How to help children with expressive language diffuculties


What are expressive language difficulties?

Some children find it difficult to express themselves verbally.  They may have difficulty: - choosing the right words; putting those words together in a sentence that makes sense, (using grammatical rules); organising their ideas into the appropriate order.


Remember that it takes time and patience to enable people to express themselves, whether through speech or other means. Spoken language must come before written language and therefore it is important to work on this first if necessary.


General startegies 

Give lots of opportunities for spoken language:

  • Try and make time for spoken communication, especially story telling. Tell stories (real and imagined) in formal, informal situations.  Encourage children to tell you their stories. Encourage discussion, and giving of opinions.


Wait for children to communicate:

  • Children with expressive language difficulties may need longer to construct an answer to a question. Give them as much time as possible. A useful strategy is to pause and silently count to 5 in your head before you say anything else.


Respond to attempts at communication as much as possible:

  • If you understand the message, accept it.
  • Tell the child what you think you have understood so far, but give them a chance to tell you if you’ve got it wrong.
  • Listen carefully: show you’re interested, by commenting, and asking questions which encourage the child to tell you more.
  • If a child is telling you something, try not to turn it into a ‘test’ by asking too many questions.  Sometimes a positive comment e.g “I think you and Daddy had fun at the swimming pool”, will prompt the child to say more.
  • Try not to interrupt or change the topic.


Model good communication ie demonstrate good language models in your own speech:

  • If a child uses individual words or short phrases to communicate, repeat their words and add 1 more word to what they are saying eg:

Child: red ball

Adult: big red ball’

By just adding one word it makes it easier for the child to copy you when they are ready.

  • If a child uses words in an unusual or immature way, repeat them back the right way. You don’t need to make the child repeat the corrected form.

          Child: The boy’s fall out of the bike

          You: Yes, the boy’s fallen off the bike.

  • If a child uses a general word, tell them the more specific word e.g.:

Child: I went to see the man

You: Oh yes, you went to see the doctor.


Specific strateiges 

Support good communication:

  • Invite children to tell you things e.g. -I bet you had fun on your holiday.
  • Ask questions that: -Clear up confusion e.g “so did you see nana at your house or at nana’s house?”

          -Help the child continue the story e.g “what did nana do then?”

-Request specific information. ‘WH’ questions are particularly useful (see below*)


Make comments that:

  • Acknowledge what the child has said “So you were really upset when your swing broke”
  • Acknowledge that the child has spoken to you even if you struggle to understand. You may be able to identify the topic of their conversation “You’re telling me something about your car”
  • Show them that you’re listening “That sounds good fun”
  • Provide new information he can build on. “I think the monkey    probably wanted to eat your banana”


Support story telling skills using visual structures

  • Use a structured format of key questions* to organise story work and retelling events, appropriate to the age of the children you are working with. Colour coding the key words will help. Encourage the children to use this for both written and oral work:


  • Identify the topic: think of a title.
  • Who was there?
  • Who did this happen to?
  • Where were you?
  • Where did you go?
  • When did it happen?
  • What happened?
  • Why did things happen the way they did?
  • What happened in the end?


Useful Websites

  •  This is the website for the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.
  •  This is a useful website for parents and teachers.  It contains information and advice.
  •  This is a parent led organisation that offers information and advice.  There are areas on the website for professionals also.


Resources and Activities

  • Elklan (a member of school staff may be Elklan trained)
  • Black Sheep Press Ltd.  (narrative packs)

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