Do you want to develop your child's comprehension skills?
One way fun way for younger children is to use information carrying words games. When children are in the early stages of their language development, we measure their progress by thinking about the number of information carrying words they are able to understand in a sentence or an instruction. As their language develops children are able to understand more pieces of information at one time.
The number of information carrying words is different to the number of words in a sentence. The information carrying words are the ones that the child needs to understand in order to follow the instruction. Let’s consider the following sentence. “The dog is chasing the cat.”The sentence has six words, but it has three information carrying words which carry the meaning of the sentence “The dog is chase(ing) the cat.”
To play an “information carrying words game” you can use pictures or objects. With pictures you need some larger background pictures, and some small pictures which are placed onto the background pictures. To use objects you need three or four larger objects, such as a toy car, truck and train and some smaller objects such as various plastic animals. Then you are ready to begin:
- Check your child knows the names of each of the pictures or objects.
- Tell your child that you are going to play a listening game and that they need to listen carefully and do what you say.
- Give your child an instruction at the appropriate level for them to begin, emphasising the information carrying words. Most preschool children can remember roughly the same number of words as their age, so for a two year old try two information carrying words such as “put the horse in the truck”.
- Praise your child if they place the item correctly.
- If they don’t get it right give them a clue by handing them the small item or by pointing to where they need to place the item.
To check you are working at the right level for your child:
- If your child gets all the pictures placed correctly the instructions are simple for them and they need to move to a higher level.
- If your child is making many mistakes the instructions are too difficult and you need to move to a lower level.
- A good working level is where your child is getting three or four out of each five instructions correct.
- Increase levels by adding more items, “put the sheep and the horse in the truck” or by introducing concept words such as colour “put the brown horse in the truck”, size “put the big horse in the truck” or position words “put the horse next to the truck”. When you introduce concepts make sure there is a contrast, for example if you want to say "big horse" make sure there is also a "small horse" and another "big" animal so your child has to remember both words.
Barrier games are a fun way to develop listening skills, oral language skills, social language skills, clear talking and understanding and use of concepts. They are great for practising concentration and listening and for extending the amount of information your child can remember, understand or express within a sentence.
Barrier games require a listener, a speaker, two identical sets of materials and a barrier such as a large book that will stand up. The barrier is placed between the two players so that each can not see the others materials. The speaker then arranges his materials and describes to the listener what s/he is doing. The listener arranges his/her materials in the same way. When completed, the barrier is removed and the materials should look the same.
Materials can include: blocks, Lego, miniature objects, animals and figures, sticker sets, picture cards, coloured pencils and paper, real objects, maths materials, collage materials.
To play your barrier game using the picture sets:
1. Each player has one background sheet and one set of cut up small pictures. Sit facing each other. Lay out each set of pictures in front of each player. Check that the child knows the names of all the small pictures.
2. Explain to the child you are going to play a game to see that you are good listeners and talkers. Explain that you will make a picture and you want your child to make their picture look the same as yours. Stand up the barrier and explain that this is so that the child cannot see what you are doing and needs to listen carefully.
3. Place your small pictures on the background and give the child clear instructions one at a time about how to put their pictures in the same position. Make
sure you give your child enough time to respond before giving the next instruction.
4. When you have placed all the pictures on the background take the barrier away and talk to your child about the pictures that are placed correctly. Explain that this means they have listened carefully. Fix any pictures that are not placed correctly.
5. Play the game again and this time, tell your child that it is their turn to talk. Explain that you will listen carefully and make your pictures look the
same as theirs. Put the barrier up again and ask the child to tell you where to put the pictures. If your child’s instructions are not clear, you may need to cue them such as if your child says “put the car there” you might say “I’ve got the car, but I’m not sure where to put it”.
6. Take the barrier away, look at all the pictures that correct and tell your child how this means that they did a good job of talking and that you listened carefully. Talk about any pictures that are in the incorrect position. Model the correct instruction such as “oh, I needed to put the cat under the tree”.
Once your child understands how to play barrier games, you can make your own games. You can gradually games more difficult by increasing the length and complexity of the instructions or the number of items. You can also introduce concepts of space (such as: in, on, under, next to, above and below), colour and size.
Have fun developing your child's language skills.