Intentionally designed learning opportunities are lessons created with specific outcomes in mind. Because receptive language skills are not isolated skills, their development can be among several desired outcomes for a lesson.
For example, a lesson where children hear a funny story about zoo animals could have several desired outcomes. These could include vocabulary development (learning the names of the animals) and comprehension (understanding the story), as well as receptive language skill development such as pointing at pictures in a book when asked and laughing when the teacher says something funny.
In addition to planning lessons, teachers can incorporate receptive language development into all interactions with children by engaging them in conversations and checking for understanding. Teachers should be intentional about speaking to all children, including infants, to help them develop receptive language skills.
Here are some ways teachers can help children develop receptive language:
Slow down: Teachers can intentionally slow down their speech to help children understand them.
Repeat: Teachers can repeat important words, phrases, or sentences. This will give children more than one chance to hear and understand them. For example, teachers might repeat important words or sentences in a story. They might also repeat a direction such as “Please put away the blocks.”
Give cues: Teachers can provide cues to help children with understanding. Teachers can use a real object or a picture of the object. They can also pick up, point to, turn toward, or look at objects as they speak about them. For example, they might point to or hold out blocks while asking a child, “Do you want to play with the blocks?”
Simplify: Teachers can simplify their speech if children do not understand them. They can use words and short phrases rather than complete sentences. For example, perhaps a child does not respond to the teacher’s question, “Do you want apple juice?” The teacher can simplify the question to “Apple juice?” and show the child the apple juice box.
When simplifying, teachers should keep in mind the goal of continuing to work on rich sentence development. This means that after breaking down (simplifying) language to help children understand, they should then build it back up. For example, if the child shows understanding and nods yes or reaches for the apple box, the teacher can respond in a complete sentence: “You do want apple juice!”
Give short, simple directions: Teachers can give children simple directions to follow. They should avoid giving too many instructions at once.
The Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines suggest that teachers give toddlers (children ages 18–36 months) some two-part directions. For example, a teacher might say, “Let’s sit down and have our snack.” They suggest teachers give three-year-olds some three-step directions. For example, a teacher might tell children, “It is time to put the blocks back in the bin, put the bin on the shelf, and sit on the carpet.” (Children’s Learning Institute at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, pp. 52–53)
Break up directions: If children have difficulty understanding multiple step instructions, teachers can break them up into parts. For example, a teacher might say, “Please put the blocks back in the bin.” After the children have completed that task, the teacher could then ask them to help put the bin on the shelf and, after the children have done so, ask them to sit on the carpet.
Model following directions: Teachers can complete an action while giving directions. For example, a teacher might put a block away as she says, “Please put away the blocks.”
Make following directions fun: Teachers can be creative when giving children directions. Making directions fun will help engage children. For example, teachers might ask children to hop like a bunny and then growl like a lion.
Ask for a response: Teachers can ask older children questions that require verbal responses or ask them to repeat what they heard. For example, a suggested instructional strategy in the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines (Updated 2105) is for teachers to “ask children who, what, where, and why questions” during a read-aloud (Texas Education Agency, p. 46).
Keep talking: Teachers should look for opportunities to use language throughout the day. They can use any object or material in a classroom to enhance receptive language skills when an exchange with a child is interactive.
Choose stories of appropriate length: Teachers can choose stories that are a developmentally appropriate length for children. If stories are too long, children may lose interest or become distracted. Teachers can also split up longer stories into short sections and read them over a period of several days (The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk).
Use pauses: Teachers can use long pauses when moving from one part of a read-aloud story to the next. This will help children who haven’t yet learned the meaning of transitions—such as then, next, or last—understand that the teacher is moving to a different part of the story.
Engage children with stories: Teachers should search for and use texts that require a variety of responses from children, including moving, singing along, or echoing what they hear. In addition to being a teaching tool, these activities can be used to assess children’s receptive language and understanding. Having one or two children at a time respond will show teachers if a child is not understanding what he or she hears and cannot respond appropriately.
Teachers can also assess children’s receptive language skills by watching for instances when children do not respond appropriately or do not seem to understand questions or directions. Teachers can frequently check that children understand what they have heard. They might ask older children questions that require verbal responses or ask children to repeat what they heard.
There are several possible reasons children may have difficulties with receptive language. You and your team should have a system in place for talking to parents about any receptive language skills your teachers are not seeing in children and for connecting parents with professionals who can assess possible developmental delays or disabilities. If you need more information about developing a process to share observation and assessment information with families and specialists, see Lesson A4—Special learning needs in the Assessment module.
The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) requires that all newborns in Texas and all children enrolled in school for the first time in Texas be given a hearing test. For more information about these screenings, see the TEHDI Texas Newborn Hearing Screening Program and the Vision and Hearing Screen Requirements pages of the DSHS website.