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Language and Communication Three key word expression  This resource has been viewed by a moderator.


Pupils use phrases with up to three key words signs or symbols to communicate simple ideas, events or stories to others, for example 'I want a big chocolate ice cream'.

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Early years skill:Speaking
Early years typical range:30-50m
P-scales/Curriculum skill:English Speaking
P-scales/Curriculum level:P7
TAP skill:Expressive Language
TAP level:TAP42
Pre/Nat. Curriculum Area:not specified
Pre/Nat. Curiculum Standard:not specified
Section:Early Years (0-5yrs) info; Primary (5-11yrs) info
Activity/strategy name and materials required How to do the activity Key principles for doing the activity and comments
Shopping games:

Everyday objects, bag.

The child is asked to go and 'buy' two and then three items. He/she must name or sign each item he wants. Use pictures or symbols as a 'shopping list'.


Two boxes, one with a picture of a monkey, another with a picture of cat. Cut a posting hole where the mouths are. Play food.

Introduce the monkey and cat saying they are very hungry.

Give instructions to the children such as 'Give Monkey the apple', 'Give the cat the banana and the ice cream'. Comment on what happened, for example 'Monkey ate the apple'. Give the child a go at saying what you should do.

Encourage the child to give up to three key words by simply looking puzzled if you haven't got enough information. You could also ask questions such as 'Who shall I feed the apple to?', 'What shall I give the monkey?' if he doesn't give enough information.


Tea-set, play food, doll, teddy.

Introduce the doll and teddy saying they are having a picnic.

Give instructions to the children such as 'Give teddy the apple', 'Give the dolly the banana and the ice cream'. Comment on what happened, for example 'Teddy ate the apple'. Give the children a go at saying what you should do - they can also tell the toys what to do.

Animals and actions

At least two toy animals or dolls, for example a doll, a teddy, a rabbit.

Prompt cards for actions the animals can do if needed.

  1. Demonstrate for the children with a 3 key word phrase for example "Rabbit is jumping to Fred" - do the action at the same time as saying it.
  2. In turn, give the children an animal for them to do an action with to something or someone.
  3. If they have difficulties thinking what they can do with the animal, use the prompt cards.
  4. As they do so ask them what's happening?


If the child doesn't use all three key words, you can try saying what the animal is doing but getting a bit wrong (so they can correct you), for example, if they say "rabbit's jumping", you can say "oh...rabbit's jumping on the banana?" (there is no banana). The child may correct you, e.g. "rabbit's jumping on the table!" - though they might say "no, table!" - which conversationally is equally OK. They are more likely to use more words if you get more of it wrong, e.g. "oh, Teddy's sleeping on the banana!"

To make this easier you could ask for example "Is rabbit jumping on the banana" or "Is the teddy sitting in the house" (here you've changed all the words for your alternative choice, but you could try having less differences in the choice and see what happens.

If the child just accepts your incorrect statement, you can pretend to pause and think for a while, and then say "Oh, rabbit's jumping on the table!" (Getting it correct this time).

IMPORTANT: you should try and use as many different verbal support strategies as you can in order to help the child say the target sentence. In general, you should try and avoid getting the child to simply repeat what you say as this will be much less effective for helping them to learn how to create the target sentence for themselves.


Dolls/ teddies, tea set, play dough in two colours, cutters.

Use similar language as in the picnic activity above.

With play dough make 'cookies'- red/blue, big/small, round/square.

Let the child wait on the toys who order big blue cookies or little round cookies etc.

Let the child help the toy to choose while you wait on them.

When the child is the waiter if they don't select the right cookie repeat the key information that has been missed.

When the child is ordering look puzzled if they don't give you enough information.

When the child can do this easily try asking for big, blue square cookies etc.

Stories using miniatures

Play people, bricks, etc. as required

Can be done 1:1 or in a small group

Suggestions for stories:

1. dad, mum, baby, bike, bricks: dad: bye bye baby, bye, bye mum, etc., gets on bike, drives into bricks, falls off;

2. helicopter rescue: helicopter comes and rescues those on an island;

3. dog eats picnic when others aren't looking;

4. fire!: children spot a fire in a building - make a story about what they do next;

5. swim across crocodile infested river.

1. Show the child a story with the miniatures;

2. Get the child to redo the story using the miniatures;

3. Get the child to tell you what to do to redo the story yourself.

The stories can also be physically acted out.

Give minimal prompts to help the child keep the story going. See also activities English Reading and English Writing P8 for picture sequencing activities.


Paper and pen/pencil for adult.

Everyone takes it in turns to recount what they have done earlier in the day or recently.

Use very rough drawings and/or one or two written words (if all the children can read the words) to list what the children have done. The drawings can be very rough and can often still work as a prompt even if they are virtually unrecognisable!

One child is chosen to say what the others have done using the pictures/words as prompts if necessary.

Big/little (or small) food

Big and small pictures of food items (for example from board maker, clipart, etc or enlarge/decrease pictures on the photocopier)

2 posting boxes, each with a picture of an animal on the front - you could use the animal's mouth for the slot; or 2 hand puppets with opening mouths

1. Make a set of pictures of food containing big and little version of the same picture.

2. Show the child the posting boxes/puppets and check they can identify the animals.

3. Put a selection of food pictures in front of the child, making sure you have the big and little versions of the food item at the same time.

4. Ask the child to give the food item to the animal you mention, for example, "give the big apple to the dog" or "the cat wants the little cake"

5. Swap roles so the child has a chance to use these phrases.

Check to see whether the child uses the word "little" or "small", then use the same word.

Don't have too many different foods available at once, as that will be confusing. You can put more pictures out as the foods are 'eaten'.

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