Language Development

The Language Development domain describes children’s developing ability to effectively communicate (expressive language) and understand (receptive language) oral language in different environments and for a variety of purposes. Such skills are key to children’s learning and social competence. The understanding and use of language is also closely related to students’ developing literacy and their later success in learning to read and write.

Language Development

Children may . . .

Children may. . .

Suggested Supports
Adults may . . .

1. Attending and Understanding:  The ability to comprehend or understand language.

  1. Attend to language during conversations, songs, stories, or other learning experiences.*
  2. Comprehend increasingly complex and varied vocabulary.*
  3. Comprehend different forms of language, such as questions or exclamations.*
  4. Follow two- to three-step directions.*
  5. Comprehend different grammatical structures or rules for using language.*
  • Listen to age-appropriate stories, poems, and songs that are rich in descriptive vocabulary.
  • Understand some words that convey special concepts (e.g., first/last, over/under).
  • Demonstrate use of vocabulary in oral language to express ideas and events.*
  • Make connections between words with similar meanings.
  • Follow two-step directions.
  • Introduce new words and concepts by naming what children are doing and experiencing.
  • Involve children in sustained conversations, pursuing their interests with questions and comments.
  • Use facial expressions, gestures, and a rich and varied vocabulary with children.
  • State directions clearly, positively, respectfully, and only as needed.

2. Communicating and Speaking: The ability to use language.

  1. Vary the amount of information provided to meet the demands of the situation.
  2. Understand, follows, and uses appropriate social and conversational rules.
  3. Express self in increasingly long, detailed, and sophisticated ways.*
  4. Participate in conversations of more than three exchanges with peers and adults.*
  5. Use language to express ideas and needs.*
  6. Understand the difference between a question and a statement.*
  7. Practice asking questions and making statements.*
  8. Speak in sentences of five or six words.*
  • Share their ideas and experiences in small groups.
  • Use language as a part of pretend play to create and enact roles.
  • Use complete sentences, when appropriate.
  • Describe experiences and retell simple stories.
  • Use language to establish and maintain relationships.
  • Ask open-ended questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” response.
  • Use descriptive language.
  • Provide opportunities for children to engage in dialogue, including one-on-one and group conversations.
  • Structure activities so that children can engage in telling stories or recounting events by expressing themselves through various means such as speech, pantomime, pointing, role-playing.
  • Vary “wait time,” or the amount of time children are allowed to respond. Children from some cultural backgrounds find the pace of verbal interactions in U.S. schools very different from what they are accustomed to.

3. Vocabulary: The ability to use a variety of words.

  1. Understands and uses a wide variety of words for a variety of purposes.*
  2. Show understanding of word categories and relationships among words
  3. Use increasingly complex and varied vocabulary.*
  • Demonstrates the use of multiple (two or three) new words or signs a day during play and other activities.
  • Shows recognition of and/or familiarity with key domain-specific words heard during reading or discussions.
  • With multiple exposures, uses new domain-specific vocabulary during activities, such as using the word “cocoon” when learning about the life-cycle of caterpillars, or “cylinder” when learning about 3-D shapes.
  • With support, forms guesses about the meaning of new words from context clues.
  • Categorizes words or objects, such as sorting a hard hat, machines, and tools into the construction group, or giving many examples of farm animals.
  • Discusses new words in relation to known words and word categories, such as “It fell to the bottom when it sank,” or “When you hop it’s like jumping on one leg,” or “The bear and fox are both wild animals.”
  • Identifies shared characteristics among people, places, things, or actions, such as identifying that both cats and dogs are furry and have four legs.
  • Shows an ability to distinguish similar words, such as “I don’t like it, I love it!” or “It’s more than tall, it’s gigantic,” or “It’s so cold, it’s frosty.”
  • Notice where children look and then talk about what they are focusing on using interesting, rich vocabulary.
  • Introduce words that describe objects, actions, and attributes (e.g., include verbs like “gallop” and “soar” as well as adjectives like “enormous” and “miniscule”).
  • Clarify or explain new or unfamiliar words as they relate to everyday objects or actions children are familiar with.
  • Play sorting games that reinforce the idea of categories (e.g., circles in one box, squares in the other; fruit in one bowl, vegetables in the other; “All the children with curly hair, please line up to wash your hands for snack time.”
  • Reinforce categories by having children identify the item in a group that is different (e.g., bear, cat, and airplane).
  • Incorporate specific language learning into classroom transitions (e.g., direct children to the front or back of the line or next to or behind a particular child).