The Matching Game: How to Pair Your Language to Meet A Student’s Developmental Level

Photo By Clementina – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11229108

Written by: Sarah Michaels, Heather Miller, Phyllis Norwood, Heather Petrusa, Amy Samuels

Have you ever asked a child a question or given directions only to be met with a blank stare?  You may have a child in your classroom with language that is 1-2 years below what is expected for kids that age.  Therefore, it is important that you know how to reduce the verbal demands so students understand and can respond to you at their level.  Here are eight suggestions for matching your language to meet students at their level:

  • Provide extended wait time.  Some kids need (an excruciating) 5-10+ seconds to respond.  Students may need time to process auditory/verbal input or formulate their response.  Wait and watch.
  • Give students advanced notice that they will be called on.  Let them know when their turn will be and what will be expected so they have time to formulate a response.
  • Say less!  Speak one word beyond the child’s ability.  If a child only uses single words (e.g., ball),  then speak in 2 word phrases (e.g., blue ball; ball please).  If a child is using phrases, then speak in simple sentences.  For kids using longer utterances, consider your vocabulary and syntax.  Re-phrase using simpler vocabulary and sentence structure.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat.   Repeat and rephrase your statements to give students time to process what you’ve said.  Also slow down and repeat instructions as needed.  Additionally, repeating and rephrasing what the child says helps to build comprehension and retention.
  • Provide fill-in cues.  Reduce the expectation for the student’s response (especially in large group settings).  Start the statement and let the child finish the sentence using 1-3 words.  For example, if you ask, “Where was the boy?” then say “The boy was ___” with the expectation that the student fills in “under” or “under the table.”
  • Use pictures and gestures.  Pictures help support expressive and receptive language.  They can reduce the need for a lot of verbal input and get to the point faster for some kids.  Some children process visual information better than auditory information.  Refer to pictures in books, use a picture schedule, wear small pictures on a lanyard for frequently used directions and routines (e.g., sit, listen, wash hands, line up, etc.).  Don’t worry about what the icon looks like (clipart, stock photos, Boardmaker, etc.), just be consistent with each image.
  • Give choices.  Provide verbal or picture choices to narrow the wide open field of responses to 2 or 3.
  • Remember to praise any response a student gives! Repeating their response also allows for additional processing and retention of information.

It’s important for you to know your students’ language levels and to know how to match your language to meet the child at their level.  For more information, talk to your school-based speech-language pathologist.  

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