‘Is there anything I can do at home to help my child put their words together in the right way?’
A question I get asked regularly by parents. The answer is ‘Yes: lots of things’. Today, we’ll look at one of the best combinations for helping kids with their expressive language: recasting with modelling.
I’ll explain what it is, then demonstrate how we do it. I’ll also point you to the resources we use in therapy in the clinic and for home practice.
Tricky language forms
Some kids (and some adults!) struggle to put their words together in grammatically correct ways. Some have difficulties with word forms, like how to say:
plurals (e.g. cats, dogs, buses, sheep);
pronouns (e.g. he/she, his/her, him/her);
possessives (e.g. dog’s, cat’s, or David’s);
verb tenses (e.g. playing, played, falling, fell, will fly);
comparatives (e.g. bigger, taller, shorter); and
superlatives (e.g. biggest, tallest, shortest).
Others have difficulties putting their words into the right order in sentences, e.g.:
subject-verb sentences like ‘The boy is running.’
subject-negative-verb sentences like ‘The girl is not running.’
subject-verb-object sentences like ‘The boy is kicking the ball.’
making indirect requests like ‘Can I…?’
subject-verb-complement sentences like ‘The girl is happy.’
subject-verb-object-object sentences like ‘The boy gave the bone to the dog.’
Recasting is simply rephrasing what your child says to you correctly while making it clear that you understand what he/she meant.
So if you child says: ‘Dog be friendly one?’
You could say: ‘Yes, the dog is friendly.’
If your child says: ‘Boy he kick it, the ball. On the goal.’
You could say: ‘Yes, the boy kicked the ball. He kicked it into the goal. The boy kicked the ball into the goal.’
We’ve provided another example of recasting below, so you can see how it works in practice.
Modelling is giving your child lots of correct examples of a word form or sentence structure, e.g. 12 examples of subject-verb sentences like ‘The boy is running.’. Your child is not required to repeat you, although they are praised if they do.
The most widely accepted theory supporting the use of modelling is so-called ‘statistical learning theory’ (e.g. Kuhl. 2004). This is the idea that children recognise statistical regularities from hearing lots of examples in a concentrated way. So, for example, if a child hears ‘cats, hats, pets, mats, mates, nets’ and so on regularly, she might start to recognise that all these words refer to more than one object/thing and end in /s/, i.e. they are regular plurals.
Modelling can be done:
in conversation during structured play activities (e.g. Alt et al., 2014; Fey et al., 1993); and
during book reading activities (e.g. Leonard et al., 2004).
This takes a bit of training, but modelling this way has been shown to be effective in helping kids to master different grammatical forms.
Modelling by auditory bombardment
Play and book-based modelling of grammar targets can be tricky to do, especially if:
you’re a bit rusty on grammar; and/or
English isn’t your first language; and/or
you struggle to find the time to do it on top of all the other activities your child has on.
Recently, we’ve started helping our clients (and their families) by making short, focused recordings of different grammar targets in short sentences. The idea – called ‘auditory bombardment’ – is that the child hears the correct grammar form several times in a short burst. We’ve decided to make them available to others too via our shop.
We’ve based this new practice on the great work of researchers like Professor Elena Plante and colleagues who have used the technique to help kids with developmental language disorders, and by analogy with auditory bombardment procedures in phonology treatments like Cycles.
For each grammar goal, we provide a short recording and a script with pictures, so that, daily, children can:
listen to our recording as they look at the pictures;
simply listen to the recordings as they play nearby or sit in the car; or
have a family member read the script to the child in a shared reading format.
We’ve formatted the recordings as .m4a files, which means you can play them on your phone, iPad or other device, through a Bluetooth speaker, or in your car so you can do the work on the go and whenever suits your family.
Evidence shows that brief periods of auditory bombardment targeting a particular grammatical goal can help kids to learn it, especially if used in conjunction with other speech pathology techniques, like recasting (Plante et al., 2018 – see full citation below).
Recast then model, or model then recast?
Research suggests it’s best to play the modelling audio bombardment recordings after you’ve done some practice on the target using recasting. For example, imagine this conversation with a child targeting plural s. Note how the adult ‘recasts’ the child’s statements:
Child: I see two cat.
Adult: Yes, you see two cats, don’t you?
Child: Yup. Cat have pointy ear?
Adult: Yes, the cats do! Those cats all have pointy ears. Their ears are pointy. The cats have such pointy ears!
After up to 30 minutes of recasting (i.e. rephrasing the child’s statements correctly), you would then play the auditory bombardment recording containing lots of plural s words.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with playing the recordings before you work on the target, or even as a standalone activity, e.g. when waiting for a bus. In our clinic, we prefer to play the recordings both before and after we’ve done some practice on the goal to:
prime the child for the target before starting therapy on it; and
then reinforce what we’ve worked on before finishing up.
Audio recording dosage: How often should you play the recordings to your child?
We recommend playing the recording at least once a day, five days a week for at least two consecutive weeks. In addition to helping the child, we find that listening to the target over and over also helps parents remember what to focus on when talking and playing with their children.
Clinical bottom line
Modelling via auditory bombardment with adult recasting appears to be effective in helping kids to improve their word and sentence forms (grammar). Audio bombardment only takes a couple of minutes a day, and can help parents remember what to focus on when talking with their kids and recasting what they say. Easy to use, ready-made auditory bombardment recordings of different grammar forms can also be helpful for those parents who lack confidence, or who don’t speak English fluently.
Therapy/home practice resources: Click here to access our growing library of audio recordings, like:
- Subject-verb sentences
- Subject-verb-object sentences
- Subject-verb complement sentences
- Conjunctions: sentences using because
- ‘Can I…?’ questions
- Speaking for themselves: why I choose ambitious goals to help young children put words together
- Language stimulation tip of the week: modelling
Principal source: Plante, E., Tucci, A., Nicholas, K., Arizmendi, G.D., & Vance, R. (2018). Effective Use of Auditory Bombardment as a Therapy Adjunct for Children with Developmental Language Disorders. Language, Speech and Hearing in Schools, 49, 320-333.
Hi there, I’m David Kinnane.
Principal Speech Pathologist, Banter Speech & Language
Our talented team of certified practising speech pathologists provide unhurried, personalised and evidence-based speech pathology care to children and adults in the Inner West of Sydney and beyond, both in our clinic and via telehealth.