Oral Language is the term used for all verbalized language.
Children’s brains are wired to learn language naturally through observing it, hearing it, and having it modeled for them. You will hear us talk about TALKING a lot in this module. If you take nothing else away, we want you to realize how very important it is that you talk with your children and encourage them to speak and listen.
Research shows that oral language is a precursor for reading success! Oral language lays the foundation for the reading and writing skills children will need when they enter school. They will use oral language in all areas of education and life. Having a solid foundation in oral language will help them become successful readers and strong communicators.
Children who enter school with limited oral language and vocabulary knowledge are behind their peers with rich vocabulary. These children will grow, but they tend to fall further behind because their peers with high oral language continue to grow, too. This causes the gap to become larger over time.
You may be wondering how many words children need to know. Here are a few statistics:
An average 4-year-old usually knows about 1500 words.
In 1st and 2nd grade, children should learn 800+ words per year. That’s about 2 words per day.
From 3rd grade onward, children should learn 2,000-3,000 new words per year. That’s about 6-8 words per day.
The activities we share with you in this module will support your child’s oral language development. These activities are not designed for your child to do by themselves. All of the activities are designed for you to do WITH your child. Many of these activities don’t require special materials and can be done just about anywhere because they only require you to Talk, Talk, Talk!
By the end of this module, learners will be able to:
Understand what is meant by the term “oral language.”
Relate the impacts of their child’s strong oral language skills on academic success.
Identify strategies and activities to support the development of oral language.
Understand the complexity of multi-step directions for young children and be able to identify ways to help their child learn to follow them.
This module will help by providing ways to support your child’s oral language development. We will focus on skills that support kindergarten readiness. When thinking about what it looks like, ask these questions:
Can my child use phrases and sentences to communicate their needs and thoughts and describe events?
Does my child understand and follow one-step and multi-step directions?
Does my child understand descriptive vocabulary related to position, direction, size, and comparison (ex: big/little, like/different, top/bottom, first/last)?
Can my child identify objects (or pictures of things) by name that they see in their environment?
Can my child ask and answer questions?
Important Language Skills
In this module, we will discuss each of the following skills a little deeper and share activities to use at home to help your child develop them. The skills are:
Uses phrases and sentences to communicate needs, thoughts, and describe events.
Understands and follows multi-step directions.
Understands descriptive vocabulary related to position, direction, size, comparison (ex: big/little, like/different, top/bottom, first/last).
Identifies objects (or pictures of objects) by name.
Asks and answers questions.
Uses Phrases to Communicate Needs
Communication is a key life skill. The better we are at it, the better our quality of life will be. As a child develops, it is important that we nurture their communication skills so they can express themselves clearly and confidently in all areas of their life.
If your child can use phrases and sentences to communicate, they will be able to express their needs and wants and will also be able to describe things–-like events from their day.
Can your child use phrases and sentences to communicate needs, thoughts, and describe events?
I want the red crayon.
I need to use the restroom.
My head hurts.
Can your child use phrases and sentences to communicate thoughts?
Zara is my best friend.
Pizza is yummy.
I love you.
Can your child use phrases and sentences to describe events?
Today a fire truck came to school. The fireman told us to stop, drop, and roll.
My grandma sang in the choir at church yesterday.
John hit me!
Activities for Using Phrases to Communicate their Needs
Below are the activities you can do with your child to support their oral development and using phrases to communicate their needs. Click on the title to reveal the activity content.
Talking and communicating with your child is very important. It is essential to their development and future relationships. Communicating with your child helps them to develop skills for communicating with others. This communication should include talking and listening.
Communicating with your child can be one of the most pleasurable and rewarding parts of parenting. Children learn so much through daily interactions and experiences with us and other adults, family members, and other kids.
When talking to your child, give them your full attention. Encourage them to talk about what they are feeling and thinking at that time. Make sure you use eye contact and body language that shows you are interested in what they are saying.
Talking to children is important. Conversation starters encourage children to talk about what they think or feel. Young children develop language and listening skills by engaging in conversation.
Below you will find a handout titled, Conversation Starters to use with your child to get conversations started. These would be great to use at the kitchen table, at mealtime, and at bedtime.
Have you ever tried to get your child to talk about something, and all you get is a shoulder shrug or one-word answer. We have included an interest survey to help you find topics that your child might be interested in talking about. During this activity, you and your child will look at the pictures. You will ask your child to circle things they “like” or “like to talk about.” You can be intentional about having conversations about the things your child circled. I have included a blank page, just in case you need to come up with others.
Children are more likely to engage in a conversation when they have input. This interest survey helps your child communicate their interests and gives you a starting point for a conversation. Talk to your child about each picture they see and have them explain what they are interested in and why.
We know that healthy relationships between children and caregivers are important. We can build a strong oral language foundation through serve-and-return interactions. To understand the concept of serve and return, imagine a ping pong or tennis game. Someone hits the ball, sending it over or serving it to the second player. Then the second player returns it. Serve and return interactions are very similar. These back-and-forth verbal interactions with your child are important for building strong brains.
Here’s an example of a serve and return interaction:
While at the zoo, your child looks at something and points. You return with the response, “Yes, I see the baby giraffe, too!” By responding, you acknowledged that you were paying attention and gave the animal a name. You also indicated that it was a baby giraffe and not an adult giraffe.
Every time you return a serve, give the child a chance to respond. These back-and-forth interactions can be quick (from the child to you and back again), or they can go on for many turns.
As adults, we know that a conversation is between two or more people, but we must teach and model this for our children. We want them to understand that each person takes a turn speaking, then the other person responds, and so on back and forth.
To practice this, you and your child can create a Talking Stick. You will need a wooden dowel (stick). You and your child can decorate and use it to practice taking turns while talking. When using the talking stick for the first time, be sure to model how a conversation goes two ways, and each person gets an opportunity to speak. Whoever has the talking stick in their hand gets to speak. Then they pass it to the other person for them to talk or respond.
For example, you might hold the stick and ask, “What was your favorite part of school today?” Then pass the stick to your child for them to respond, “I enjoyed playing on the playground.”
Then you take the stick back and add to what they said. “I used to love playing on the playground when I was little too! Who did you play with?” and pass the stick back to your child for them to respond.
If you don’t have a talking stick, you can use just about anything. You can use a stuffed animal and call it the talking bear or a soft ball or beanbag and call it the talking ball. The important takeaway is that your child gets to practice participating in a conversation to see that everyone must take turns talking and listening.
Watch this video to provide you with information and directions to make your own talking stick!
A wooden dowel or a dry, bug free stick or twig
Items to decorate your talking stick
Thick, tacky glue
Summary: Using Phrases to Communicate
If you want to build strong speech and language skills in your child, you must show that you have skills. You can do this by talking to them. When you talk to them, you are modeling and teaching them to communicate using phrases and sentences.
Remember, parents, talk is free, and there are so many FREE opportunities—at mealtime, while shopping, while riding in the car, while cooking, playing…any time you are together!
By talking with your child and listening to them, you are building oral language skills that give them a huge leg up when they start kindergarten. It only takes some time and intention!
Understanding and Following Single and Multi-step directions
Our next skill is understanding and following single and multi-step directions. Following directions is the child’s ability to act on requests from others.
Following directions is a part of everyday life. It is the ability to do what is requested by others. Children need to be able to follow instructions to function effectively in any environment. Following directions requires the child to pay attention to the person talking. If your child struggles with following directions, it could impact their ability to reach the desired outcome or complete a task.
Does your child follow directions?
Do they pay attention to the person talking?
Can they complete the task or tasks they are asked to do?
Can your child follow multi-step directions?
Do they pay attention to details in spoken language?
Can they put the steps in the correct and appropriate order?
Do they ask for help if they have trouble remembering the information?
Here are some examples of some multi-step directions:
Put on your pajamas and brush your teeth.
Put on your coat and get your backpack.
Go get your workbook and your pencil, and sit down.
Activities for Building Skills in Following Directions
Below are the activities you can do with your child to support their oral language development and following directions. Click on the title to reveal the activity content.
When giving directions to your child, think about the multiple steps that each of the phrases includes.
Think about when you say, “Go get your shoes so we can leave."
That seems like a simple request to you, but it actually involves several steps:
Walk into the bedroom.
Go into the closet.
Pick out a pair of shoes.
Bring them to Mom.
Put them on with her assistance.
This could be a lot for a preschooler! So, when giving directions, consider what you’re really asking of your child.
Here are some suggestions:
Try breaking the directions down.
Keep them direct and simple.
Repeat the directions and support step-by-step if necessary.
Remember, parents, each child’s ability to receive, understand, and follow directions will be different. Give your child time to process directions and offer plenty of positive reinforcement. Following directions is a learned skill that all students must master. We have included some handouts and fun ways to practice this skill.
Remember, these handouts are NOT worksheets. They are designed for you to complete together. Read the directions, and then walk them through completing it and don’t feel the need to complete all the pages in one sitting. That would be too taxing! Do a few at a time and over several weeks!
As they grow and develop, they will get better at completing tasks and following multi-step directions. Practice! Practice! Practice!
Interactive Sheets to Practice Following Directions
We have included a handout with Tips for Helping Children Learn to Follow Directions.
One of the most fun ways to help kids practice following directions and listening is by playing games. We have included a handout with some fun, quick games to play to practice following directions.
As I mentioned, children learn by hearing language modeled for them. In the same way, they also learn by being guided through learning activities. We have included some interactive sheets for you to use with your child to practice following directions.
These interactive sheets are NOT worksheets. They are designed for you to complete together. Read the directions out loud to your child, and tell your child the name of each picture. Then walk them through completing it and don’t feel the need to complete all the pages in one sitting. That would be too taxing! A few at a time over several weeks is fine.
Understanding Descriptive Vocabulary Related to Position, Direction, Size, and Comparison
Even at a young age, we pay attention to the characteristics of objects. Do you remember when your child was a toddler and played with your pots and pans? Before children have the words to describe “on top of” or “under,” they can stack and sort things. They can put a lid on a pot and put blocks in a bucket. Now is time to help them understand this skill even more. Now is the time to reinforce the concepts of size and position by teaching children these descriptive words.
Knowing the descriptive characteristics of things is essential as we communicate in the real world. Knowing descriptive words will help them to be able to follow and give directions and to use language precisely.
Think about this: if you asked your child to bring you a soda, what might they hand you? They could bring Coke, Pepsi, Mt. Dew, and the list could go on. But if you asked them to bring you a Coke in the red can from the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, how much more likely are you to get what you want?
Does your child have a well-developed descriptive vocabulary? Can they do the following:
Can your child describe the position of objects (inside, under, over, first, last)?
Does your child know directions (left, right)?
Can your child identify size, (big, little, small, large)?
Can your child make comparisons between objects (big, bigger, small, smaller)?
Can your child tell how things are the same and different?
Activities for Building Descriptive Vocabulary Skills
Below are the activities you can do with your child to support their oral language development skills and understanding descriptive vocabulary related to position, direction, size and comparison. Click on the title to reveal the activity content.
We have included some activities that you can do at home to help your child understand
Let’s start with the first activity, The Cup Game. The purpose of the cup game is to demonstrate position words while having fun!
You will need a small red solo cup and a small object, like an eraser. Please note that small objects can be a choking hazard if your child puts them in their mouth. So do this activity with your child and then keep it out of reach when not in use. I have also included a handout with the directions to The Cup Game.
Red Solo Cup
Small object, like an eraser
Another way to use descriptive vocabulary is by comparing and contrasting. Comparing means looking for how things are the same, and contrasting means looking for how things are different.
We have provided some comparing and contrasting cards. Using these cards, you can model describing things. You can model how to find similarities and differences for your child.
Make sure you model what you are thinking by saying it aloud so your child can hear you.
Then have them do the same, “to talk about it out loud” with you as you look at the pictures together!
What are other things you could use to compare and contrast? How about two toys? Or two pictures from a book or magazine?
Summary: Understanding Descriptive Vocabulary
Although we have given you several activities, you can practice these skills throughout your day!
For instance, when you’re at the grocery store with your child, you can grab two cans of soup. Then say as you point to each can of soup, “Do I want this BIG can of soup or this LITTLE can of soup?”
Or, you might hold up two apples, a big one and a smaller one. Then ask, “which apple is big?”
Once your child understands big and small, it’s time to practice other details like big, bigger, and biggest. As they grasp each concept, you can move on to the next.
Remember, parents, supporting your child’s development through interacting with them is important. You can do this by talking to them and doing activities together. Remember, by simply taking the time to talk with and listen to your children, you are building oral language skills that give them a huge leg up when they start kindergarten.
Also, remember, it will take some children longer than others to grasp this skill. Be patient and Practice! Practice! Practice! It only takes a small amount of time, and be intentional with that time!
Identifying Objects by Name
To succeed in school and beyond, children need to build a robust vocabulary. Typically, a child needs to hear a new word 4 to 12 times before it is added to their vocabulary. As you are teaching your child new words, it is important to help them visualize them, too. To support your child’s oral language and vocabulary development, show them an object or a picture of an object. Tell them the name of the object and have them repeat it. Then talk to them about the object and what it is and does.
Preschool children should be able to identify household objects, school and classroom objects, clothing, food, people, and animals. You can use pictures from books, magazines, and the internet to help your child identify these objects by name.
Does my child know the name of:
School and Classroom Objects?
Activities for Identifying Objects by Name
Below are the activities you can do with your child to support their oral language skills and identifying objects by name. Click on the title to reveal the activity content.
Our first activity is a set of interactive sheets. After reading clues, your child will have to figure out what object is being described. You should model this and name each object before you begin. Remember, these aren’t worksheets. They are designed to be completed together with your child.
How many of you remember learning your body parts from the song, "Heads, Knees, and Toes"?
Body awareness games help children understand where their bodies are in space and how their bodies move. Learning these body parts and the correct name for them also increases your child’s oral language and vocabulary.
Proper body awareness will help your child to understand how to relate to objects and people at home, at school, and outdoors. For example, proper body awareness tells us how far to reach for objects or how close to stand next to a person. Sometimes, if people have difficulties with body awareness, they may appear clumsy, uncoordinated, or have delays in motor skill development.
Teaching your child the names of body parts can start with simple things like pointing to your child's body parts and naming them. Start with a few and practice them for a few days and then move on to other body parts.
Body Awareness Handout
We have provided a handout titled, Body Awareness Exercise. This handout will help build your child’s oral language by learning the names of body parts, directional words and also practice following directions.
I Spy is a guessing game where one player chooses an object within sight and gives clues to another player or players, and the other players attempt to guess this object.
Here is a video about playing I Spy. It’s simple and fun and can be played anywhere anytime you have a spare minute… in the checkout line, waiting for church to start, etc.
In this video, Amanda and her daughter, Nola, will demonstrate how to play I Spy. Pay close attention to how Nola learns new vocabulary while playing a fun game with the mother while shopping.
Being able to identify and name objects is an important kindergarten readiness skill. So, if you can find just a few minutes a day to practice these activities, you will give your child a leg up in getting ready for kindergarten!
I Spy-Video Recap
There are some great teachable moments during the video. Did you notice how Amanda used several opportunities to teach or reinforce vocabulary with Nola?
For example, when Nola guessed "the red die," Amanda said, "Yes, and you used the correct word because a die is one and dice are two."
Another teachable moment was when Nola guessed the blue pin. Amanda shared that it is also called a brooch. She didn't just say the name and move on. She told Nola that "people wear them on their shirts." Then Nola used the new word, brooch when she became the Spy.
There are many opportunities like this throughout our day to teach our children new words. All we have to do is take the time and be intentional.
Summary: Identifying Objects by Name
Remember…being able to identify and name objects is an important kindergarten readiness skill.
As you and your child complete tasks like washing dishes, bathing, and shopping, you can talk aloud and narrate/ describe out loud each step you take as you complete the tasks together. You can also point and name objects while you are in the car or while you are out shopping. The grocery store is a great place to build oral language and teach the names of objects, colors, and shapes.
Have you ever experienced this problem: You are talking to someone, and you suddenly draw a blank. You know what you want to say, but you can't think of the right words?
Then you say that all too familiar phrase; "I know the word. It's on the tip of my tongue!”. Now, imagine if you actually didn’t know the word. That would be so frustrating! That is what happens when a child does not have the vocabulary to identify an object.
Asking and Answering Questions
Being able to ask and answer questions is an important part of learning. We ask questions to learn more about something and engage a child’s curiosity. Asking and answering questions can also help teachers assess a student’s understanding of a topic.
The ability to ask and answer questions is also a critical life skill. It helps us to get our needs met and our opinions expressed. When we ask and answer questions, we gain knowledge about a topic, and it helps us actively engage in conversations about that topic.
Can you think of a time when asking or answering a question is really important? What about at the doctor’s office? What about when trying to conduct a transaction at the bank? In these situations, being able to ask and answer questions is very critical. This skill will become critical to your child at school when they need help or clarification to complete an assignment or follow directions. You can start developing that skill with your child today.
Does my child ask what things are, and the way things work—being curious about the world? (ex. Why do I have to go to school?)
Does my child ask clarifying questions? (ex: What does that word mean?)
Does my child ask for help? (ex. May I sharpen my pencil?)
Does my child ask for “wants” to be met? (ex. May I go to the restroom?)
Does my child answer questions that are asked of them? (ex. Will you explain how you got that answer?)
Activities for Asking and Answering Questions
Below are the activities you can do with your child to support their oral language skills and asking and answering questions. Click on the title to reveal the activity content.
One way to practice this skill is by asking open-ended questions. Think about the kinds of questions you ask your child. Do you ask mostly closed-ended or open-ended questions?
Closed-ended questions are questions that can be answered with one word or “yes” or “no.” (Some examples—What color is your shirt? Did you like that book?)
Open-ended questions are questions that require more than a simple one-word answer. By asking open-ended questions, we require our children to use more vocabulary and develop their oral language skills. Some examples—Why do you think Goldilocks ran out of the house? Can you name some green vegetables?
We have included a handout with information about open-ended questions and some open-ended questions to help your child think.
Next, we encourage you to cut out the question words we have provided. You can hang them somewhere in your house for your child to reference and use and for you to use to model how to ask questions.
You can also roleplay asking and answering questions that start with these question words and help your child to understand the difference between the words. For example: “who” – usually a person, and “where”– usually a place.
It is important that children ask and answer questions. This lays the groundwork for them to participate in conversations, demonstrate knowledge, and collect information about themselves and their world.
So, let’s find a few minutes to use these activities each day. You will make a significant impact on getting your child “kindergarten ready”!
Remember, oral language is a precursor for reading success! It lays the foundation for the reading and writing skills children will need when they enter school.
In this module, we discussed several activities that can help to develop your child’s oral language and vocabulary that involve mostly just talking to your child.
As busy parents, we sometimes feel like we don’t have time to entertain the MANY questions of a 4-year-old. BUT— encouraging your child to talk, asking and answering questions build very important skills!
There are many opportunities throughout the day to talk to your child. Here are a few opportunities: