We are the Play Learning Lab, run by Dr. Angela Pyle at the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto.

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Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study

45 Walmer Road, Room 320
Toronto, ON M5R 2X2

© 2018 by Play Learning Lab

Junior Kindergarten Activities

Using Guided Play To Support Oral Language Development

This series of connected lessons uses coding and robot play to support the development of oral communication skills, including directional vocabulary, sequencing, and providing clear instructions.

Step One: Learning to Code

What did the children learn?

Prior to a class discussion on robots and coding, the teacher familiarized the students with simple three-step sequencing puzzles that were used to introduce the target language, “first, then, last.” As a group, the class looked at pictures of basic sequences (e.g. putting jam and peanut butter on bread to make a sandwich), and practiced reordering them. Each time, the teacher repeated the language to help students consolidate the learning. 

What did the class do?

1. The teacher facilitated a discussion about robots with the class. Discussion questions included:

  • What are they? 

  • Examples of robots? 

  • How do robots know what to do?.

 

From this discussion, a new game was created.  In this game, one student would assume the role of a pretend robot, while the rest of the class were programmers, who could tell the robot what to do. 

“You had to say lots of words” 

“It was tricky because at first she didn’t understand what I was saying” 

3. A follow up to the sequencing/coding lesson was done using the coding and sequence-building game, Puzzlets. After some direct instruction, the students worked through the sequencing puzzles in groups of two or more, depending on the amount of support needed. 

2. The same “first, then, last” language from the introductory activity was used. The teacher created action cards that students could choose from. In the role of pretend robot, students could not see the actions, but had to wait for the programmer to give them oral instructions to act out the actions.

Step Two: Telling Stories in Proper Sequence 

What did the children learn?

 

Next, the teachers provided more explicit instruction in the use of ‘first’, ‘next’ and ‘last’ when retelling stories. Their goal was to enrich play scenarios and story telling through the use of these prompts. Providing the children with meaningful opportunities to practice this language was an important first step. 

What did the class do?

1. The teachers started by giving student common classroom scenarios to sequence, including:

  1. Getting ready for lunch - 

    • Washing your hands

    • Getting you lunch bag

    • Lining up

  2. Morning jobs -

    • Take your name of the board

    • Pick your zone

    • Find a book

  3. Tidy up time -

    • Five more minutes

    • Hear the tambourine

    • Tidy up

2. As a group, the children sequenced the scenarios onto a felt board, allowing them to easily change the position of the pictures. The children practiced explaining the scenarios starting with the given prompts, and were challenged to add more details.

Step Three: Playing Robots to Reinforce Our Learning 

What did the children learn?

 

The children were then given the opportunity to put their learning about coding and using sequencing language into practice, coming up with some of their own sequence scenarios to act out while playing a robot/programmer game with their peers.  This final piece of the exploration was used to reinforce all that was learned earlier about coding and the importance of clear instructional language.

What did the class do?

1.  The teachers first modelled the robot/programmer game with the whole class, pretending to be the programmer (indicated by wearing a unicorn horn) while one child was chosen to be the robot. 

 

2. The students were then sent to play with blocks in pairs. They took turns assuming both roles, with the programmer instructing the robot on which blocks to choose and where to place them. 

3. They talked about how it is important for the robot to ask questions to ensure they understand the instruction, check in with the programmer to stay on the right track, and listen carefully to instructions and directions. It is also important for the programmer to be clear in their instructions, pay attention to how the robot is moving the pieces, and give lots of details.

"It helped when he told me the sizes like big, medium and small and the number of blocks”

What was the teacher's role? 

 

  • Modelling positive language, such as "think of how you can add more details" or "use descriptive language to help the robot" when children need additional support

  • Helping children manage their impulsivity. For example, reminding the programmer to use their words when they steps in to also do the job of the robot

  • Supporting students with providing clear and explicit instructions

  • Helping support the integration of directional language