Strategies to Promote Comprehension and Encourage Language
by Lauryn Bates, M.S., CCC-SLP

Kids Place Central Pediatric Speech and Language Pathologist

Daily routines and activities are the perfect time to help your child learn early language skills. Language refers to the words/signs/gestures that we use and how we use these to express our wants and needs or share ideas with others. Language can be divided into two components – receptive language and expressive language.

Receptive language is the child’s ability to understand and comprehend information that is spoken or written (Ex: listening to verbal directions, reading a story). Expressive language refers to how the child expresses his wants/needs through verbal communication (Ex: talking) and/or nonverbal communication (Ex: signs, gestures, writing). Whether it is mealtime, bath time, dressing, or playtime, there are numerous strategies parents/caregivers can implement to facilitate enjoyable interactions that support early language learning.

Below are core strategies along with examples of how to implement these strategies into daily routines:

Self-Talk

Observe what your child is engaging in and then engage in the same activity while simultaneously talking about what you are doing.

  • While your child is drawing a picture of a flower, you draw a flower as well and say “I’m drawing a flower. My flower is purple. See my purple flower?”
  • Your child and you are eating cookies together at snack time, you could say “These cookies are so good! I love chocolate chip cookies!”

Parallel Talk

You talk about what your child is doing as they are doing it. (Note: With self-talk, you are talking through your own actions whereas with parallel talk you are describing what your child is doing.)

  • While your child is playing with toys in the bath time, you could say “You are pouring water into your bucket. Oh no! You dumped the water on your head!”
  • When your child is getting dressed, try saying “You’re putting on your blue shirt. Uh oh! Your shirt is inside-out!”

Expansion

You restate what your child says and expand your child’s word/phrase into a longer and more grammatical sentence. (Note: With this strategy, you would only want to expand your child’s utterance by 1-2 words. For example, if your child says 2 words then you’d expand his utterance to 3-4 words.)

  • While looking at pictures in a book, if your child pointed to the cat and said, “that kitty” you would then say “That is a kitty.”
  • If your child says “juice” to request a drink, you could expand his utterance to “Juice, please” or “I want juice.”

Extension

With this strategy, you would extend your child’s utterance to the way an adult would say the sentence and then add additional information.

  • If your child says, “Mommy eat,” you would say “Mommy is eating. I’m very hungry.” (You are adding in the information that you’re eating because you are hungry.)
  • During bath time, if your child says, “Wash duck” while playing with his rubber duck, you could say “You’re washing the duck. It’s a yellow duck.” (You are adding in information about what color the duck is.)

Recast

You expand your child’s utterance by repeating but also correcting your child’s grammatical errors. It is important to provide the recast immediately after your child’s utterance and the recast must retain the original meaning of the child’s utterance.

  • Your child comments, “Her dirty” after baby sibling finishes eating lunch. You would immediately say, “She is dirty.”
  • Your child asks, “Him sleeping?” while his brother is taking a nap. You would recast the question to: “Is he sleeping?”

Modeling

This strategy can be used in two different ways.

1) Repeat what your toddler says, especially key words/phrases. When you repeat back what your child says, you are providing feedback and reinforcing that you heard what your child said.

  • If your child says, “Car!” then you say “Car!”
  • If your child says, “Big dog!” then you repeat “Big dog!”

2) You provide the words for the item/activity so that your child associates the item/action with the words heard. (Note: You do not have to force your child to imitate the word, rather you are simply providing a verbal model for your child to hear.)

  • If your child is still not using many words yet, you could say “Car” while your child is playing with the car. If your child is using the word “car” already, you could “Go car” or “Red car.”
  • If you are going for a walk and you see your child looking at a dog, you could say “Look! A dog. Look at the big dog!”

Focused Stimulation

You and your child’s SLP will work together to generate a list of developmentally appropriate, motivating, and functional words/phrases. These target words/phrases are repeated multiple times within context/conversation to promote comprehension and possible language production. Target words could include nouns (mommy, daddy, dog), verbs (open, eat, sleep, go), prepositions (on/off, up/down), and other types of words (more, all done, no).

  • If you are targeting the word EAT, you could provide multiple models of the word EAT at breakfast like this:
    • “Let’s EAT. What do you want to EAT? Let’s EAT cheerios. Look, I EAT my cheerios. You EAT. You EAT your cheerios.”
  • Books and songs are also great to use. Some examples include:
    • Books:
      • Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You see? By Eric Carle
      • I Can Say That! By Suzy Lederer
      • Are You My Mother? By P.D. Eastman
    • Music:
      • The Wheels on the Bus
      • Old McDonald Had a Farm
      • Hello songs and Clean-Up song

These are some strategies that you can implement during daily routines/activities to promote comprehension and encourage language production while continuing to engage in enjoyable interactions with your child.

For more information on how to facilitate language during everyday activities, check out Laura Mize’s, M.S., CCC-SLP website at https://teachmetotalk.com.

For a quick, easy to read book with lots of ideas and activities to incorporate in daily routines, I recommend reading Talking with Your Toddler by Teresa Laikko, M.S., CCC-SLP and Laura Laikko, M.S., CCC-SLP.