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Understanding words

Children need to understand language before they can use it. In order to understand what is said to them, children and young people need to be able to listen to and remember what they hear (auditory memory). They also need to be able to understand concepts, meaning of words and how the order of words in a sentence can change the meaning. Understanding is sometimes referred to as receptive language or verbal comprehension.

Children and young people who have difficulty understanding language may:

  • Make sure you have the child/young person’s attention before you speak to them. It may help to use their name at the beginning of the sentence to make sure they are listening.
  • Make sure you keep your language as simple as possible. Keep sentences short, break up instructions and information into small steps.
  • Where possible support what you say with visual cues. This can be with photos, symbols, pictures, signs/gestures etc. Older children may find concept maps, vocabulary books or mind maps helpful.
  • Reinforce key concepts and understanding by repeating frequently in different ways.
    Provide the child/young person with new experiences, providing the vocabulary to go with them.
  • Display key vocabulary in the classroom, using a Total Communication Approach.
  • Encourage the use of gesture, pointing, drawing when they are unable to remember the word they need.
  • Make sure the work you are asking the child /young person to do is at a level they can understand.
  • Always check that the child/young person has understood. You can do this by asking them to tell you what they need to do.
  • When you use non-literal language, e.g. sarcasm, idioms, make sure you explain the meaning clearly.
  • Shopping Games: Have an array of four or five items in a ‘shop’ e.g. egg carton, juice bottle, cereal packet, margarine tub, bag of bread and also have a shopping bag to put things in. Ask the child to go and buy e.g. the eggs and bread, increase to three items and then extend choice to four, five or six items.
  • Posting Games: Have pictures of objects and ask the child to post you two, thee or more of the objects
  • Describe a picture/Make a model: Draw a simple picture/ make a model (e.g. a tower) without the child seeing what you have done. Describe the picture to them for them to draw/make it. (E.g., “Draw a house in the middle of the page. It has got a pointed roof and a chimney.”). The aim is for the child to draw a picture/make a model identical to your own without him/her seeing it
  • Make up a story: Make up a story with the child’s name in it. Every time you say his/her name, the child has to nod, stand up or put their arms up
  • Make a scrapbook using photographs of people doing things or events Encourage your child to give you a word/sentence to write underneath (depending on their language level). Sometimes this may encourage better sentences than if your child is just telling you.

Vocabulary support for older children:

  • Pre-teach new vocabulary so the child/young person understands the words before they are introduced in class.
  • Use visuals to support their learning.
    Use mind maps to support with vocabulary learning.
  • Make a personal vocabulary book to be used in the classroom as well as for practice at home. This can be divided into topic areas.
  • Always recap on new vocabulary at the end of lessons and then revise it at regular intervals.
  • When teaching vocabulary use simple definitions, the name of the category (e.g. animals, transport), link new words to those the child already knows, tying it in with their life experiences, talk about similarities and differences (e.g. how are an apple and a banana the same/different?), put in in a sentence and talk about how the word sounds (number of syllables, starting sound, rhymes etc).
Two young people wearing bright colours
Two young people wearing bright colours