Expanding on a Learner’s Language in Pre-K and Kindergarten

Teaching and modeling language use is complex at all ages. In early childhood classrooms, such as preschool and kindergarten, there are early language skills that teachers include in classrooms and daily lessons. Educational teams work together to scaffold and differentiate lessons so that they are purposeful and appropriate for each learner. Language skills play a vital role in academic achievement and support reading and writing acquisition. Language skills also enable children to interact with others and develop social abilities. Within the classrooms and educational settings, teaching these skills can be carried over and shared with families to expose their children and continue their growth. In this post, I will review a strategy that I frequently talk to families about and work with learners to expand on their language that they are already using. 

There is a lot of language research and how to teach vocabulary, key concepts, content, reading, writing, and speaking skills. Language is complex and difficult, however important for early learners to be exposed to and have time to practice. If a learner is not yet speaking or has limited vocal language, using strategies that expand on what they do have is one that I use within the classroom and recommend to families to work on within the home. When recommending strategies to families to carry out within the home, it is following the BST (Behavioral Skills Training) model of showing them live, in a video or role-playing using the strategy. Then they will implement the strategy as we give feedback and then they will be ready to implement it on their own. Using strategies and skills that expand on a learner’s language use helps teach them how to expressively use words to describe, how to inadvertently learn syntax and grammar at an age-appropriate level, provides opportunities for a learner to work with teachers and peers, and practice noticing the language they are using and how to expand on it, and helps learners connect print with spoken words. 

Expanding on vocal language can be done by modeling the expanded sentence while simultaneously using a coreboard, PECS, or modeling on a learner’s device. I have found most success in doing this immediately after a learner says a shorter sentence or simple utterance. Modeling this immediately afterward helps connect the language and gives immediate feedback to the learner. Another strategy to expand on a student’s language is to incorporate written language, such as sentences. One strategy is led best within a small group setting and starts with a short sentence (1-4 words) describing a picture that is presented to the learners. The leader of the group explains that the given sentence is too short and they want to add more to it to help describe the picture shown. The teacher will probe student responses by asking questions such as “what are they like?”, “where are they?”. “How are they doing that?”, etc. The teacher and the learners will work together to create a longer sentence about the picture and then count the number of words that they have created their sentence to be and compare it to the original. The teacher and the learners will discuss the differences that they see between both sentences and the description given within the larger sentence.

More information and language and literacy tips and strategies can be found in The Autism Helper’s Science of Reading and Curriculum. These strategies should be modified per each learner’s needs and skills. If a learner benefits from more hands-on learning, incorporate movable communication pieces as well as real-life items when discussing a specific topic. If a learner benefits from decreased vocal input, be sure to decrease the amount of language you are using when explaining a skill or strategy. Cover the necessary vocabulary and content needed to expose a learner to a new skill. Have fun and keep expanding!


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