Preschool Comprehension Activities & Ideas to Boost Receptive Language Skills

comprehension activities preschool receptive language

Boosting Receptive Language Skills in Preschool provides an excellent foundation for life-long learning. Delays in comprehension skills in Preschool can results in a child struggling to follow what is happening in the class activities. They can lose the thread of a group’s conversation (e.g., story time), they end up not carrying out requests or instructions or them may simply look blank when asked a question! These difficulties can lead to social, self-esteem and learning problems.

The following provides some general suggestions to help develop receptive language skills in preschool:

Ask questions and give instructions at their level of understanding.

This might mean you need to deliberately make you sentences shorter e.g. break a 2-step command into two single step commands. You may need to ask a speech pathologist to complete a formal language assessment in the preschool years in order to really determine what level of receptive language you should use.

comprehension activities preschool receptive language

Understand what clues they are using to help with understanding.

Some Preschoolers’ may be waiting for someone else to have a turn to work out what the instruction actually meant. These clues can help scaffold or build their understanding. The clues can be weaned off once the child’s understanding skills strengthen. You can set up picture charts or clues for children so they have visual prompts if their comprehensions are weak. The receptive language skills in preschool classrooms can be supported as a whole with visual prompts.

Provide good language input during everyday activities to boost receptive language in preschool

Talk about what the pre-schooler is doing and discuss new words relating to what they are currently doing. This can help expand word level comprehension.

comprehension activities preschool receptive language

Repeat and Paraphrase:

Ask the question or an instruction more than once. The child can then “comprehend” different parts of the question each time. By encourage memory skills (e.g., rehearsing or saying back themselves the instruction) receptive language in preschool can be supported. Say the same thing using a different word can assist in building receptive vocabulary development (e.g., it was a big dinosaur… It was SO big, it was ENORMOUS).

Focus on their focus

Show interest in what they are interested in. We all comprehend new things faster if we are interested in and want to know the new information. The Focus on Toddler Talk Online Program would be very useful for parents of Preschool children that have major receptive language delays. (e.g., children with autism)

comprehension activities preschool receptive language

Check they understand before they fail

After you give an instruction ask what they are going to do first? (e.g., get your shoes then your coat?... What are you getting first?). This is better than getting cross they didn’t follow your request!


Don’t just read the word in a book and move on. Ask them to find some of the pictures. This can start off by its name (Where is the train) but then you could boost comprehension of concepts by asking if they can “find the toy under the toy box”, or ask for actions or parts of the pictures (e.g., find one that has spokes).

comprehension activities preschool receptive language

Encourage then to try to understand and not to avoid what they do not easily comprehend.

Expect then to follow an instruction or answer a question if asked. This should be established from 18 months. Give an instruction just before a child does the action (e.g., “cuddle teddy” just as they go to cuddle teddy. THEN praise that “you listened to what I asked! Well done! Cuddle teddy!). If a preschool is finding instruction difficult or is showing refusal behaviour, then ask questions you can help them do. (e.g., put the block in the box). If they don’t do it, gentle “hand over their hand” and help the to do it. If this cause them to get upset or frustrated make the task really quick or only do one or two turns. Praise them following the instruction like they did it themselves!

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