Strategies to Encourage Expressive Language Development

  • Give Your Child a Reason to Talk

Knowing your child well is a great thing, but anticipating your child’s every need gives them no reason to have to communicate.  Instead of automatically giving your child a drink, snack, or even a toy that’s out of reach, wait and give him/her a chance to attempt to ask for it.  Even reaching, grunting, and pointing is a great start if they are not able to produce words.  Model the words for him/her.  “Do you want a drink?” and even add the sign for “drink” if you’re working on using some basic sign language.  Reward these attempts at early communication, by granting the request when appropriate and redirecting when it is not. 


  •  Offer Choices/ Pretend to not Understand Request

When your child communicates that he/she wants something, the next step is to offer a choice of two items.  This encourages further communication and also allows the opportunity for further modeling the vocabulary and language of requesting.  You can even offer the wrong item.  If you know your child wants the car, offer him/her the ball.  This provides further opportunities for modeling and encouraging language. Be sure not to do this during every requesting attempt as this may cause frustration instead of communication.


  •  Control the Activity

Engage your child in activities that you control.  A perfect example is bubbles.  You hold the bubbles and the wand, but don’t blow until the child says “b”, “bubble”, “blow”, or makes some attempt to communicate.  That attempt could be a sign, a grunt, or a squeal. Initially, perfect speech is not the goal, the goal is to teach children the power of speech and communication.  When you do blow the bubbles, don’t forget to model the word “pop” every time you or your child pops a bubble! 


 Other activities can be controlled by providing a limited quantity and waiting for your child to ask for “more”.  Coloring, blocks, craft activities, and interactive games are all perfect opportunities for practicing “more”. 

 In both examples, the important thing is that your child makes an attempt to communicate before you (the parent, caregiver, or peer) initiate the action.

  •  Opportunities throughout the Day

Talk about what you are doing and what your child is doing at every possible opportunity.  When your child makes a sound, approximates a word, or says a word, repeat back what you heard or give meaning to what he/she said.   

Everyday activities or “chores” can even be language building opportunities.  Have your child help prepare something in the kitchen, or sort laundry.  Turn the steps into a song or simply narrate each step.  This will help your child learn action words like “open”, “put”, or “stir” and other basic concepts such as “in”, “out”, “on”, “off”, etc. 

  •  Expand on what your child is saying

Your child might make a “b” sound while playing with bubbles or blocks.  Repeat back “Blocks!  Look at the blocks.” or “Bubbles!  You want more bubbles? OK!”  If your child is a more advanced talker, but still working on some of the grammatical rules of speech, model the correct speech back to him/her.  If your child says “Me want that” when pointing to a favorite toy truck, you could repeat back “Oh, you want the red truck?  What a big truck!  Let’s get the truck and play together!”  Repetition like this will help your child learn language.

A toddler with an expressive language delay may already have a small vocabulary to pull from. Those words may include mama, dada, baby, etc. When the toddler uses one of those words, repeat it and add another word. Make new connections for them with a new word and the “old” word.

  • Use those “speech muscles”

If your child is able to blow bubbles, this is a great way to work the “speech muscles”.  Party horns, straws, or whistles can also be lots of fun! We like to use along with  

 Instead of a sippy cup, offer your child his/her drink in a small open cup or in a cup that requires a straw.  This encourages use of other muscles in the mouth that are important for speech.

 Make silly faces in the mirror with your child – stick out your tongue, move it from side to side, make it go up and down, puff up your cheeks with air, make “kiss” faces and “fish” faces, open wide, and smile!

  •  Encourage imitation of all kinds

Make animal sounds, car sounds, or train sounds and encourage your child to imitate these.  These sounds contain the basic vowel sounds that are a part of speech (“moooo”, “baaaa”).  Blowing raspberries, clicking your tongue, or “popping” your lips are fun to copy too!

  •  Read with your child

Read books to and with your child every day.  Let your child pick out the book he/she wants to read.  Even if you make up your own words or story to go with the pictures, or just point to pictures and talk about what you see. This is great language practice for your child!

Blog By: Rebekah Greer

For further information contact us at 360-0200 or visit us at


Strategies to Encourage Receptive Language


  • Condense your words- It’s great to speak to your child in an adult way, that’s how he/she learns new vocabulary! Some children, especially those with receptive language delays, can benefit from shorter, more concise directions to aid in their comprehension.  Instead of using several longer sentences, provide directions or ask questions using shorter phrases and sentences.  As your child’s comprehension increases, you can add complexity to the direction.  Emphasizing certain key words can also aid in comprehension, such as “Put the ball on the table.”
  •  Use Visual Cues- Provide visual cues to help your child follow directions.  Point directly to objects you are speaking about, or make gestures to match your speech.  Point to pictures in books as you are reading.  Demonstrate what you’re asking your child to do, if needed.  This helps your child connect what you’re saying to the request or action.  Provide a lot of praise when your child completes the action.  Be sure to fade these “cues” as your child’s comprehension increases to increase independent and unprompted use of speech.

  • Photos and Pictures- Use photos or pictures to improve your child’s comprehension.  Have photos of your child doing activities or going places that will be meaningful to them.  When you say to your child “Time to wash hands”, show your child the picture of him/her washing hands to provide the extra cue.  You can also use these photos in a photo album or book.  Look at the photos with your child to help increase both receptive and expressive language.  Include photos of family members to help your child increase his/her knowledge of “who” some of those people are.
  • Hide and Seek- Have your child hide a favorite toy in a specific location – “Put the bear on the table/under the chair/in the box”.  This helps increase your child’s understanding of spatial concepts and prepositions.  You can expand this further by hiding preferred items and asking your child “Where is the bear?”. Initiating them to respond with “I don’t know.”, or “Bear where are you?” etc. and then stating “The bear is on the bookshelf.” types of responses to provide additional cueing for spatial concepts.


  • Ask yes/no questions- During the day, ask your child questions that require a simple yes or no response.  Encourage both nodding and saying “yes”, and do the same for “no”.  Start with basic yes/no questions like “Do you want…”, then move on to questions like “Is this a ball? Are you a boy/girl? Eventually you can move on to more complex questions like “Does a cow bark?”
  • Use as many scenarios as you are able, throughout the day, to increase your child’s communicative interactions. This may encourage further speech development across multiple environments.

    Blog By: Rebekah Greer

    For further information contact us at 360-0200 or visit us at