Action Step and Orientation
SBI 3. Provide intentionally designed opportunities for children to develop receptive language.
In this lesson, you and your team will learn how to support children in developing receptive language.
Part 1 of this lesson defines receptive language, provides an overview of the state guidelines for receptive language skills, and describes some developmental milestones.
Part 2 provides information about how to develop children’s receptive language, as well as assess and support their individual needs.
In Part 3, you will find example scenarios that show children developing receptive language skills.
To get started, download the Implementation Guide for this component and refer to the Action Step for this lesson. Review the Implementation Indicators for each level of implementation and note the Sample Evidence listed at the bottom of the chart.
Part 1—Receptive Language
Receptive language is the ability to understand messages from other people. This includes oral language, which is spoken, and other communication through gestures, facial expressions, and later, through writing. Responding appropriately when someone speaks, answering questions, following directions, and understanding gestures are all examples of receptive language.
Listening is an important foundational skill when learning language. Young children develop listening skills before they begin speaking, reading, or writing. There is a lot teachers can do to support children in developing good listening and other receptive language skills. Having a general understanding of receptive language milestones is an excellent place to start.
The following is a description of common receptive language milestones. It is important to remember that children learn and develop at their own pace. This means that the children at your early education center may acquire these skills at different rates.
- At age 0–3 months, a child might smile in response to a friendly voice and turn toward a familiar voice.
- At age 3–6 months, a child might smile when spoken to, look to hear where a sound is coming from, and notice music, as well as toys that make sounds.
- At age 6–12 months, a child might respond by waving when someone says, “Bye”; respond to simple directions such as “Come here”; and look at pictures or objects when someone talks about them.
- At age 1–2 years, a child might point to some body parts when asked or get objects when asked, understand and answer simple questions, and point to pictures in story books when asked.
- At age 2–3 years, a child might follow simple directions such as “Get your coat” and two-part directions such as “Pick up your toy and put it in the box.”
- At age 3–4 years, a child might understand and answer who, what, when, where, and why questions and follow two- to three-step directions.
Sources: Children’s Learning Institute at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, pp. 51–53; Texas Education Agency, pp. 45–47; Texas Department of State Health Services; and National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) at the National Institute of Health
The Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines present a more comprehensive list of receptive language behaviors. They can be found in the “Listening and Understanding” component of the Language and Communication Development domain.
This component also provides strategies your teachers can use to support children’s receptive language behaviors. For example, a teacher might use sounds from toys to encourage infants to turn toward him or her. A teacher might also “notice when toddlers want to talk and let them know when it’s their turn” to help them learn how to be “quiet and listen when caregivers say they have something to say” (Children’s Learning Institute at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, pp. 51–52).
Listening comprehension skills are also covered in the Language and Communication Domain of the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines (Updated 2015). They include listening and understanding behaviors you might see in four-year-olds, as well as strategies for supporting these behaviors for both native English speakers and English learners (ELs). For example, a desired receptive language behavior is for children to listen to and comment on topics being discussed. A teacher can support this behavior by modeling it, such as giving children feedback during conversations with them (Texas Education Agency, p. 46).
TO LEARN MORE: To learn more about receptive language development, you may want to review the following sources:
The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) section of the National Institute of Health’s website has information on speech and language development, including receptive language milestones.
The Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese provide information on receptive language behaviors for children ages 0–48 months, as well as suggested instructional strategies. See the Language and Communication Development introduction and the Listening and Understanding component (pp. 49–53).
The Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines (Updated 2015) provide information on receptive language behaviors for 4- to 5-year-old children, as well as suggested instructional strategies. See the Listening Comprehension Skills indicators (pp. 45–47) and the Vocabulary Skills indicators (pp. 52–57) in the Language and Communication domain.
Part 2—How to Support Children in Developing Receptive Language
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.
Part 3—Receptive Language Scenarios
The following scenarios show how teachers at one early childhood education center support the receptive language development of children of different ages and assess individual children’s needs. Notice how the children’s early exposure to intentionally designed learning opportunities for receptive language helps them as they grow.
Ms. Miranda is a teacher for infants up to age 12 months at ABC Early Learning Center. Ms. Miranda knows and understands the importance of developing receptive language in these young children, so she intentionally includes it in her lesson plans. Today, she is reading a book about farm animals. She shows plastic farm animals to the children as she reads about them in the story. Jordan, eight months old, reaches for the plastic cow as Ms. Miranda shows it to the class. Ms. Miranda allows Jordan to hold the cow and even put it in his mouth as she continues to read the story. Ms. Miranda knows that when Jordan can explore the plastic cow, his association with it will increase.
Ms. McKenzie is a teacher for toddlers up through 18 months old. Ms. McKenzie also works at ABC Early Learning Center and knows Ms. Miranda’s approach to working with the children in her class. Sebastian, 15 months old, has been at ABC Early Learning Center since he was an infant. Today, Ms. McKenzie is reading her class a story that includes some farm animals. She has some cards with the animals labeled on them laid out on the floor in front of her. When Ms. McKenzie reads about a cow, Sebastian reaches over and picks up the card with the cow without prompting from Ms. McKenzie. She reinforces Sebastian’s connection to the book by saying, “Sebastian picked up the cow card. Good job, Sebastian!” Ms. McKenzie allows Sebastian to explore the card, including holding it, looking at it, and even putting the card in his mouth. It is clear that Sebastian has had some exposure to cows previously since he selected the cow card himself.
Older toddlers, including English learners (ELs)
Mr. Martin teaches two-year-olds at ABC Early Learning Center. Miriam, age 27 months, is a child in Mr. Martin’s classroom and has been at ABC Early Learning Center since she was 18 months old. Spanish is the language spoken primarily in Miriam’s home. Mr. Martin knows that Miriam has had good receptive language lessons while at the center, but he is not sure what Miriam understands. Mr. Martin speaks basic Spanish and uses it when necessary. Today, Mr. Martin reads a story with farm animals in it. He distributes small farm animal figurines, telling the children to hold up their animal when it is mentioned in the story. Miriam receives the cow figurine and begins to explore it. When Mr. Martin reads about the cow, Miriam does not hold up the cow as directed. Mr. Martin reads the sentence again, adding emphasis to the word cow. Again, Miriam does not respond. Mr. Martin asks Miriam, “Miriam, what animal do you have?” Miriam immediately says, “Vaca.” Mr. Martin has learned that Miriam knows the name of the animal in Spanish. He takes a moment to tell the class that vaca in Spanish is the same as cow in English. He then asks the class to say the word in English and in Spanish.
Ms. Rosa teaches three-year-olds in the morning. She is transitioning to story time at the carpet. As the children move to the carpet area, she assigns each child a farm animal figurine to select from the shelf. She asks them to get the animal before being seated. Joseph is assigned a cow and selects the correct figurine as he moves to the carpet area. Ms. Rosa reads a story in which different farm animals are paired. After reading the story a second time, Ms. Rosa asks the children to help pair up based on the farm animals in the book. Joseph’s cow is paired with a pig, and Kelly has the pig. The two children partner together and stand together, just as the animals do in the book.
Ms. Rosa works with the four-year-old class in the afternoons. Much like with the three-year-olds, she has the children select the appropriate animal from the shelf. After reading the story, she has children find their animal partner from the story and pair up. Ms. Rosa then asks the partners to use their figurines to act out the part of the story related to their animals. Ms. Rosa moves around the room to check that the children are on task and see if there are any questions. She comes to partners Bailey and Robert, who have the cow and the pig. Ms. Rosa notices that Bailey seems to remember all of the story, but she is not sure that Robert does. Ms. Rosa asks Robert some specific questions about the story and the roles of the cow and the pig. At first, Robert is slow to answer, but he then tells Ms. Rosa all about what the cow and pig do.
NEXT STEPS: Depending on your progress in providing intentionally designed opportunities for children to develop receptive language, you may want to consider the following next steps:
- Read and discuss the state guidelines and additional resources about receptive language development.
- Provide the guidelines to your staff and meet with them to review the guidelines and discuss expectations for their use.
- Assess needs for and plan professional development on the state guidelines, the language and pre-literacy programs or curricula, and additional resources.
- Support instructional staff in using strategies to develop receptive language skills in all lessons and activities.
SBI 3. Provide intentionally designed opportunities for children to develop receptive language.
With your site/campus-based leadership team, review your team’s self-assessed rating for Action Step SBI 3 in the TSLP Implementation Status Ratings document and then respond to the four questions in the assignment.
In completing your assignment with your team, the following resources and information from this lesson’s content may be useful to you:
- Part 1 defines receptive language, describes some developmental milestones, and provides an overview of the state guidelines for receptive language skills.
- Part 2 provides information about how to develop children’s receptive language, as well as assess and support their individual needs.
- Part 3 provides example scenarios that show children developing receptive language skills.
Next Steps also contains suggestions that your site or campus may want to consider when you focus your efforts on this Action Step.
To record your responses, go to the Assignment template for this lesson and follow the instructions.
Children’s Learning Institute at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. (2013). Texas infant, toddler, and three-year-old early learning guidelines. Retrieved from http://earlylearningtexas.org/itelg.aspx
The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk. (2014). Read-aloud routine for building vocabulary and comprehension in prekindergarten. Austin, TX: Author.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) at the National Institute of Health. (2014). Speech and language developmental milestones. Retrieved from http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/voice/pages/speechandlanguage.aspx#6
Texas Department of State Health Services. (2012). TEHDI: Texas newborn hearing screening program. Retrieved from http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/tehdi/Audiology-Services-Texas-Newborn-Hearing-Screening-Program.aspx
Texas Department of State Health Services. (2015). Vision and hearing screening processes. Retrieved from http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/vhs/require.shtm
Texas Education Agency. (2015). Texas prekindergarten guidelines. Retrieved from http://tea.texas.gov/WorkArea/linkit.aspx?LinkIdentifier=id&ItemID=25769825386&libID=25769825482