Crafting a Language Rich Classroom


Traits of a Language Rich Classroom

Language rich environments promote direct interaction with contextual print and vocabulary in facilitative, non-threatening ways.   These types of learning environments are especially critical for ELLs, who are likely to have had limited exposure to literacy in the new language.   Classrooms can and should be designed to promote literacy accessibility across all language and reading levels.  Print rich environments accomplish this by providing students many different opportunities to engage in many different components of language and literacy.

The key in creating an effective print-rich environment is to first evaluate the specific ages, interests and learning needs of a student population.  An 8th grade Newcomer classroom should not reflect the learning or interest needs of an kindergarten Newcomer classroom, a 3rd grade ESL classroom or a sophomore Geography class.   Print-rich planning should encourage rigorous, grade-level content learning by making language more accessible to developing readers and language learners.

 The good news: creating a language rich learning environment is not rocket science.  In fact, you are likely incorporating many literacy-promoting techniques in your school or classroom right now.  Our aim, then, is to grow and refine our repertoire.  The following ideas can be employed across multiple grade and content levels. Start with two or three; add on as the school year progresses.

 Exposing children to more than one form of communication sparks interest and interest turns into learning. This connection quickly becomes the making of meaning for reading.  –Leyva & McClure, et al.


·       Rebus Labeling: Familiar items (door, bookshelf, glue) should be clearly labeled and in student view.  Labeling works best when combined with an image.  To avoid over-stimulation, refrain from labeling every item in the room.  For example, one “ window” tag is sufficient, even if there are four windows in the room.

·       Content Language Objectives: CLOs should be visible at child-height, clearly printed and worded in student-friendly ways.  Objectives should be read aloud and together with students at the beginning of each lesson and revisited throughout.  Eventually, academic frames used in Content Language Objectives will become predictable; and individual or small groups of students may have the responsibility of reading CLOs aloud to the class.

·       Student-created books: Learners develop special relationships with stories and books they create.  The act of physically and mentally composing text makes it relatable and “readable” in subsequent visits to the material, even if a child is not yet actually (or fully) literate in the text language.   Student-created books also encourage sequencing and oral production and fluency, when shared aloud.

·       Teacher-created books:  Teacher-created books serve many of the same functions and advantages of student-created texts.   Instructor-created books, however, are more deliberate in their use of content-based vocabulary, target sight words and proper grammar and punctuation. 

·       Name Labels: Students love seeing their name- it’s also a great way to encourage print concepts!  Options: label student photos, desks, lockers, cubbies, notebooks, attendance markers

·       Displayed Co-Created Work: These samples should remain in student view for the day or days for which they are relevant.  Ideas include: morning message, whole group text summaries, co-created objectives, daily weather or “news” reports.

·       Print-based charts: Essential charts are very helpful.  Again, the caution is in not overdoing it.  Too many posters create clutter and issues with over-stimulation.  Pick and choose carefully, and re-adjust as students’ specific learning and unit needs change.  Examples: days of the week, months of the year, weather, colors, sight words, planets, homonyms, life cycle, Pledge of Allegiance. Alphabet, calendars, schedules, directions, number line, teacher helpers, anchor charts and rubrics are posted in clear student view and referred to often.

·       Frequent Read-Alouds: Listening to teacher read-alouds and audio read-alouds of text encourage auditory processing and help students learn to identify and use appropriate intonation and emphasis.  Tip: Read like an adult.  Learners should hear (and learn to mimic) natural tonal fluctuation.

·       Language Based Technology and Media: Computer-based programs that support language learning and literacy can be incorporated as station work.  Watch for: computer use as a crutch, diversion or means of “occupying” a learner during mainstream instruction.

·       Displayed Student Work: This is a very powerful tool for promoting student confidence and encouraging learners to read and reflect on peer accomplishments.  Posted teacher celebrations on the work (or peer celebrations) also encourage reading!

·       Writing Centers:  Writing centers are a chance for students to explore print and practice skills in differentiated ways. Provide different sized writing tools to develop fine motor skills and interesting paper sources that invite participation.  Suggestions: shopping lists, thank-you cards, Pen Pal writing, journaling, invitations, notes to teachers and school personnel, postcards, reading response logs.  Early writers will benefit from sentence stems and graphic organizer choices.

·       Teacher-print: Teacher-printed dictation, summaries of student expression, daily vocabulary or other relevant items are meaningful to students as models for appropriate spelling, spacing, punctuation and print.

·       Murals: Whole class murals invite students to contribute understanding and insight on a theme in ways that are accessible to each at his or her own language development level.  A mural on the story, Swimmy, by Leo Leonni, for example, might include a story line or multiple story lines; labeled pictures of fish, characters with thinking or speaking bubbles; pictures or descriptions of the environment; single or multi-sentence structures about the story; opinions on characters or plot; or non-fiction statements about fish.  A word of note: language development is key.  That is, while illustration is an important element of mural work, it should not be the only element.  Encourage students to exchange topic-focused thoughts with their peers as they work and to include some variation of print expression with every illustration.

·       Classroom Libraries:  Inviting, comfortable classroom libraries are an essential component of the Newcomer classroom (or any classroom!). Exemplary classroom libraries are age, ability and interest appropriate, and they are representative of a global community. Newcomer classrooms are especially diverse and include an incredible range of reading and interest levels; libraries should reflect this diversity.  Books should be organized and clearly labeled.  Students will benefit from reading books at their level and also exploring other texts in interest areas that are outside of reader ability.  Early readers, especially, will learn to explore print concepts, picture cues, captions, directionality and broad content idea-shaping.  Depending on the age and grade level, Newcomer classroom libraries areas should include:

o   Picture, dual language (where applicable), English dictionaries

o   Tactile and Predictable Picture Books

o   Special-interest books

o   Multi-cultural books

o   Dual-language books, where accessible

o   Grade-level content texts with supports

o   Maps and atlases

o   Magazines

o   Play-based and life-based print: magnetic letters, menus, phone books, recipes, bus schedules, business cards

·       Word Walls: As many thoughts and ideas exist on word walls as word walls themselves.  Alphabetically, by unit, by tiers, by reading group, by color code?  Growing throughout the year or rotating through? So many choices!  Bottom line?  They work!  Ask around, try different variations… see what works best for you, then modify and refine. 

·       Theme displays: Theme displays are helpful in anchoring ideas related to an ongoing unit.  These are excellent areas to post unit vocabulary, charts, pictures, student work and teacher dictation related to a topic.

·       Involve parents: This may be the most important trait of all.  Most Newcomer parents do wish to help their students learn English and succeed in school.  The most commonly heard Newcomer parent frustration?  The feeling of helplessness that arises in wanting to aid their child in at-home learning, while working through language learning themselves.  In the vast majority of cases, Newcomer parents are eager to take part in their child’s successes and are open to guidance from the teacher and school.  So- make this process fun!  Allow for activities that can be completed as a family.  Host parents at the school to discuss cultural expectations around parent involvement in learning and creating quiet “homework” spaces at home.  Invite parents to share their strengths with students.  Parents can gain confidence by working with their children on math, teaching them the history of their heritage country, creating regional maps, or explaining in-depth science concepts in the native language.  Learning is a collaborative process- and parents are an essential link!


Download & print Language Functional Survey (GREAT for classroom observations!) HERE