenced frames and to recall that story through talk or dramatization, or both
  • to encourage students to generate dialogue, e.g., “What do you think she‘s saying?”

Instructional Tips:

  • Study the comic strip you are using prior to the lesson to enable you to offer prompts that maximize the students’ comprehension of the visual story. Read through the teaching plan and take note of the Oral Language Teaching Strategy suggested for the lesson.
  • The arrangement of the images, different in each comic strip, may be confusing for students who have not experienced comics previously. Modelling the concepts of print that are specific to comic strips in the lessons will help. If you provide other simple comic strips in centres, you may wish to support the students initially to ensure that they can sequence the events appropriately.


Four ‘I-Spy’ scenes are provided to depict diverse scenes across Canada, in four different seasons:

CardsI-Spy Scenes
17Visit to the Farm (Autumn)
18Winter Fun Festival
19Spring in the City
20By the Seashore (Summer)

Each card shows an overall scene of activities and includes a question to encourage exploration of details, plus insets of visual details that can be located by looking carefully at the pictures.


  • to engage the students in oral descriptions of actions and events
  • to expand vocabulary (e.g., increasingly varied verbs to describe actions, specialized vocabulary)
  • to encourage students to think about the four seasons and to use language descriptions appropriate for each season
  • to focus students on broad scenes and also on scanning visual arrays to spot details, and to talk about them (e.g., I knew it was a seagull because….)

Instructional Tips:

  • It’s a good idea to use the I-Spy cards at the appropriate time of the year. This makes it easier for students to connect each scene’s visual information with personal experiences.
  • Study the picture you are using prior to your lesson, so that you can guide students to talk about the whole scene and the details. You may wish to locate the specific details at this stage, e.g., on ‘By the Seashore’ you could find the seagulls and the small items in the ‘Can You Find These?’ circles. Read through the lesson and note the Oral Language Teaching Strategy you will be highlighting.
  • If you use the teaching plan, or develop your own, it’s a good idea to overview the whole scene (to build a schema and aid comprehension of the whole) before focusing on the scene’s visual details.


Four art cards are included to promote discussion. Two pictures feature book illustrations, ‘Badger Fixes the Roof’ (from Badger’s New House, written and illustrated by Robin Muller) and ‘Dinosaur In the Museum’ (from Sophie and the Sea Monster, written by Don Gillmor and illustrated by Michael Martchenko).

Two of the cards show student’s art work: ‘Person on a Bicycle’ and ‘Roller Coaster Ride.’

15Badger Fixes the Roof
16Dinosaur in the Museum
32Student’s Art: Person on a Bicycle
33Student’s Art: Roller Coaster Ride


  • to promote discussion about the visual arts (e.g., the artist’s craft, feelings evoked, connections with the illustrations)
  • to help students explore art as an expression of the artist’s imagination and to use appropriate vocabulary
  • to help students talk about their own art and the art of their classmates

Instructional Tips:

  • Explore the picture you’ve chosen and ‘read’ the visual information before the lesson.
  • Use prompts to talk about meaning, for example, “The artist has painted a picture for us… what are you seeing? You’ve told us what the whole picture is about. Look carefully at the details now (point some out). What do they add?”
  • Use prompts that will help students talk about the artist’s role, for example, “I wonder what the artist was thinking/feeling/seeing inside his or her head? What is the artist telling us? Do the colours tell us something?”
  • Use prompts to stimulate talk about a personal reaction, for example, “How does the picture make you feel? Why? What do you like about the picture? Is there anything you don’t like? Why do you think you feel that way? Is there anything that puzzles you? Does the picture remind you of something?”
  • As students become more comfortable and skilled in talking about art, transfer their skills to talking about each other’s art work. Encourage students to meet with the class, or in a small group, and share their art, talking about the meaning of a painting, their personal reactions, and the role of the artist.


Two pictures depict developmentally appropriate ‘maps’ for young students. ‘Neighbourhood Map’ shows a residential area, shops, and public buildings connected by roadways. ‘Park Map’ provides a scene of garden areas, playing fields, and a playground with interconnecting paths.

    35Park Map
    36Neighbourhood Map


  • to encourage students to talk about journeys around familiar contexts and to trace routes that connect locations
  • to provide a context for learning and using relational concepts, e.g., ‘next to,’ ‘over,’ ‘under,’ ‘between,’ ‘behind,’ ‘in front of’
  • to engage the students in following and generating simple directions

Instructional Tips:

  • Study the map you are using prior to the lesson so that you can make quick decisions about which routes to follow during the lesson. Read through the teaching plan and make yourself aware of the suggested Oral Language Teaching Strategy.
  • Whether you are following the teaching plan, or building your own, overview the whole scene with the students (to build a schema and aid comprehension) before focusing on different routes and pictorial details.
  • Use the BLMs of the cut-out figures and mount them on card or attach them to craft sticks to allow students to make physical journeys around the maps and to describe their routes orally.
  • Support the use of relational concepts and more difficult directional terms, such as ‘straight ahead,’ ‘turn left’ and ‘take the path to the right,’ through modelling.

ELL Note: Conversation Cards

The various Conversation Cards are effective tools for both learning and practising numbers, colours, and descriptive words and can be used with English Language Learners (ELLs) on a daily basis with the help of volunteers—either adults or classmates.

The cards can be placed in the block centre where each student gets a block each time he/she can name a word from the card or find an item on the I-Spy card. The blocks can then be counted or stacked. The maps provide a host of oral prompts, such as “Show me a boy, a girl, a dog, etc.” Then, “Show me a dog running, a boy playing tennis, a girl wearing a blue hat, etc.” Soon the ELL will be able to tell what he or she sees using single words, then phrases and short sentences.

These cards can help ELLs to communicate about their prior experiences in their native country. Point to a picture and ask them if they played on swings in China, etc., and with a nod of the head they can indicate that they have been to a park, played soccer, have seen ducks in a pond, and so on.

Using the cut-out figures from the BLMs, the students can express their desires in first-person, for example, “I want to play baseball. Then I want to….”

The sequence cards are also a good means for teaching more abstract concepts such as emotions. The sequence can be mimed by ELLs without words while a narrator tells the story. Then with practise, and by watching other groups perform, the ELL can begin to initiate dialogue.


Two wordless picture books are provided in the kit, Chicken and Cat Clean Up by Sara Varon and Jack and the Missing Piece by Pat Schories. They are both narratives and can be used for oral storytelling:


  • to model oral storytelling as well as appropriate vocabulary and language structures
  • to encourage students to participate and develop oral storytelling abilities
  • to encourage active listening
  • to promote extended language contributions
  • to develop an understanding of story structure, for example, characters, setting, problem, beginning, events, actions, ending

Instructional Tips:

  • Always ‘read’ the text several times before you engage in storytelling so that you are familiar with the story, characters, and the text features, e.g., environmental print, signs, and labels.
  • Read through the teaching plan to see if there is any other preparation required. Hands-on, play-oriented manipulatives are included with both lessons, for use during teaching and for student use in centres. Some construction may be needed.
  • Check on the Oral Language Teaching Strategy featured in the lesson so that you can weave it into your storytelling and interactions with the students.
  • In your introduction to the lesson, help students to make connections with the content, set a purpose for listening, and introduce the idea that storytelling is different to reading them a story. In read aloud stories, the words are written on the page and are the same each time the story is read. In oral storytelling with wordless picture books there are no, or few, words on a page and you make up the story to match the pictures each time you tell the story. Your words will change a bit with each narration.
  • Teaching plans promote an uninterrupted storytelling as you expose the students to the narrative. This helps to engage the students and allows you to focus on the dramatic storytelling including maintaining consistent ‘voices’ for each character. Your storytelling provides a model for the students’ own storytelling.
  • At the conclusion of the first lesson, start discussions by referring to the purpose for listening prompt that you used at the beginning of the lesson, and then extend comprehension to cover other areas of content and to encourage students to interpret information by using a range of comprehension strategies.
  • During the second lesson, encourage students to participate in retelling the story. You may use manipulatives to assist them. Your role is to ensure they all get opportunities to retell orally, to offer structure to enable them to be successful, and to give positive modelling and feedback to help them refine and modify their language use.
  • Lesson plans provide suggestions for further retellings. These expand and deepen the students’ experiences with oral storytelling.
  • Suggestions for centres are provided to encourage extended language use through social  play, art (with oral sharing), and drama.

Other Wordless Books

  • Other wordless books, or books with brief texts, can be used for oral storytelling:
    • Chicken and Cat by Sara Varon
    • Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie de Paola
    • Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day
    • Frog Goes to Dinner by Mercy Mayer
    • Truck by Donald Crews
    • Jack Wants a Snack by Pat Schories
    • Breakfast for Jack by Pat Schories
    • Jack and the Night Visitors by Pat Schories
    • Do Not Disturb by Nancy Tafuri
    • Bobo’s Dream by Martha Alexander
  • You may make characters to use as stick puppets, face masks, or whiteboard/flannelboard cut-outs. These manipulatives stimulate productive talk through play.
  • You may wish to put together a few simple props to support the storytelling, e.g., a small van, a toy-sized handbag, and a little turtle for Chicken and Cat Clean Up.

ELL Note: Wordless Picture Books

After a few storytellings with the class, allow English Language Learners time to peruse the books and orally develop a storyline in their native language. This can be done with the help of a volunteer or student that shares the same language. Alternatively, you might send the story home so ELLs can have a chance to develop a story with their parents or other family members. The students can present the story to the class and teach the class a few words from their language by pointing to the illustrations in the story. This allows the class to appreciate the linguistic abilities of the ELL.

Develop simple English stories for the ELL using structures such as, “This is a…,” or “I see a…,” etc. The book can be read many times, each time using a different sentence starter. 

In the art centre, ELLs can be encouraged to draw a sequence of three pictures from the story and, with the help of a partner, can help label the caption, “I see a….”  

When ELLs listen to other stories, ask the reader to tell the story twice, once very slowly and with a lot of expression in order to facilitate comprehension and then again at a normal pace.

Partner ELLs with other students. The English speaker can narrate most of the story but leave out key words for the ELL to provide. With frequent practise the ELLs will be able offer more and more of the story and do so with increasing confidence.


Twenty puppets are included as an important part of the Oral Language Kit. They can be used for:

     - imaginative play

     - story retelling

     - creating new stories

     - changing or expanding stories, e.g., adding a new ending, changing characters, or changing the problem

     - retelling personal experiences

     - social problem solving


  • to stimulate imaginative play and oral language
  • to retell
  • the use language flexibly and creatively
  • to problem solve with language
  • to promote turn-taking and active listening
  • to expand language contributions
  • to enhance vocabulary and the use of appropriate language structures

Instructional Tips:

  • Cluster the puppets in one location such as a puppet ‘treasure chest’ so that they can easily be located and put away.
  • Consider providing a prop box of small-sized items that can be used for imaginative play with the puppets. The box can contain things such as tiny stuffed or plastic animals, small vehicles, plastic food, or any item that you think students could use to expand their play. You may also wish to add props that match some of the stories you read with the class e.g. toy baking equipment for ‘The Little Red Hen’ or a small plastic apple for ‘Snow White.’
  • You might provide a simple hand-puppet theatre or encourage students to construct their own puppet theatre. You could tack a blanket across the bottom half of a doorway or put a blanket over the front of a table (top of the table is the ‘stage’), or you may want to construct a theatre from a cardboard appliance box. You just need to cut out the bottom half of the back of the box, allowing access for the puppeteers, but leaving the top portion so that painted scenes can be used as backdrops. Cut out a rectangular opening at the front. Decorate with curtains and painted sides, encouraging the students to be involved. (A half-sized table topper would also work too. You need to cut out the entire back of the box if you make a small theatre.)
  • Model using puppets in different ways such as to retell a story or to problem solve. (Teaching plans are provided for the puppet pack in this kit.) Modelling different ways you can use puppets is important as some students may not have experienced puppet play before or may not have considered the whole range of ways puppets can be used.
  • Use puppets in your lessons, for example, to explain something or to accompany a song (e.g., “The Frog Song” in All Together Now), and then encourage use of puppets at centres.
  • Encourage students to substitute puppets when they are retelling stories, e.g., a frog or a dog might be the thief in Chicken and Cat Clean Up if you don’t have a mouse puppet available.
  • Keep the hand puppet collection fresh by adding one or two new characters occasionally. These may include puppets the students have made. You may want to build up a collection of finger puppets, too. Puppets can easily be made by using a drawing of a character, colouring it, and affixing it to a craft stick. Stick puppets are very useful for retelling stories.

ELL Note: Puppets

Allocate free time for English Language Learners to spend with their favourite puppets. Encourage them to speak in their native language in order to gain insight about the students’ oral literacy skills. Observe how the students interact with the puppets—are they speaking fluently, clearly, dramatically, etc.? Encourage students or volunteers who speak the same language to join in and perform an impromptu skit with the ELL. These skits can be performed for the whole class giving the ELL a rare moment in the limelight.

Provide many opportunities for ELLs to watch English speaking students’ performances with puppets as this will trigger their imaginations, improve listening skills, and develop their vocabulary.

Explore with the students how to work and move the puppets. This exercise is an effective tool for vocabulary acquisition. For example, you can ask the students to show their puppet dancing, eating, running, jumping, drinking, reading, talking, etc. ELLs who are too shy to speak can be involved in dramatic play by simply controlling the puppet while a partner does the speaking. With continued practise of the skit, the ELL will gradually gain enough confidence to speak.

The ELLs may want to use the puppets when practising or performing songs/poems from the big book or the narratives of the wordless stories. They will enjoy the anonymity of being behind a puppet theatre.


Games are a perfect way to provide practise applying basic skills in real-life situations. Since all games require students to interact and speak with each other, they are a powerful language learning tool.


  • to listen and respond to others
  • to discuss, describe, and ask questions for information and clarification
  • to develop social self-regulation through cooperating, practising fair play, and tolerating other’s viewpoints
  • to enhance cognitive/language skills through problem solving, sequencing, and critical thinking

Instructional Tips:

  • The games have been designed to promote different types of oral language. Choose the types of oral language games to use in your classroom depending on your goals and the needs of your students.
  • These games can be played in a whole-class setting, or in pairs or small groups during centre time.
  • To ensure success for young learners, introduce and demonstrate how to play each game prior to asking students to play independently.
  • Model the types of language and behaviour that are acceptable and reinforce strategies for resolving conflicts

ELL Note: Oral Language Games

There is a host of steps and strategies to facilitate the English Language Learner’s ability to participate in games with increased confidence and independence. Partner an ELL with a bilingual volunteer or peer and together they become observers of the game. During observation, the partner gives a running commentary or explanation to the ELL about what is happening using their native language. After the game ends, the ELL explains to the partner how the game is played using their native language.

The ELL can continue in the role of observer while participating in the game as an assistant. He or she can be given the task of turning over the cards, or announcing whose turn is next, while gaining more facility and exposure to the game. When the ELL is a little more confident he/she can shadow a player. Here he or she repeats or mimics what the player says and does.

As the ELL increasingly comprehends how the game is played, he or she can initiate speaking. Now the partner can help the ELL by formulating full thoughts or sentences using the ELLs’ own words.

Each time a game is introduced, display the words and structures needed for that game on a wall chart. Make sure to model the use of these words and structures several times for the benefit of the ELLs.

Allow ELLs the choice of which game to play and allow them time to practise playing it. They may prefer to play the game on their own or teach the game to a puppet in their own language mixed with English. Once they have mastered it, encourage them to try a new game.

Allow the students to borrow a game to take home so they can play it at home with their family. Assign a day when the students bring games in from home or their home country, and with the help of a bilingual volunteer or classmate, the ELLs can demonstrate how the game is played.