Five Language Skills to Master before Middle School
Written by: Erika Cardamone, speech-language pathologist and leader of the PAL Awards that recognizes exceptional games, toys, and books that advance language.
Entering middle school can be a big transition for your child. Upgrading to lockers, changing teachers and classrooms for core subjects, and a more rigorous academic schedule during and after the school day.
Alongside all of these changes, children’s language skills develop in big ways. They are reasoning more soundly, using logic, and thinking abstractly. They’re required to use their language and literacy skills across many subject areas. Much of the academic success that comes in secondary school is built on foundational language skills that progress from primary schools.
Phonemic Awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate individual sounds and assists in the development of reading and spelling skills. It gives readers a way to approach novel words by ensuring a strong understanding of sound rules. Rhyming and sound segmenting games, like Rooby’s ABCs, or word creation and spelling games like Chalk-A-Word, are great ways to reinforce these skills.
Elementary school teachers spend much time teaching phonemic awareness. By the time students advance to middle school grades, many teachers assume that their students have a well-developed understanding of this complex skill. Strong phonemic awareness skills are essential to reading success as reading becomes a gateway to learning, both independently and in the classroom.
Storytelling, or narrative development, is a critical skill that is mastered in elementary school. At this age, children still have beautiful imaginations and incredible creativity that they can share with the world. Children should be able to tell a descriptive and cohesive story with beginning, middle, and an end with story elements (characters, setting, problem) that becomes vital to academic success.
Strong vocabulary enhances narrative productions. Games like Is or Isn’t help children expand their vocabulary as they learn new words to express themselves both verbally and in written form. Spoken storytelling skills transfer to other modes of learning such as reading comprehension and writing.
Metacognition is the awareness of one’s own thought process. Children should understand how they learn and self-monitor their own thinking during reading or classroom instruction. Metacognition becomes an important skill in all learning and life experiences.
Metacognitive reading strategies may include students asking themselves “Do I understand what I just read?” Students may take the lead on evaluating their own progress or identifying when to ask for help.
Listening and Speaking
When we think of language skills, listening and speaking might seem pretty obvious. Classroom discussions are likely to become more complex where peers are sharing thoughts and ideas. Students are required to effectively engage in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, teacher led), with diverse partners. A quality discussion involves building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly. These foundational skills are critical for broadening knowledge, enhancing understanding, and building community.
The Art of Conversation
Some of us are still practicing mastering the art of conversation, so perhaps we can give the future middle schoolers a bit of a break here. However, conversational skills are always developing. Practice having conversations with your student using verbal and nonverbal signals can be helpful to a successful chat.
Verbal signals such as “Cool” or “That’s interesting,” and nonverbal signals such as nodding show the speaker that you’re engaging in active listening. Ensuring that each person has an opportunity to both listen and speak without being interrupted and taking turns all make for a great conversation.
Erika Cardamone is a speech-language pathologist, mom of four, and lives to learn through play. She works in schools and private practice helping children develop speech and language skills while using awesome toys and games to make learning fun.
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