Building Blocks For Teaching Language

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Language development typically follows a somewhat predictable pattern. 

Infants smile and coo. Babies babble and begin to copy sounds others make. By a year old, babies are starting to use gestures (shake head no, wave), points to things and tries to say words. By 18 months, babies are saying some single words, saying no and shaking their head. At 2 years old, toddlers are starting to combine two words, pointing to pictures in a book when named, and knows the names of familiar people and body parts. Between 3 and 4 years old, language explodes! Three year olds can use three words together and have conversations. They can follow 2 and 3 part directions, use some pronouns, understand some spatial concepts and can ask WH questions. By four years old, children can retell a story, have a conversation, start to use grammar correctly and can say their first and last name.

When we talk about a language disorder, it is just that. Disordered language. With a language delay, language development is delayed. When you have a student who is not talking yet, or has very delayed language, it can difficult to know where to start. 

In my experience, there are some basic building blocks that can help.  We know children learn by looking at and imitating what people in their environment do.  Especially their parents.  Children naturally learn to imitate.  If this isn’t happening naturally, this is a great place to start!  I usually start with imitating motor actions.  This is what that looks like:  

* Get your child’s attention

* Say “do this”

* Demonstrate a motor action, such as clapping hands

* If the child doesn’t imitate you, do the above steps again and immediately give them a physical prompt (help your child clap their hands)

I usually teach imitation before I teach one step directions because it is so important for children to learn to look to and imitate those around them in order to learn.  So, I teach “do this” and show them how to clap their hands in imitation before I teach them to respond to the direction “clap hands”.  I hope that makes sense!

Once you start getting some consistent imitation with motor actions, then you can move on to the following:

1.  Following one step directions given a visual support and the verbal cue “clap hands”.

2. Teaching them to imitate sounds and words (see where imitation is such an important skill?!)

3. Teaching children to point to pictures in a book or flashcards.  

I have had a lot of success with a specific resource I made for teaching one step directions.  You can use these cards to give you ideas for motor actions to have your student/child imitate first before moving on to the one step directions. There is a data sheet included where you can keep track of if they were able to imitate.


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