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High Level Language Skills

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

Written By: Victoria Mannella-Gupta


What’s high level language and why should my child be working on it?


Our recent blog post discussed promoting early language development, but as our children grow, there is a lot more involved to language! High level language skills go above and beyond speaking. These are tasks are crucial to language and literacy!


--> Sequencing <--

Imagine giving someone a recipe- but the instructions are out of order, or telling someone a joke- but using the punchline first. Sequencing is a foundational skill that you may not even realize you are using in everyday life! For example, following directions, putting words in the correct order, baking a cake, and re-telling a story all involve sequencing. Begin by showing your child that order is important by teaching them useful vocabulary associated with sequencing such as: First/last, before/after, next, beginning/middle/end etc.


Try this!

You can comment on sequencing throughout the day with your child. For example, when preparing a bath, comment, “First we plug the drain, then we turn the water on…” or “Before we go outside, we need to put our jackets on!”. Another way to work on sequencing is through story telling. Start with a book your child is familiar with and talk about the order while looking at the pages together. You can even print out pictures from the story and ask your child to put them in order. The story “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” or “The Three Little Pigs” are great stories for sequencing! Eventually you can move on to sequencing without any visuals such as having your child explain the steps to brush their teeth.


--> Story Retell <--

As we just mentioned, sequencing skills are crucial for re-telling a story in the correct order. Stories are an important part of communication. We all have probably heard a child tell us a story, but we don’t quite understand all of the details. They may have told you the story in a different order or left out key information.


Try this!

Start at the beginning of the story, who are the characters and where does the story take place? What is problem in the story? What did the characters do to fix it? How does the story end? Again, use your sequencing vocab! For example, “At the beginning of the story there are three little pigs who built three houses. One made out of straw, one made out of sticks, and one made out of bricks. Then a big bad wolf comes and tries to blow down the houses. The house made out of straw and the house made out of sticks fall down. At the end, the three little pigs are safe in the house of bricks”.


--> Inferencing <--

This is a very important language skill to help children draw their own conclusions. Inferencing is an educated guess using evidence. For example, if you leave chocolate chip cookies on the counter, and find your child with crumbs or chocolate on his or her mouth, you can infer that your child probably ate one of the cookies.


Try this!

Picture books are a great resource to work on inferencing. Talk about the pictures and then discuss what you think will happen next and why! This is important for inferring emotions too! If you show your child a picture of a boy crying standing beside his ice cream cone that has fallen on the floor. Ask, “How does the boy feel?”, your child may say, “sad”. Ask, “how do you know the child is sad?”. You want your child to recognize that the tears on the child’s face shows he is sad. Probe further by asking, “Why do you think the child sad?”. Using the picture, your child can infer that we know the child is sad by the tears running down his face, and we know the child is probably crying because he dropped his ice cream cone. A great book to work on inferencing skills is called “Goodnight Gorilla”. While using the pictures for clues, ask your child what they think will happen next!


--> Categorization <--

Categorizing is important because we need to be able to group our thoughts. You might also use this strategy without even realizing it! Is your grocery list is organized by categories such as fruits/vegetables, meat, bread, and dairy? When you are shopping online for a new pair of jeans, how do you know to click clothing, then women, bottoms, and then jeans? Categorizing helps us remember things, learns new things, and develop vocabulary!


There are two types of categorizing, divergent naming and convergent naming. Divergent naming is listing items within a category. For example, name different types of transportation…… cars, buses, planes, trains etc. Convergent naming is putting items into a category. So if I listed oranges, apples, and pears, you could put them under the category “fruit”.


Try this!

Work on this skill by sorting toys or food into categories at home. Talk about why they go together. Then try the reverse, put items together and try naming the category. You can also put an item in a category and ask why it doesn’t belong. Another important skill is being able to talk about the similarities and differences. For example, if you show your child an apple and an orange, can your child provide on similarity (they are both fruit), and one difference (they are two different colours, or they taste different etc.).


Higher level language can be a lot of fun! Use your environment and get creative! Bake cookies together and talk about following the directions in order, read “The Three Little Pigs” and re-tell the story to another family member, use pictures or stories to make inferences, and practice categorizing at the grocery store!

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