Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing Update


Phase 1: July – October

On July 25, Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton launched the “Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing” campaign in Oakland, as part of Too Small to Fail, a joint initiative of Next Generation and the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. She made the announcement at a leadership meeting convened by Too Small to Fail and the Bay Area Council, with, community leaders across sectors who committed to bring business, philanthropic, public, education, non profit and health resources to close the word gap.

The following day, 2,000 families attended the city-wide Baby Shower and Toddler Party at Fairyland, sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, where they heard fun messages about talking, reading and singing from trusted pediatricians of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland and Kaiser Permanente.

Six thousand Oakland families have benefited from “Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing” tote bags in the first phase of the campaign in Oakland! First 5 Alameda and the Kenneth Rainin Foundation coordinated the distribution of the tote bags with the enthusiastic support of more than 20 community partners. About half the bags were given to families during pediatric visits and the others in settings ranging from a home visit to a playgroup. Early feedback has been consistently positive, with one pediatrician saying,

“I enjoy giving out the materials because families love them so much. The totes have changed the way I talk with families about language development and bonding. It starts the conversation in a fun and positive way and encourages me to really engage with families about their babies’ development.”

Since the kick off, campaign billboards and bus shelter ads donated by outdoor advertising company Clear Channel, were placed in East Oakland, West Oakland and other areas of the city. PSAs have aired on three different TV stations and the website has had approximately 8,000 visits.

October 2014 – September 2015: The Hospital Strategy Launch and Implementation

We are thrilled that Marc and Lynne Benioff have contributed $3.5 million towards deepening “Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing” in hospital settings, beginning with UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland and in future years, at the new UCSF Benioff Mission Bay Children’s Hospital campus. In late October 2014, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland will begin implementing the strategy at their primary care clinics serving Medicaid families. The strategy will include three main components:

  • Parent education about the importance of early language and brain development by pediatricians, parents’ most trusted information source about children;
  • Distribution of 2,000 “Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing” tote bags at birth to 3-month-old pediatric visits and at 18 to 24-month-old visits. These tote bags include baby clothing and blankets with prompts for parents; a Sesame Street Family Resource Guide and storybook; a Sesame Street CD; Sesame Street Word on the Street Cards; a donated book from Scholastic; and information about how to sign up for Text4baby, a free texting service for low-income pregnant or parenting moms that sends three text messages a week, including one with talking, reading and singing tips, as well as information about relevant local events, such as story time at the library.
  • A hospital-wide communications plan, including in-hospital posters and signs, as well as ads in local bus shelters and on hospital shuttles running to and from the nearest BART station.

In addition to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, Kaiser Permanente has committed to implement their own hospital strategy to educate parents, including the distribution of 5,000 tote bags at well-baby visits, and a registration program for Text4baby.

Recently, volunteers at the Dreamforce (Salesforce) conference in San Francisco assembled 2,000 tote bags to be distributed in UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland; and hospital doctors presented their plan at a White House convening on the word gap, co-hosted by Too Small to Fail, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the federal Departments of Education and Health and Human Services.

Next Steps: Community-Wide Effort Continues

  • The next phase of the broader community work will include:
    Pediatricians at community health centers, faith-based leaders, child care providers and other trusted messengers.
  • Working with Clear Channel and TV stations to ensure ongoing messages in the community.
  • Using lessons learned from the initial community-wide distribution to inform this iteration of the community-wide effort.


Leaders from numerous communities in California and across the United States have contacted us because they are interested in launching or enhancing a campaign focused on the word gap in their localities. In 2015, we will engage in a number of activities to support interested communities across the country, based on our experiences in Oakland and Tulsa (the second Too Small to Fail city). These will include:

  • Release of a word gap campaign road map highlighting best practices and lessons learned.
  • Sharing of website, campaign resources and an accompanying style guide so that the local campaigns can use Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing visuals.
  • A national convening for cities with word gap campaigns to inspire ideas and share experiences, along with capacity-building webinars.


Too Small to Fail has partnered with UCSF’s Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies to conduct the campaign evaluation. Their evaluation will address both the initial distribution of totes in the community and the hospital strategy. Evaluation results will help determine the future course of the campaign, with a particular eye toward scaling nationally by institutionalizing practices among trusted messengers in venues frequented by low-income families. They will share evaluation findings as they are released towards the end of the year.

Oakland – thank you for being part of a community solution to the word gap!

Submitted by: Too Small To Fail & Bay Area Council
Additional Resources: 
Bridging the Word Gap to Advance Grade-Level Reading


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