Being able to read in another languages is not just an advantage during travel abroad, it’s so much more! Being biliterate gives my children the opportunity to fully participate in Latin culture by mastering the nuances of the language and appreciating children’s literature, movies, the arts in their original form (not through translations!). For bilingual families, reading and writing means they can write emails and letters to their cousins and grandparents- actively maintaining relationships (and their language skills) when school life is full of English.
One way to foster bi-literacy is to to surround our kids with a print rich environment, with abundant displays of printed materials: classroom labels on everything, a variety of newspapers, magazines, and books, countless creative ways to practice writing, etc. Whether you are a parent or teacher looking to expose your kids to another language, or you’d like to reinforce bilingual literacy: these 5 tips will establish a print rich environment in both languages.
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1. Books, Books, and more Books!
The most obvious inclusion in a print rich classroom, the presence of reading materials. Ensure that your collections contains books about a wide variety of topics, genres, and reading levels so that kids can expand their vocabulary as they become more familiar with spelling and the written language: include science and nature books, lift the flap books, princess books- whatever will entice your kids to read more. Expand the print beyond books: my sister-in-law gets my kids a magazine subscription “Ask- en español” every year and they love the new stories and articles!
No matter how small the niche is, a comfortable reading corner encourages kids to snuggle up with a book- whether they are reading to themselves, to your dog, or to their stuffed animals. Get some throw pillows or a beanbag chair- I’ve even seen someone use a no longer needed crib mattress!- and place them in a cozy corner alongside baskets of books (of course I also have a world map in our reading nook)–
2. Bilingual Labels
Functional print is the print that children see around their classroom, home, and community that gives them information and teaches them that printed words help people communicate. The best classroom labels will be written or printed clearly with uniform letters and correctly used capital and lowercase letters- including accents or special characters inherent to the languages.
Labeling objects in two languages helps children understand that the words have meaning, but also expands their vocabulary when placed on the common objects that kids see and use every day: clock, window, table, chair. This promotes letter and word recognition and encourages reading- and reminds kids how certain words are spelled. My kids were shocked when they learned that ventana (window) started with a “v” instead of a “b” and that silla (chair) was spelled with double “l” instead of a “y”!
Labeling can be used to organize schedules, do calendar work, and tell children where things belong when cleaning up. Check out these bilingual classroom labels with world flags, and these with neon chevron.
3. Writing Opportunities
Print rich environments are not only rich in reading opportunities, but writing as well. Practicing writing skills can be incorporated into daily routines and special occasions:
- thank you notes
- shopping lists
- “things to do”
- meal planning
- ideas for vacations
- penpal letters
- notes to teachers
- postcards from trips
So many ways to practice writing! Have supplies ready and available to invite kids to compose authentic writing in both languages- colorful paper, all kinds of writing utensils, stationary, stamps, etc.
We found those Spanish Uppercase Alphabet Stamps on amazon (they include the ñ!!).
4. Environmental Print
This is difficult to acquire when living in a community that doesn’t speak the language you are attempting to teach! There are tons of free pdf’s of brands and stores in English (see here and here), but finding it in another language can be much harder. A print rich environment requires a lot of authentic materials readily available for kids.
When native speakers of the language are in your class, ask them to clip labels and brands and bring them in. Google brands and stores in the other languages, and print out the images. Another source for an excellent collection of Spanish environmental print is this free download from TeachersPayTeachers. Younger children can usually “read” the print because they recognize the shape and colors of the images and symbols, which reinforces literacy and builds confidence.
5. DIY Student Books
Whether it’s samples of student writing, written dictation of student describing their artwork, homemade booklets, or minibooks illustrated or colored in by students, it is vital to have samples of student writing in a print rich environment. Student generated books can be as simple as their pictures stapled together into a booklet, or for older kids, stories typed out and published on the computer. Reading and re-reading these works in the target language benefits kids as they become more fluent, confident, and natural with their words.
DIY Book Ideas:
1) Tell the story of your vacation! Collect postcards along the trip, and have children write a couple of sentences on the back about what the did and saw. When you get home, punch holes and use string to bind the “book” that can be re-read.
2) Make an “All About Me” book, either using pictures and sentences, or by filling in this excellent template. Kids love to talk about themselves, and with creativity their book really can be a snapshot of their lives at this age- such a treasure to be re-read over and over!
3) For the youngest students, staple together 3 sheets of papers to make a book and have them draw pictures of their story. Then, they can dictate the story to an adult, who can write it above the pictures.
Recent research is unequivocal on the development of reading and writing skills in young children: literacy skills begin during the early years, with varying opportunities to respond to authentic language. A print rich environment is especially important for bilingual children, as they master double the vocabulary, syntax, and spoken language.
Do you have any other ways to support bi-literacy in young children? Share them in the comments!