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Strategies for Building Oral Language Skills

Strategies for Building Oral Language Skills

Dr. Rebecca Branstetter

In my free time, I have been writing curriculum designed to teach beginning special education teachers what they need to know about teaching students with special needs. I am on page 600 and have 4 more sessions to write. I mean, there is a LOT that teachers need to know. I don’t know how you people do it. And I have been trying to condense it all into 16 sessions. Good times.

Recently, I finished the session on oral language and through the process, realized that oral language seems to be the slightly ignored stepchild of the English Language Arts domain. I mean, when you think of language arts, you think of reading and writing, right? But what about oral language? It is so important! It is often neglected in psychoeduational assessments as well, unless it is wrapped up in general language processing.

Oral language is not just speaking. It is a large set of skills that encompasses listening comprehension, understanding and producing complex language, vocabulary and word knowledge, grammatical knowledge, phonological skills, and so much more. Allow me to illustrate how oral language skills are necessary for comprehension by confessing something embarrassing.

I am the worst at deciphering song lyrics. My best friend, Kendra, however, should be on that game show “Don’t Forget the Lyrics.” She was always my first choice in picking teams for Songburst. And when I can’t figure out what a song is saying, I call her.

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Some embarrassing examples:

1) I was singing along with Kendra to the song “One” by U2, and belted out, “Love is a tent pole, love’s a higher love!” and she said, “Um, don’t you mean that love is a temple, love’s a higher law?” Ah yes, that makes more sense.

2) I was car singing (as I do) to Sean Kingson’s new song, “Replay” and I actually sang:

Shawty’s like a melody in my head,
That I can’t keep out
Got me singing like, la la la la every day,
Like an eyeball stuck on my plate, my plate.

Scrrrreeeeech (record scratches). Wait, what? That doesn’t make sense. But that’s exactly what it sounded like to me. I knew it could not be right (because of oral language skills, of course), but no matter how many times I heard it, I still heard eyeball stuck on my plate, my plate. Good thing my radio station plays this song like la la la la every day, because I finally got it…it’s like my iPod stuck on replay, replay.” Much more romantic than my eyeball lyric.

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