Take your cue to get conversations rolling

Written by: Jenny Barber
2 October 2018

In this Practical Pre-School Book extract Jenny Barber outlines how carefully considered interactions can be used to support children at different developmental stages, encouraging their confidence and ideas.


Considering these types of language helps to reflect on what we say and how we can best support language appropriately for the individual child. It is easy to forget just how significant the way we say something can be for a child as they develop their language skills.

Helping children to talk


Here the adult is labelling what they are doing, describing and demonstrating and talking in the context of the activity. For example – ‘I am changing your nappy’.

This enables children to make connections between words and actions, labelling in their minds and as these words are repeated to them, the understanding and word definition becomes secure. In the example just given, the practitioner needs to reinforce the word nappy, showing the child, so they can make a clear and specific link.

Parallel talk

In parallel talk you describe what the child is doing. As you interact with them you comment on what they are playing with and possibly what they are doing. This does not mean a running commentary, but carefully considered language to identify key elements of the child is doing, such as actions or naming an object. There needs to be silence and pauses between what the adult says to enable the child to process and assimilate. The child may then repeat words that the adult
has said, or simply just store away the vocabulary to build on at a later time.


After listening carefully to the child, you repeat what the child has said. Repeating is effective because it clarifies what the child has said, serves as an acknowledgement, is very supportive of the words/language the child uses, and often keeps them talking because it acts like a question and indicates that you’re interested in what they have to say. Repetition can also be useful when you are not absolutely sure what a child has said. By repeating you are clarifying you have understood.


Sometimes children make mistakes when communicating. When a child makes a language error, you can repeat what they have said in correct form without drawing attention to the error. You are modelling correct language in a positive manner that helps communication and is supportive of grammatically correct language. The child can then reflect and process your use of language, as part of their evolving understanding.


This is responding to a child by saying something to expand and develop their thinking. A child might comment about what they are doing: ‘I am building a castle’ and the practitioner responds – ‘a castle, I wonder what your castle will look like when it is finished?’ This can then perhaps encourage the child to consider and think about the process of building their castle, their plan and how they will know when it is finished.

Encouraging ideas

Encourage children to articulate their solutions and ideas by asking them how they solved something: by describing what they did and what they will do; and by asking them to help you. The last strategy is particularly valuable because it indicates your respect for their ideas and solutions to problems. ‘How can I...’ ‘How can you..?’ What did you...?’

Open-ended questions

Questions that have more than one right answer, or ones that can be answered in many different ways, are called ‘open-ended’ or ‘divergent questions’. These stimulate more language, respect the diversity of solutions, affirm children’s ideas, support independence and encourage creative thinking. ‘How can we make paint pink’? ‘What do you need to play in the water’? ‘How many more do we need...’?

This is an extract from Quality of teaching, learning and assessment in the EYFS, by Jenny Barber, and published by Practical Pre-School Books (£21)

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