Young children love to hear and tell their own stories. When my children were first learning to read and write, their classroom teacher had a special writing center where children were encouraged to write and draw their own “books.” She also had them take turns sitting in a large comfortable “Author’s Chair” where they shared their “books” with classmates. Although my children are now adults, I have kept some of these short “books” that they created when they were very young. I like to look back and remember how their reading and writing skills developed across several of their original “books.”
Young children who are dual language learners (DLLs) can be encouraged to write and illustrate their own books in both languages. Teachers and parents can have children dictate stories to them and put them on paper so children can see their own words in print. Reading books together (in both the heritage language and in English) that have repeated words or phrases make wonderful examples that children can imitate in their own dictated stories.
Seeing their own words written on paper (in their heritage language and/or in English) helps young children connect their spoken language with print. Learning to use their heritage language to create written materials provides DLLs with opportunities to strengthen their first language, which leads to developing strong literacy skills in both languages. Illustrating their own books teaches young DLLs to use pictures as clues for what is written on the page. A fun activity is to send paper and writing materials home for young children to create a dictated story at home that they can share with siblings, parents, and other family members.
An important part of writing stories is to share them with others. Teachers may want to display children’s dictated stories in the classroom book center for all the children to “read” together during choice time. Teachers or caregivers who have access to a video camera may create a video of the children “reading” their original stories in their heritage language while sitting in the Author’s Chair and post it on the class Web site to share with parents and extended family members. Story dictations can be a part of both the DLLs home and school environments. Encouraging young DLLs and their families to create books in their heritage language will produce benefits for that child’s literacy development for many years to come.