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Building Language Throughout the Year

Building Language Throughout the Year

The Preschool Early Literacy Curriculum
Authors: John Lybolt Ph.D., CCC-SLP, Jennifer Armstrong Ph.D.., CCC-SLP, Kristin Evans Techmanski, Catherine Gottfred Ph.D., CCC-SLP

ISBN: 978-1-55766-780-9
Pages: 456
Copyright: 2007
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Size:  8.5 x 11.0
Stock Number:  67809
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For children from low-resource backgrounds, a literacy-rich preschool experience with a skilled and engaged teacher can make all the difference—it can offset risk factors and lay the groundwork for lifelong academic success. Now schools can ensure effective early literacy instruction with this field-tested, research-based curriculum for children 3 to 5 years of age.

These 41 one-week lessons—each built around a theme with associated vocabulary lists and fun activities—are just what teachers need to enhance children’s phonemic awareness and vocabulary development throughout the year. This proven curriculum

  • Helps teachers succeed by explicitly showing them how to deliver curriculum content effectively.
  • Engages children through structured and unstructured activities—including dramatic play, art, and music—that reinforce new words and concepts.
  • Specifically addresses the needs of children from low-resource backgrounds and helps them catch up with their peers.
  • Aligns with every part of the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes framework, so teachers know their curriculum is addressing the right areas.
  • Is easy to use with existing programs and makes use of inexpensive supplies most teachers already have on hand.
  • Helps parents continue the learning at home with reader-friendly sheets that explain what their children are learning and include easy activities for encouraging literacy development.

For each of the one-week lessons, teachers will get everything they need: a general lesson plan for the entire week, an overview of language concepts and goals, and detailed lesson plans for each weekday. “From-the-trenches” vignettes share other teachers’ success stories, and the useful observation forms help teachers track the growth and variety of children’s vocabulary and prove that students are making progress.
See how this product helps strengthen Head Start program quality and school readiness.

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Review: Education Review, Brief Reviews
"[Curriculum forms] are not only useful, they underscore the deliberate nature of language and literacy development activities and capitalize on opportunistic moments for learning within preschool classrooms . . . The use of deliberate planning and careful implementation of lessons is based on noted research in emergent literacy development and provides an appropriate framework for the text."
Review: Midwest Book Review
"…promote[s] early literacy through encouraging the development and exercise of reading skills which are an essential foundation for lifelong academic success . . . Building Language Throughout the Year will prove to be useful, practical, effective, and time-saving."
Review by: Angela Notari Syverson, Senior Researcher, Washington Research Institute
"A wonderful resource [with] fun, flexible and proven activities that emphasize vocabulary and conversations —two especially important aspects of children's early literacy development."
Review by: Laura Justice, University of Virginia
"An excellent resource for teachers who want to improve the quality of children's language–learning experiences in their classrooms."
About the Authors


  1. Introduction to the Building Language Curriculum
  2. Using the Building Language Curriculum
  3. The Role of Parents in the Building Language Curriculum
  4. Monitoring Progress


Lessons and Take-Homes

Week 1: School Days
Week 2: Family
Week 3: Alphabet
Week 4: Personal Places
Week 5: Seasons
Week 6: Food
Week 7: Animals
Week 8: Fall
Week 9: Community Helpers
Week 10: Colors, Shapes, and Sizes
Week 11: The Great Outdoors
Week 12: Thanksgiving
Week 13: Winter Wonderland
Week 14: Our Senses
Week 15: Movement and Music
Week 16: Transportation in My Neighborhood
Week 17: Our Bodies, Ourselves
Week 18: Numbers and Counting
Week 19: Fables and Fairy Tales
Week 20: Solar System
Week 21: Black History
Week 22: Shopping
Week 23: Weather
Week 24: Feelings and Emotions
Week 25: What Lives Under the Water?
Week 26: Beauty of Spring
Week 27: Science
Week 28: Dinosaurs
Week 29: Young Child's Arts and Crafts
Week 30: Water Fun
Week 31: Transportation for Traveling
Week 32: Plants and Flowers
Week 33: Nursery Rhymes
Week 34: Mama and Me
Week 35: Later in the Spring
Week 36: Health and Safety
Week 37: Animals and the Environment
Week 38: Insects and Spiders
Week 39: Daddy and Me
Week 40: Vacation and Summer Fun
Week 41: Get Ready, Get Set, Go


Outcomes Assessment for the Building Language Curriculum

Instructions for Using the Building Language Curriculum Forms

Blank Forms for the Building Language Curriculum

Books and Music for the Building Language Curriculum

Suggested Readings

Excerpted from Chapter 2 of Building Language Throughout the Year: The Preschool Early Literacy Curriculum, by John Lybolt, Ph.D.,CCC-SLP , Jennifer Armstrong, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, Kristin Evans Techmanski, M.A., CCC-SLP, & Catherine Gottfred, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Copyright © 2007 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Building Language Throughout the Year: The Preschool Early Literacy Curriculum provides a framework for children to learn through exploring, making maximal use of materials in the classroom, interacting with peers, and teacher modeling and input. The weekly grids may seem daunting at first, considering the daily suggested enrichment words, the subcategories of the weekly themes, and the daily dramatic plays. Some creative teachers have stretched a major theme across 2 weeks; other teachers have repeated activities that are related to earlier themes or have even eliminated one or more of the daily themes. Many, however, have used the curriculum as written, making personal changes in a few specific activities. The Building Language curriculum is meant to be used as a guide for teachers. The lessons should be adapted as necessary to meet the needs of all children. What should be maintained is the frequency, complexity, intentional conversing, and problem solving between the teacher and individual children, within small groups, and in peer-to-peer interactions throughout the classroom day.


Hart and Risley (2003) discussed implications of a vocabulary gap that affects many 3-year-old children on entry into preschool. Their follow-up analysis documented how a vocabulary gap at age 3 magnified its negative effect on learning skills through age 10.They recommended an intensive effort be undertaken before preschool to help caretakers reduce the size of the vocabulary gap. For children not reached by a high-quality early learning program, Hart and Risley’s analysis makes it clear that the instructional time available to preschool teachers should be dedicated to providing rich language experiences. These language-based experiences should be supported with materials that allow children’s exploration and creativity to blossom. It is critical that teachers attempt to narrow the potential academic impact of the vocabulary gap described by Hart and Risely (2003) in the 2 years before children transition to kindergarten. The Building Language curriculum provides teachers with specific tools that can help them in this effort. The techniques that are suggested and described in Building Language include “the conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions . . .by integrating clinical (and early childhood) expertise with the best available external evidence from systematic research” (Sackett, Rosenberg, Gray, Haynes, & Richardson,1996, p. 71). We have chosen techniques that are widely reported in the language intervention literature. Using studies examining the actual behaviors of preschool teachers, we have developed recommendations for how these techniques might be successfully implemented in a preschool classroom. We have used quasi-experimental and correlational studies to determine whether teachers using the Building Language curriculum change their own classroom behaviors while positively affecting the learning of children in their classrooms. We are planning a well-designed randomized, controlled study examining the efficacy of the teaching methods of the Building Language curriculum. We describe below how teachers can use Building Language techniques to supplement their own training to best serve children in their classrooms.


Beginning any new program or curriculum can be a challenge for a teacher. Districts may not provide the time or thorough professional development workshops. These opportunities can be critical for teachers to feel comfortable in adapting the strategies, procedures, and activities to their classrooms. Even after an introduction in a professional development setting, this chapter will help prepare teachers to implement the Building Language curriculum effectively. The next few paragraphs will review self-study suggestions to help teachers prepare to use this curriculum in their classrooms.

In our experience, most teachers feel, justifiably, that they have been providing excellent service to their children. The authors of the Building Language curriculum agree. The Building Language curriculum is designed to maximize teachers’ effectiveness in the classroom using activities and schedules similar to those they may already be using. Teachers will be asked to increase the amount, variety, and complexity of the vocabulary and conceptual stimulation provided during activities in their classrooms.

Specific preparation for using the Building Language curriculum includes the following:

  • Learn about the critical role that language plays in children’s preliteracy, comprehension, self-regulation, and social development. Building Language emphasizes the teacher’s role as a provider of natural language experiences with individuals and groups of children The authors have actually encountered teachers who try to keep children from talking during snack or meal times. These are times during which teachers can maximize language interactions with little effort and in a natural setting. Initiate conversations with students, present new vocabulary, let them listen to conversations and overhear discussions, or solve problems by talking them through.
  • Become familiar with the Building Language techniques. These will help increase the richness and variety of discussions with children. (Note: Each of these concepts will be discussed in more detail later in this chapter.)
  • Think-alouds: A teacher narrates his/her thought process aloud. For example, “I’m going to set one more place because Jamal is here today” or say, “I remember to put the straight side next to the straight side of the puzzle.”
    Talk-alongs: A teacher comments about children’s activities. For example, “Your tower is reaching upward to the stratosphere; I hope it stays balanced.” Repeat-model-expand:
  • Repeat. The teacher repeats words or sentences that children use. For example, “You’re right, that block is square.”
  • Model. The teacher models words or phrases children might use. For example, “I think it is a darker color“ or “That truck is enormous!”
  • Expand. The teacher deliberately adds complexity to words or phrases children have used. For example “Jamal, you could also say a zebra looks like a horse, but it has stripes and lives on the plains of Africa.”
  • Open-ended questions. An open-ended question is one that opens conversation; for example, “Could . . . “ and “What might. . . .” An open-ended question does not have just one correct answer. (See the discussion later in this chapter.) Many teachers could use more open-ended questions to promote conversation but resort to closed-ended questions when time is short; for example, “What color is that?” and “Who is . . . ?” These questions do not promote conversation.
  • Routinely include enrichment vocabulary. Use a new, imaginative word in place of the same old word in order to heighten children’s attention and interest in what is being said. For example, instead of saying, “That’s a big lion in that picture!” say, “That’s an enormous lion! Isn’t he massive>?”
  • Practice using these techniques. For example, the structure of a book reading activity will help teachers actively promote discussion, vocabulary, and concepts throughout the day. Teachers may already use some of these activities but can try combining some of their own activities with the Building Language stimulation techniques. This results in children talking more creatively, solving problems, and using a greater variety of vocabulary.
  • Make a resolution to converse individually with each child in class daily.
  • Take advantage of arrival time to have a quick chat with a child. Information from a parent will lead to individual teaching opportunities with one or more children. Hearing a comment from a parent may lead to a discussion or an opportunity for an enriching activity. Remembering a creative play in housekeeping can result in conversation with the children and caregivers to help the caregivers be more involved. Use open-ended questions; for example, “What could . . . ?” and “What might. . . .?”
  • Become familiar with the lessons. Notice that each day includes many activities. The activities suggested in Building Language were chosen to help actively promote discussion, vocabulary, and concepts throughout the day. Teachers may already use some of these activities in their classrooms. They can combine some of their own activities with the Building Language stimulation techniques and find children talking more creatively, solving problems, and using a greater variety of vocabulary.
    Having a suggested set of activities for each day provides an instant teaching resource. It is not necessary to complete all activities each day. Building Language provides a set of targets so that at the end of a week, teachers will be able to specify how they worked on a certain set of preliteracy skills, social language, qualitative and prediction concepts (science and math), and so forth.
  • Become familiar with the classroom observations recommended in Building Languagee(see Section III). Notice that Building Language observations will help determine whether specific children need more individual assistance. Teachers will observe how their language techniques can help children move forward and understand what preliteracy, dialogue, concept, and vocabulary benefits are achieved by a particular activity.


Teachers have five general roles in the Building Language curriculum:

  • Assessing students to determine their strengths and weaknesses (discussed in Chapter 4)
  • Preparing the physical environment of the classroom. For example, teachers may include writing, block, housekeeping, science, dramatic play, and art areas. Many teachers have begun to individualize their classrooms with inviting “homey” areas that include drapes, household style furniture, and dishes that might be found in a child’s home.
  • Using assessment information to plan lessons that meet each student’s needs
  • Implementing the lessons. Determine how Building Language activities overlay your current schedule. Read the daily outline and instructions for each activity, and gather the suggested materials.
  • Most important, take advantage of planned and spontaneous opportunities to converse with children. Using the language of instruction (dialogue and conversation with children, prompting and listening to children’s stories, or introducing enrichment vocabulary during children’s play) will stimulate problem solving and more complex thought. Building Language improves young children’s 1) oral language, 2) phonological awareness,3) print awareness, and 4) alphabet knowledge by developing these explicit and consistent teacher behaviors during classroom activities and classroom interactions. Teachers develop the skills to 1) build observational ability (e.g., awareness of language and literacy/pre-print opportunities embedded in each lesson; identification of children’s play and narrative levels), 2) build a repertoire (of specific techniques), 3) use opportunities (to challenge children in immediate and more distanced contexts), and 4) practice self-reflection (were the opportunities taken?).

Teachers use tallies to self-monitor the frequency and consistency of opportunities for dialogue and enrichment (see Section III). For example, to monitor deliberate use of interventions for oral language, the teacher could use the following reminders:

  1. Observe children’s activity during block building (Observe)
  2. Model enrichment vocabulary (Repertoire)
  3. Say, “That tower looks like a skyscraper and that ramp extends across like a bridge.”( Opportunity)
  4. Ask themselves, “Did I take the opportunity?”
(Self-reflection) As another example, during a Foods theme, to stimulate phonemic awareness and alphabet knowledge at lunchtime, a teacher might choose to observe (e.g., children attempting to open their milk cartons), choose from their repertoire of techniques (e.g., rhyming and letter matching), take the opportunity (e.g., “I like milk, too. Do I say ‘mmmmm’ or’eyeoo.’ . . . What are other foods that make you say ‘mmmm’? . . . . Other foods that make you say ‘eyeoo’?” and “Look at this ‘c’ on the carton. Are there any [children’s] names here that begin with a ‘c’?”); and make a self-reflection (e.g., “Did I take the opportunity at lunch? Any potential portfolio entries?”).

Preparing the Classroom

Prior to preparing the lessons, teachers must set up areas and materials in their classrooms. The suggestions that follow will support implementation of the Building Language curriculum. Only minor changes need to be made daily, specifically for dramatic play activities that will be discussed later. Building Language recommends that teachers prepare the following areas and materials in their classrooms:
Manipulative toys (blocks, figures, and puzzles) for fine motor activities
Household materials and a housekeeping area that support dramatic play
Water and sand tables to promote experimentation with quantity and shapes
Art area and materials
Block area for experimentation with colors, shapes, weights, quantities, and balance
Literacy and book areas for quiet activities
Developmentally appropriate computer program area
Area for gross motor activities
Area for large group and circle activities
Wall spaces for art /preliteracy activity displays

Planning the Lessons

Developing certain skills by kindergarten is critical for academic success (see Table 2.1). Although many preschoolers will not achieve all of these goals by kindergarten, preschool teachers should address these skills for children when planning their activities in the areas of concepts, vocabulary, listening skills, and phonemic awareness.

The lessons that make up the Building Language curriculum address each of these areas. The curriculum consists of several activities each day that make up a daily theme. These daily themes fit into a broader weekly theme. For example, Animals is a weekly theme in the curriculum. The daily themes might include Pets, Zoo Animals, and Farm Animals. The many activities found in the weekly grid for each lesson are purposefully not organized into a schedule; rather, they are designed to be fit into a classroom’s daily routines as they presently exist. Most teachers are able to implement the curriculum with very little disruption to their existing schedules.

The lessons are organized to fit into a half-day or full-day program. We determined that after greeting time, activities can be accomplished in about an hour and a half. For a morning program with arrival at 9:00 A.M., the lesson plan can be completed by 11:15 to 11:30 A.M., when lunch is served. For full-day programs, the afternoons can be occupied with more child-directed activity. In half-day programs, there is a significant amount of time available for child-directed activity. Our curriculum anticipates a typical preschool day:

  • Arrival/greeting
  • Breakfast (if full day)
  • Circle and planning time
  • Enrichment vocabulary activity
  • Dramatic play setup
  • Dramatic play activity/group/centers/art
  • Gross motor play
  • Reading circle
  • Art /music
  • Cleanup, snack, lunch

The weekly lessons in the Building Language curriculum are arranged with traditions and needs in mind. Teachers find that the months of December and January bring lessons that deal with traditional winter themes and activities. Similarly, March and April bring spring time experiences. Deeper goals become clear, however, when analyzing a child’s development and what skills need to be attained for success in kindergarten and beyond. Some lessons are implemented later in the year because the activities and knowledge needed to get the most out of them require a foundation on which to build. The first lessons of the year address the fundamental experiences of school and family. Some activities are repeated two or more times during the year. This repetition provides an excellent opportunity for children to build on what was previously introduced and for the teachers to observe more closely growth in the children.

The activities within the Building Language curriculum are suggestions. Using information from assessments, and their own knowledge about their student’s abilities and skills, teachers should emphasize what they feel is appropriate. Each week contains suggestions for enrichment vocabulary/language concepts, preliteracy activities, dramatic play opportunities, books, art projects, and music/rhythm activities.

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