Three Ways to Model Language During Play

Blog 2Three Ways of Modeling Language During Play


Welcome back! Last week, we walked through 4 strategies to promote communication during play. Tell us how your play sessions went in the comment box below. What strategies did you like best?  Did you try something different that you could share with us?


Today we’re going to build on what we learned last week in discussing language models. Modeling language during play is a phenomenal way to promote communication in early language learners. Every time we talk around our kiddos, we’re modeling language. What language are our children picking up from us? Are they learning rich, quality language?


I’ve worked with a number of non-vocal children and children with limited vocabulary who readily say “wee” while sliding, shout “Yay!” to celebrate building a tower, and gasp “uh-oh” when something spills. If those children can use those words, why can’t they comment “I slide” while sliding, shout “Tower!” to celebrate building a tower, and say “spill” when something spills? Well, the answer is that they can. It is up to us to model better, richer language for our children.


Kids learn language through the models we provide them. Let’s give them words that matter and help them to develop the vocabulary to comment and make requests. We can model rich language during play using the strategies described by Coogle et al. (2013).


Strategies for Modeling Language During Play


  • Parallel Talk (narrating what your child is doing)
    • Example: If your child puts a baby doll in a doll bed, you could say “baby in bed” or “you put the baby in the bed.”
      • Nonexample: Asking, “Why did you put the baby in bed?” or “Is the baby tired?” when your child puts a baby doll in a doll bed. —Narrating is not asking questions.


  • Self-Talk (narrating what you are doing)
    • Example: Stirring play food in a bowl and saying, “I’m making soup.” or “I’m stirring.”


Parallel talk and self-talk are wonderful ways of modeling language. Dr. Ann Kaiser, professor and researcher at Vanderbilt University, coined the term “mirroring and mapping” to describe a strategy of modeling language that builds on contingent imitation.


  • Mirroring & Mapping (i.e., contingent imitation paired with a language model) (use contingent imitation and model what your child could say while they play)
    • Example: If your child stacks blocks, stack blocks next to your child’s blocks or add a block to your child’s tower and say “stack” or “block.”
      • Nonexample: Watching your child stack blocks and saying “stack” or “block.” —That would be using the parallel talk strategy.


Now it’s time to give these strategies a try. Add them to your arsenal of play and language strategies. Remember, model rich, quality language such as nouns and verbs to support your child in developing strong language and communication skills.


Don’t forget to tell us how your play sessions go by commenting below.