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18 Strategies For Enhancing Language Skills

by Glenda Thorne, Ph.D., and Alice Thomas, M.Ed.

The following strategies are offered for enhancing language skills and managing language challenges. This listing is by no means exhaustive, but rather is meant as a place to begin.

1. Take the mystery away.

The first and perhaps most important strategy is to teach students about the components of language, common language challenges and language strategies, and to help students understand their own language strengths and challenges. This process is sometimes called demystification – taking the mystery away.

2. Simplify directions.

Students with receptive language challenges may need directions broken down into their simplest form. They may also benefit from a comic book-type illustration of steps to take for the completion of a task.

3. Give written copies of directions and examples.

Students with receptive language challenges may need directions given to them at a relatively slow pace. They may need directions repeated to them. They most often benefit from having a written copy of directions that are given orally. Examples of what needs to be done are also useful.

4. Provide frequent breaks.

Students who have receptive language challenges may use up a lot of energy listening, and, therefore, tire easily. Consequently, short, highly structured work times with frequent breaks or quiet periods may be helpful.

5. Give additional time.

Students with receptive and expressive language challenges are likely to have a slower processing speed and should be allowed additional time for written work and tests.

6. Sit Close.

A student may want to sit close to the teacher so he can watch the facial expression of the teacher when s/he is talking. This may also help to diminish interference from other auditory distractions.

7. Allow voluntary participation.

Students with language processing challenges should not be put on the spot by being required to answer questions during class discussions, especially without being forewarned. Rather, their participation should be on a voluntary basis.

8. Teach summarizing and paraphrasing.

Reading comprehension is often enhanced by summarizing and paraphrasing. This helps students to identify the main idea and supporting details. It may be helpful to provide key words such as who, what, when, where and why to orient attention to the appropriate details.

9. Teach a staging procedure.

Most students find a staging procedure beneficial when writing paragraphs, essays, poems, reports and research papers. First they should generate ideas, and then they should organize them. Next, they should attend to spelling and grammatical rules. They may also list their most frequently occurring errors in a notebook and refer to this list when self correcting.

10. Encourage renewed investment of energy in older students.

Older students who have experienced reading failure from an early age must become convinced that a renewed investment of energy will be worthwhile. According to Louisa Moats, an expert in the field of reading, older students who are very poor readers must have their phonological skills strengthened because the inability to identify speech sounds erodes spelling, word recognition, and vocabulary development. Phonological awareness, spelling, decoding, grammar, and other language skills can be taught as a linguistics course in which instructors use more adult terminology such as phoneme deletion and morphemic structure. Phonemic drills may include games such as reverse-a-word (Say teach; then say it with the sounds backwards – cheat.)

11. Give Foreign Language Waivers

Students who have experienced problems with their primary language are more likely to have difficulty with a foreign language. Foreign language requirements may need to be waived for these students.

12. Use echo reading for fluency development.

For fluency development, it is helpful to have a student in the lower grades echo read and also read simultaneously with an adult. The adult and the student may also take turns reading every other sentence or paragraph. Additionally, the adult may model a sentence and then have the student read that same sentence.

13. Amplify auditory input.

Multisensory techniques can be used to increase phonetic skills and to memorize sight words. For example, a student may sound out a word or write sight words on a dry erase board using different colored markers, all while using Hearfones, a Phonics Phone or a Toobaloo device to enhance auditory input. These devices amplify and direct the student's own voice straight back to his ears, causing increased auditory stimulation to the brain. These devices can be purchased from CDL's A+ WebStore at www.cdl.org.

14. See, say, hear and touch.

Multisensory strategies are helpful for learning letter names. Examples include: 1) spreading shaving cream on a table top and having the child write letters in the shaving cream while saying the letter name out loud; and 2) cutting out letters from sandpaper and having the child "trace" the sandpaper letter with his or her finger while saying the name of the letter.

15. A picture is worth a thousand words.

The expression, "A picture is worth a thousand words," may become especially important for the visual person who has difficulty expressing himself verbally. For example, a student may make diagrams, charts, or drawings to help him remember what he has read. If he is good at art, the student may draw or paint pictures to explain his ideas.

16. Teach active reading.

To help with comprehension, it may be helpful to underline key words and phrases with a pencil or highlighter and to paraphrase them in the margins, thereby making reading more active. If the student is not allowed to write in the book, he can write the main words or ideas on Post-It notes.

17. Guide students to read between the lines.

When first teaching students to infer while reading, the teacher should first guide the thinking by using a whole class activity. After the class as a whole has identified a logical inference, the teacher should facilitate the examination of the process by which they arrived at their inference. Leading questions may be, "What is the author saying to us? How do we know the author meant this?" Remind students that authors provide clues (imply) so readers can infer.

18. Provide individual evaluation and intervention.

Many students with language challenges benefit from individual evaluation and remediation by highly qualified professionals. It is critical to use assessment tools designed to pinpoint specific skill deficits and to provide individual or small group remediation/intervention using explicit, evidence-based strategies and methods that directly address each student’s individual needs.


About the author: The authors serve on the professional staff of the Center for Development and Learning, a nonprofit organization that specializes in the development and dissemination of research, knowledge, and best practices that impact teaching and learning. Visit http://www.cdl.org/
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