How to Teach Language Structure Skills

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In this article, you’ll discover the essentials of instruction in language concepts, a set of skills that support the development of reading comprehension. Then, you’ll learn strategies to help your students develop language concepts skills —along with five free foldable books available in English and Spanish!

The Elements of Language Concepts

Language concepts refer to how written language is organized, and it is an umbrella term for the skills that make up the literacy knowledge and language structures strands of Scarborough’s Reading Rope.

“These skills are woven together to help students read more strategically,” said Waterford Director of Curriculum Julie Christensen in a recent video, “[particularly] language structure and literacy knowledge.” [1]

Because learning about language concepts can help you teach reading more effectively, let’s take a closer look at these skill areas.

Literacy Knowledge

Literacy knowledge is a key part of language comprehension, one of the strategic skills on Scarborough’s Reading Rope that results in fluent reading comprehension.

Here are a few subskills that fall under the literacy knowledge umbrella.

Print Concepts: This skill teaches students that print represents language, that we read from left to right, that letters make words, and that words can be combined to make sentences that convey ideas.

student reading

Genres: The more genres that a student encounters as they learn to read—including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry—the stronger their vocabulary and background knowledge will become.[1] Exposure to various genres in your classroom library also helps students discover different purposes for reading, like reading a fantasy novel for enjoyment, reading a math book to learn how to multiply and divide, or reading the ingredients on a cereal box to learn what’s inside.[1]

Text Features & Structures: Teach students to interpret text features such as chapters, headings, captions, and glossaries. Help them understand the structures of texts. Is the text organized around a problem and solution? Does it compare and contrast ideas? Does it explain a sequence of events? This type of instruction supports reading comprehension and transfers to students’ own writing skills.[1]

Language Structures

Another language comprehension skill in Scarborough’s Reading Rope is language structures, which includes the following two subskills.

Spelling Conventions: As students learn about the orthographic mapping process, they also develop important insights into spelling conventions. English words, for example, do not end with the letter v, letter combinations like -tch and -dge never appear at the beginnings of words, and many other letter combinations are not allowed. While many of these rules will need to be overtly taught, others are more subtle nuances that readers will pick up on over time.

Punctuation: This skill involves an understanding of how punctuation contributes to meaning and supports both reading fluency and comprehension.

Parts of Speech: Understanding grammar is directly linked to another critical reading skill—reading comprehension.[3] As a result, students with strong grammar skills are better able to understand and interpret what they read.

When teaching about parts of speech, focus on their functions in a sentence. Help your students understand how parts of speech answer the questions who, what, when, where, and how.

Syntax: Learning about syntax teaches students how to construct sentences and helps them develop sentence level comprehension[1]. Sentence level comprehension provides the building blocks for comprehending larger passages and for developingstrong writing skills.

How to Teach Language Structure and Literacy Knowledge

Children listening storiesLike reading comprehension skills, the best way to teach the basic concepts of language is through explicit instruction.[1] Take time to teach your students how written language is organized.

Also, always focus on the text’s meaning. When teaching about text features, text structures, parts of speech, punctuation, and syntax, provide clear information about how these organizing principles of language contribute to the meanings of texts. You can even try activities that resemble the popular game Wordle to build your students’ understanding of spelling conventions! Try starting with 3-letter words with younger students to teach common vocabulary words, and use 4- or 5-letter words for older students.

Additionally, according to Julie Christensen, it can be helpful to link activities about language concepts to a theme or topic you are teaching in class. That way, your students will also gain content knowledge that supports their reading comprehension.

Finally, make sure to include a variety of genres (like fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) in your reading curriculum.[1] Different genres expose students to themes and subjects in unique ways, so reading a variety of texts will help develop their critical thinking skills.[4]

5 Free Foldable Picture Books to Teach Print Concepts

Understanding print concepts is an essential part of learning to read. These free foldable children’s books, available in English and Spanish, are perfect for introducing young students to print concepts.

After downloading and printing these books for your students, cut on the dotted lines and fold the book as indicated to put the pages in order. Then, staple the book along the left edges and share with your students. Or, for a fun reading craft, put the books together as a class.

1. Opposites (Spanish: Opuestos): On and off, day and night, hot and cold—this picture book is perfect for teaching young readers about opposites.

2. At Camp (Spanish: En el campamento): What does this girl see at summer camp? A cactus, a canoe, a cow, and so much more!

3. The Zebra (Spanish: La Cebra): With this story about a zany zebra at the zoo, your students can practice sounding out words starting with Z.

4. Rascal’s Rotten Day (Spanish: El día terrible de Rascal): Rascal the Rhinoceros is having a terrible day! Will he ever catch a break?

5. Under (Spanish: Debajo): You can use this foldable picture book about a girl preparing for her soccer game to help your students learn about prepositions.

Sources:

1. Christensen, J., & Esser, L. Language Concepts: The Structure of Written Language. Video from Waterford.org. February 8, 2022.

2. Christensen, J. The Science of Reading: From Research to Instruction. Waterford.org, April 2021.

3. Silva, M., and Cain, K. (2015). The relations between lower and higher level comprehension skills and their role in prediction of early reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(2), pp. 321–331.

4. Reading Rockets Staff. The Importance of Reading Widely. https://www.readingrockets.org/article/importance-reading-widely.

5. Adams, M.J. Beginning To Read: Thinking and Learning about Print. February 3, 1994. MIT Press. Print.

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