How to Teach Kindergarten Language Arts

Instructor: Sharon Linde
New research in education has led to new methods of instruction in language arts. Young children in kindergarten still learn the basics, but the methods of instruction have shifted towards a hands-on approach that allows them to experience learning. Using a reader's and writer's workshop approach has become the norm for language arts instruction in kindergarten.

Important Language Arts Components in Kindergarten

In education, the term language arts refers to all aspects of reading and writing, including awareness of speech and letter/sound relationships, which we'll detail below. In a kindergarten classroom, children are introduced to the concepts, many for the first time, and learning how to put these ideas together pretty rapidly. Children typically enter their kindergarten classroom as pre-readers and leave with a solid understanding of literacy. Because of this, teachers play an important role in teaching children the many different shades of reading and writing. Let's peek into a typical kindergarten language arts classroom.

young child reading

Take a Closer Look

On a typical day in Ms. Smith's kindergarten classroom, she spends more than half the time immersed in language arts. She instructs her students in many areas to make sure they gain a solid understanding of the nuanced nature of reading and writing. Children decode words when reading and encode when writing. In other words, Ms. Smith is scaffolding learning in decoding, which is reading words, and encoding, which is writing words. But it gets a little deeper than that! Some of the learning going on today includes:

  • Understanding sounds - The cornerstone of language arts is, of course, letters and words. When teaching students to read, Ms. Smith starts with phonological and phonemic awareness. Phonological awareness is the understanding of sounds in speech. The first step to reading is the awareness that the words have individual sounds, and these sounds are represented by letters. If children have solid phonological awareness, they recognize syllables; the word cat has one syllable. They also understand each sound in the word; cat has three sounds, /c/ /a/ /t/. Understanding that words have individual sounds is phonemic awareness.

Ms. Smith knows that in order for her students to learn to read, they must first have a solid understanding of phonological and phonemic awareness. Children who don't will have a difficult time understanding letter-sound correspondence, the next step in language arts instruction. Ms. Smith scaffolds this learning by providing specific instruction in phonological and phonemic awareness activities daily.

  • Ms. Smith will also provide many opportunities for her kindergarteners to learn the alphabet. Children need to know that sounds have symbols that represent them, also called the alphabet. In language arts instruction, this is called the alphabetic principle. Print represents the words we speak. This concept goes both ways; the words we speak are turned into print, and print can be turned into speech, encoding and decoding. In addition to singing songs about the alphabet, children in Ms. Smith's class will have many opportunities to write, draw and manipulate letters.
  • Ms. Smith works with readers on their concepts of print. She recognizes that her students need to learn and recognize how the written word looks and works in books. For example, children are taught where to begin reading on a page, how to move from one page to the next, and what word, sentence and line spacing means. Ms. Smith will read many big books aloud to demonstrate these concepts.

Ms. Smith organizes her day to include all aspects of language arts into her classroom. She is specific and intentional about instruction and recognizes that not all children are on the same level. How does she make sure all students' needs are being met? Using the workshop model, Ms. Smith is able to differentiate, or make learning specific for all her students.

Workshop

In kindergarten language arts programs, a model of instruction widely used is the workshop method. Using this model, Ms. Smith is able to provide individual attention to students while teaching a whole class topic.

In reader's workshop, Ms. Smith follows a predictable routine. The workshop begins with a model lesson, typically delivered with a mini-lesson by reading a book aloud to students and instructing and modeling the specific concept. For example, if the objective for the day is for students to understand to stop at periods, she will read a big book aloud to the students, telling and showing them how to stop at all periods in the text. She will allow students to practice this together a few times as a group.

Next, students will practice the skill independently. During this time, the children go to read their own books; they may also participate in different learning opportunities around the room called centers or stations. Ms. Smith designs these centers to be independent practice for the concepts we reviewed above: phonemic and phonological awareness, letter and word practice, and concepts of print. These centers are set up as games and other learning-centered activities.

reading conference

It is also during this time that Ms. Smith works with small groups or individual students. Depending on the student's needs, Ms. Smith may work on the skill for the day, review a previously taught lesson or progress to the student's level.

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