Effective Practice Guides

Communicating and Speaking: Know

Goals for Infants and Toddlers

  • IT-LC 3. Child communicates needs and wants non-verbally and by using language.
  • IT-LC 4. Child uses non-verbal communication and language to engage others in interaction.
  • IT-LC 5. Child uses increasingly complex language in conversation with others.
  • IT-LC 6. Child initiates non-verbal communication and language to learn and gain information.

Teaching Practices

When talking or signing with children, use their home or tribal language if you are able.


Respond to children’s non-verbal and verbal requests by meeting their needs consistently.
Carmen, 10 months old, pats the tray on her chair and turns her hands to face her teacher, Mr. Diaz. He says to her, “¿Carmen, estás diciendo que has tenido suficientes zanahorias? (Are you saying you have had enough carrots?)” He pauses for her response, then says, “Ahora es tiempo de limpiar tus manos así puedes volver a jugar (Okay, now it’s time to get wipe your hands so you can get back to playing).” He hands a wipe to Carmen, saying, “Aquí tienes. Tú puedes ayudar a limpiar tus manos pegajosas (Here you go. You can help wipe your sticky hands).” He uses another wipe to clean one hand while she cleans the other.

Repeat children’s communications to seek confirmation or clarification and to encourage them to extend their language use. 
During a home visit, Jamal, almost 3 years old, builds a tall tower with a collection of egg cartons, tissue boxes, and plastic containers his mother gathered before the visit. He stands next to his creation then pushes it so it topples. Most of the tower falls down around him, but a few items land on him. "I’m otay,” he announces. “I’m otay.” Ms. Jansen, their home visitor, says, “Jamal, I’m glad to hear you are okay. You used a lot of things to make your tower so high.” Jamal’s mother, Ms. Larson, says, “Jamal, do you want to build another tower?”


Make books available in multiple areas of the home or early childhood setting. Include books in the languages children hear at home and in the setting (e.g., home language, English, tribal language).
Ms. Carmine has a potty in the bathroom of her family child care home for children who are learning to give up diapers. Next to the potty is a small basket of books that can be cleaned and sanitized after children handle them. She changes the books weekly so there is always something new to look at. Raina, 28 months, announces, “I’m going potty with Clifford.” “Okay,” says Ms. Carmine. “When you’re done, you can tell us about what Clifford likes to do.”

Create cozy places where an adult can sit and talk with one or a few children. 
In the outdoor play area, a hammock hangs between two trees. Ms. Arnaz and baby Tomás rock in the hammock, singing a song she made up. “Tomás is so big, so big, so big, Tomás is so big he can stretch his legs.” Tomás laughs each time he hears his name.


Introduce new vocabulary words in response to a child’s interests.
Margot, 32 months, loves construction vehicles and can name many of them. When Ms. Jerald takes the children for a neighborhood walk, she turns left at the corner so they can walk by a construction site. Margot excitedly names the vehicles, then points to one and asks, “What’s that?” “It’s called an excavator,” says Ms. Jerald. “Let’s watch to see what an excavator does.” Back in the classroom they find a picture of an excavator in a book. Margot says, “Ex-ca-va-tor. Excavator. Excavator.”

Hold one-on-one conversations with children to help them learn the give and take of conversations.
“Noooow,” says 16-month-old Liam while pointing out the window. “Yes, that’s snow. It’s cold and wet and pretty,” says his teacher, Mr. Drake. “Out?” asks Liam. “Later we can go out,” responds Mr. Drake. “You can wear your boots to walk in the snow,” he adds. “Now?” says Liam, walking towards the door. “Not yet,” says Mr. Drake. “First we’re going to eat a snack—bananas. You like bananas.” “Like nanas,” says Liam and heads for the table.

Goals for Preschoolers

  • P-LC 3. Child varies the amount of information provided to meet the demands of the situation.
  • P-LC 4. Child understands, follows, and uses appropriate social and conversational rules.
  • P-LC 5. Child expresses self in increasingly long, detailed, and sophisticated ways.

Teaching Practices

When talking or signing with children, use their home or tribal language if you are able. Use labels, signs, and posters in children’s home and tribal languages, as appropriate.


Help children learn how to take turns expressing their ideas. 
At group time, the children are sharing their ideas for what to do with the big box Ms. Jackson brought in. Donna, age 4, is holding the talking stick. She says, “I think it should be a house because...” “No, no. We always make houses,” interrupts Roxie, also 4 years old. Ms. Jackson steps in saying, “Donna has the talking stick so it is her turn to share her ideas. When she is done, someone else can have a turn.” Roxie says, “Okay. I’ll wait.”

Provide numerous opportunities for children to use language with adults and each other.
The 3-year-olds in Ms. Barnes’ family child care are very interested in forest animals. She shows them some short YouTube videos of animals in the wild and reads stories that take place in the forest. Today, she leads an activity with them. After assigning an animal to each child, she says, “Think of how your animal moves. Then tell us about it.” After each child has a turn sharing, she turns on some music and the room is filled with wild creatures.


Provide conversation starters such as interesting things to see, hear, and touch.
During today’s home visit, Ms. Oma shows a quilt to her daughter, Alissa, age 4 ½. Alissa asks, “Did someone make it?” “Yes, your aana (grandmother in Iñupiaq) made it,” says Ms. Oma. “It’s beautiful! It looks like illustrations in a book,” says Ms. Moon, the home visitor. Alissa says, “Can we make up a story about the quilt?” “Of course,” says Alissa’s mother. “How do you want it to start?” 

Engage children in creating experience charts, illustrated with photos, so children can revisit and discuss experiences.
Several children are standing at the bulletin board looking at photos from pajama day. With each photo is text in Spanish and English explaining the day’s events. The children helped write the text so they “read” it aloud. “We all came to school in pajamas,” says Sheri. “And we wore pantuflas (slippers). And we even ate lunch in our pijamas (pajamas)” adds Diego. Laughing, Gina points to a photo, “Look, there’s Ms. Alden in her jammies. It was so much fun!”


Provide augmentative and alternative communication tools, such as a communication board.
Charles, 4½, has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. To help him express himself, his teacher, Ms. Vale, made a communication board with input from his speech therapist and parents. She used a cookie sheet, magnetic tape, and pictures of activities, centers, and materials found in the classroom. While helping Charles choose an activity at choice time, Ms. Vale points to the picture of the music and movement center and asks, “Do you want to play here?” Charles nods and goes to look for the maracas.

Pair a child with strong expressive language skills with a child whose skills are less developed.
Some of the helper positions in the 3s classroom are designed for two children. For example, lunch preparation is a big job and ideal for two workers. Ms. Farrow pairs Rhonda, who typically has a lot to say, with George, who is quieter. Ms. Farrow observes the pair setting the table together. George says, “Like this, Rhonda? Are my napkins okay?”

Topic:School Readiness

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: June 3, 2018