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April 6, 2015

“Oh Say Can You Say” – Using Great Language in Your Classroom

Teacher:        “Can you come to the changing table and get a clean diaper?”

Child:              “NO!”


Teacher:        “Do you want to get your jacket on to go outside?”

Child:              “No thanks.”

It has happened to all of us. While we’re trying to give a child a choice or give directions politely, we inadvertently start a power struggle or avoidable battle because of how we phrase something. Language is both what you say, and how you say it…and how you say something can really change what kind of information/answer you get.


This is something that is valuable to think about in your classroom too – using positive language and open ended questions to extend teaching and learning. Instead of asking yes/no questions (that usually start with ‘did you’, or ‘do you’), try asking questions during your day that will encourage children to tell you more! These more open ended questions usually start with ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘why’, or ‘how’. These are also great questions to ask when you’re exploring during your daily centers with each of your kids…“what do you think would happen if…?” “how does that play dough feel in your hands?” “where are you taking your baby doll?” This helps them to plan their play and extend what they’re working on.


The vocabulary and language that we use as teachers can also really help children to express themselves. You can also use these simple conversation extenders to help children to express what they’re saying even more fully: “what happened next?”, “and then what?” “tell me more”. Another way to spur conversations in your classroom is to reflect what your students are doing and saying: “you’re building in the block center with Johnny!” “you’re working really hard.” “you’re mixing red and white!” These will help you develop those informal conversations and interactions with the children in your classroom, and also deepen your relationship with each child by showing them that you notice and care about what they’re doing.


It’s also important to state your expectations clearly, so that you’re setting your students up to succeed. Instead of saying “be nice”, or “be friendly”, you can give your children specific things to say to their friends – empowering them to stand up for themselves and solve conflicts independently. Saying things like “you can tell Jack ‘you can have a turn when I’m done’” instead of just “use your words” helps children develop and use their social skills. You also want to avoid question statements like “do you want to get a clean diaper?” or “can you help me clean up?”  like in the example above – giving your students short, positive directions starting with “it’s time to”, “it’s your turn to”, and even “show me how you can” will help keep everything clear and consistent in your classroom!

-Contributed by Betsy Wilcox, Education Specialist