Fast 5 Gamechangers Empower DLLs With Conversations!

preschool DLLs

Perhaps the best kind of teacher talk might be less teacher talk! All through college and professional development experiences, teachers learn what to say to children. But, one of the greatest gifts you can give to young learners, especially DLLs, is to step back and let the children do the talking. Research continues to show the value of engaging young children in two-way conversations even before they can really talk. This means that adults have to develop the confidence to pause and let children take the lead in interactions. And if this is important yet challenging for children that speak your language, it must require even more effort when working with children who speak other languages. What happens when young DLLs have more opportunities to talk, converse, and lead discussions? 

  1. The teacher can spend more time listening and understanding each child – what they know, what they want to communicate, and what are their interests.
  2. The child experiences the power of their words and knowledge as they express themselves with greater depth and complexity beyond simple answers.
  3. Children converse with each other – learning content, vocabulary, and social-emotional skills in the context of play and explorations.
  4. Children actively practice and process their learning when conversation enables them to make connections between their prior knowledge and new learning and to express their own critical thinking about any topic. 
  5. Children feel respected, valued, and truly heard. They are supported by a sense of belonging. 

These benefits can be particularly compelling for young children who are DLLs. That’s why it is worth some extra effort and support for teachers to make this happen. Here are some easy strategies:

  • Learn to say a few open-ended questions in each child’s home language, such as “Can you tell me about this?” or “What is happening?”.
  • Carry a phone, tablet, or other device to record children’s conversations with you and others for later translation and additional response.
  • Invite bilingual family members and community volunteers to be “conversation buddies” to play, do projects, or accompany the group on walks.
  • Actively encourage children to talk with each other. For example, after you read a story to a small group of children, ask them to tell their friend what might happen next to the character rather than having all answers directed to you.
  • Do a review of your materials and displays to remove items that rarely get talked about and highlight items that really get children talking.
  • Keep a list of the children you’ve had individual conversations during each week. It can be easy to miss one or two of the quieter children and they might be the ones who need your attention the most!

And, if you want to learn more about research and practice on this topic, here are a few of the best resources to get you started!

**Atlanta Speech School, (2017) The Promise to Georgia’s Children – Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, Youtube video

Teaching at the Beginning, A Felt Board Story: First & Second Language video

Jacoby, J.W. & Lesaux, N.K. (2014) Support for Extended Discourse in Teacher Talk with Linguistically Diverse Preschoolers, Journal of Early Education and Development, Issue 8, pp 1162-1179

LENA, (2018) New Research Says How Much You Talk with Babies is Linked to their IQ in Adolescence

ABCNews (2018) Young Children Talking Back and Forth with Adults Strengthens Brain Language Region (video)

Koohi, A.L., (2018) The Power of Turn-Taking: How Back-and-Forth Interactions Help Children Learn Language, The Hanen Centre

Shanahan, T. & Lonigan, C. (2008) The Role of Early Oral Language in Literacy Development, Language Magazine

Haruka Konishi, H., Kanero, J. , Freeman, M.R., Michnick Golinkoff , R.& Hirsh-Pasek, K.  (2014) Six Principles of Language Development: Implications for Second Language Learners, Developmental Neuropsychology, 39:5, 404-420, DOI: 10.1080/87565641.2014.931961 


  • Sally Durbin says:

    Hello Karen! Thank you for your newsletter, wonderful each time! Your questions are vital and your strategies and resources provide rich avenues for conversation enhancement. I love that parents and families volunteer at school. I noticed that when I arranged for “special” walking trips that parents and families made the extra time to accompany us. We would walk around the block, or to the public library, or to the local bakeries, or to the local store. The family members would stay, play, and write down our experiences while chatting with the children. Our parents and families are fabulous!

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