SISMIK | Language Behavior and Interest in Language among Migrant Children in Day Care Centers

What is a language assessment?

A language assessment is used to determine a person’s abilities with respect to language. Since the development of language plays an important role in young childhood, various observation procedures have been developed. These serve as an aid for educators, parents and physicians to better assess the age-appropriate development of the child.

Observation and documentation – Why they are important

Systematic observation plays an important role in the Kita and is the basis of the work. In order to better record observations in everyday life, various observation procedures have been developed to assist educators. The results and evaluations of the procedures in turn make it easier to develop a plan in case of abnormalities in order to support the child in the best possible way. This can be individually adapted to the child based on the observation method used. Another advantage is that the documentation of the development facilitates a parent interview.

The SISMIK observation procedure

There is now a wide range of observation procedures available for daycare centers. One of them is the SISMIK observation sheet. This was developed individually for migrant children. It is used in the elementary sector to specifically observe the language development of migrant children as early as kindergarten age. The questionnaire is not only filled out when the child shows first conspicuities in his language development, but already before.

The acronym stands for “Language Behavior and Interest in Language among Migrant Children in Day Care Centers.” The method was developed by M. Ulich and T. Mayr in 2003. It can be used with migrant children from 3 ½ years old until they start school. In the process, all areas of everyday language behavior are illuminated through various questions and assessed by the educator. A similar procedure exists for children growing up speaking German. This is called SELDAK. The handling of the two sheets is exactly the same. The only difference is the focus of the questions regarding the child’s first language. Child day care centers can order the two observation procedures from the Herder publishing house. A set contains ten sheets and an accompanying booklet for about 7.99 euros.

The structure of the sheet

The observation sheet is divided into four parts:

  • Part 1: Language behavior in language-relevant situations
  • Part 2: Linguistic competence in the narrower sense (German)
  • Part 3: Family language of the child
  • Part 4: Family of the child

A six-point scale helps the observer fill out the sheet. In doing so, he or she ticks off how often the behavior applies. A few examples are summarized below:

  • Part 1: This is to assess through observation how often the child exhibits certain behaviors related to language. How often does he talk to other children or adults, look at picture books, role play, or act out in a circle of chairs in front of the group?
  • Part 2: This part is about everyday situations of language competence. Does the child understand action orders and can implement them, how does he/she speak and how much does he/she speak
  • Part 3: Here the child’s language of origin is highlighted and how it is dealt with in the institution. Does it speak in the native language in the facility, with whom and how often does it switch back and forth between languages
  • Part 4: For the last part, one gets the parents of the observed child on board in order to be able to evaluate the child’s life situation. For this, there is a parent letter about the procedure in 15 different languages. This is intended to facilitate cooperation with foreign-language parents. Together, they then discuss issues that revolve around family and daycare. How does the family relate to the daycare center, how does the family live and speak

The accompanying booklet

In addition to the sheets, there is an accompanying booklet. This comprises 24 pages and is automatically supplied with the purchase of ten sheets. It helps the user with the first use and evaluation of the sheet. Thus, educators can easily see at the end whether the child has a need for language support or not. Examples can also be found in the accompanying booklet in order to support, encourage and accompany the child in its language development in the best possible way. However, if the child has a severe speech disorder, the sheet is not sufficient to diagnose it. In such a case, specialists should be consulted.

Contents of the accompanying booklet

First, the accompanying booklet describes the concept of SISMIK and explains the structure of the observation sheet. The user is told how best to proceed with the observation and how to start. The booklet contains various tips on how to use the process. This includes, for example, teamwork. The next section of the accompanying booklet deals with the evaluation of the observation sheet. This is explained by means of examples. Scales then help to identify whether the child is within the norm or has a need for support. For the possible need of support there are again hints and tips for the kindergarten everyday life.


For whom is the observation procedure suitable?

The SISMIK observation procedure was developed specifically for migrant children. It is to be used specifically for children growing up multilingual. It serves as a facilitator for the educator’s observation task. It also facilitates the development of an individualized support plan for the child. In order to see exactly how language develops over the years, the sheet should be completed regularly from the age of 3 ½ years. The observation procedure is not intended as an emergency solution when urgent action is needed. The observation procedure is also not intended for diagnostics.

All children from 3 ½ years of age until school entry who grow up multilingual may be observed using this sheet. This includes all children with a migration background, i.e. repatriates, immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees as well as children growing up bilingually for other reasons. Even if the child speaks German at home, but his parents speak to him in another language, it makes sense to use SISMIK.

The concept behind the observation procedure

Although the observation procedure was not developed for diagnostic purposes, users can still use the sheet to quickly find out whether the child has a need for support or not. If educators use the procedure regularly, they will be well sensitized to developmental progress or stagnation. In this way, a support plan can be drawn up in good time or help can be called in.

The starting point for the procedure, as with most educational documentation procedures, is the question “What is normal development like?” The questions in this sheet have been developed over many years and improved and refined through observation. Thus, it can now be assumed that the questions provide a good basis for a child’s “normal” language development. Many educators have tested the method in their facilities with many migrant children and have been able to use it to increase the children’s interest in language.

The language motivation of migrant children

The development of language is very complex and accompanies the child for many years. Already in the womb, the child begins to respond to the mother’s voice. So it’s no wonder that learning more than one language is a challenge for children. Nevertheless, they find it much easier than we adults do. In fact, researchers suggest that learning a foreign language can only succeed perfectly until puberty. For young adults, perfect learning is no longer possible.

Depending on what a child has experienced, he or she may still find it very difficult to learn another language. This has less to do with his ability to learn than with his psyche. After an escape, the child may be severely traumatized. It is all too understandable why it shows little motivation to speak in this situation. However, the child’s learning experience (also in relation to language) is primarily through interest in language. This requires the motivation to participate in everyday life. In terms of language, this means, for example, participation in the circle of chairs, in conversations, picture book reflections or role plays. Therefore, many questions in the first part of the observation sheet deal with the question of language motivation.


Literacy stands for reading and writing skills. This also includes children’s experiences with books, storytelling, and drawing their first letters or numbers. Since the sheet is also suitable for preschool children, the area of literacy is an important point in the observation procedure. Younger children’s experiences around literacy also impact their later development in reading and writing.

Language competence

Furthermore, the child’s language competence is closely examined in the observation procedure. The focus is on German language skills, not on the child’s native or other foreign language. By asking questions about everyday situations, for example, whether the child can retell a story or report something in the circle of chairs, the educator finds out how well the child’s German language competence is progressing. SISMIK deals with very practical questions in order to facilitate observation in everyday kindergarten life.

The language within the family of the observed child

Through the questions in the third part of the observation procedure, the educator gets a more accurate view of the child’s family. This not only gives him a better general picture of the child’s language development, but also allows him to create an individual support plan. For example, does the child only have difficulties with the German language or does he or she also not learn the native language properly? The child’s family serves as an aid for the third and fourth parts of the observation procedure. For good language development, the whole picture must be considered. Learning German cannot be considered in isolation from the family situation.


How does the observation sheet work?

The observation sheet consists of four parts (1. Part: Language behavior in language-relevant situations, Part 2: Linguistic competence in the narrower sense (German), Part 3: Family language of the child, 4th part: family of the child) and the accompanying booklet. The observer should read the accompanying booklet beforehand and also look at the sheet in advance. On the cover page of the sheet, the child’s name, date of birth, gender, family language and nationality are entered.

Each of the four parts of the arc is now again divided into different parts. These are spelled out. Behind each is a scale from 1 to 6 to check off. The respective number stands for never to very often. Different behaviors are described for each item, which explains the area in more detail.

The first part includes the following areas:

A: Breakfast table

B: Role plays

C: Play partners during free play time

D: Individual interview with pedagogical reference persons

E: Discussion rounds and chair circle

Q: Comprehension problems/lack of expression (in German).

G: Picture book viewing as a pedagogical offer in the small group (in German language)

H: Reading aloud/telling as a pedagogical offer in the small group.

I: independent handling of picture books (starting from the child, not from the teacher)

J: Interest in writing

K: rhymes – fantasy words – different languages

Example: Part 1, A: Breakfast table, “The child actively participates in conversations in German”.

The second part includes the following areas:

L: understanding orders for action, prompts.

M: Speech and vocabulary

N: Sentence structure and grammar

Example: Part 2, M: Speech and vocabulary, “Child can describe objects”.

The third part includes the following areas:

O: Handling of the child with his family language in the institution

P: The view of parents and other adults with the same family language.

The fourth part is not further divided. For this part, educators need the cooperation of the child’s parents. Taken together, the four parts provide a good overview of child language development when evaluated. For this you also need the fourth part, because the mother tongue belongs to the child. So it is important to fill in and evaluate the last part as well.


Suggested Citation

Götz, S. (2021). Language behavior and interest in language among migrant children in day care centers. Language assessment and observation procedures. ISSN: 2748-2979. Accessed 29.08.2021. Available at:

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