Interventions Targeting Language Comprehension in Preschoolers
How can teachers play a role in improving children’s language comprehension?
What Is Language Comprehension?
Language skills are a critical part of development and have been shown to impact children’s success in school and social situations. One important language skill, language comprehension, measures what a child understands. For example, measuring how well a child can understand what people are saying to them or how well they can understand what is happening in a story they are reading. Between the ages of 2 to 6 years old, children show a rapid growth in their language comprehension. Therefore, this age range is a good time to use therapy programs (also called interventions) that focus on improving a child’s language comprehension skills.
Intervention Targeting Language Comprehension
A recent research study (Hagen, Melby-Lervag, & Lervag, 2017) tested the effect of an intervention for preschoolers with poor language comprehension. The therapy lasted 30 weeks and was given by the children’s teachers who were trained in the program. In order to test whether the intervention worked, the children were split into two groups. In the first group (those receiving intervention) children met with their teacher two times a week for 30 minutes in a small group and one time a week for 15 minutes individually. The second group of children (known as the control group) did not receive any intervention and continued to participate in their regular preschool activities.
The intervention was designed to improve a wide variety of language skills that help with a child’s language comprehension. These include: vocabulary skills (understanding the meaning of a variety of words), narrative skills (how well a child can tell a story) and active listening skills (understanding the complete message rather than just hearing the individual words).
The intervention was separated into two main parts.
- Shared reading: The teacher would read age-appropriate short stories with the children. The stories included engaging themes (such as travel, food, emotions, and animals), different vocabulary words, and opportunities to guess why something happened. After reading the story, the teacher would ask the children questions about the story and help them form conclusions about why certain things happened and the meaning of new words they heard in the story.
- Direct instruction: The teacher also held lessons with the children where they did activities to improve their vocabulary skills, grammar skills, and narrative skills. This included exercises such as listening activities, classifying words into categorizes, and sequencing stories.
Children’s language skills were tested immediately after the intervention and 7 months later. Children who received therapy had improved comprehension skills compared to preschoolers that continued their regular classroom curriculum. These benefits were found directly after therapy and were still present 7 months later. These results support the idea that language interventions given by classroom teachers can produce significant, long-lasting benefits in children’s language comprehension.
Tips for Parents and Teachers
This study adds to the support of classroom interventions by teachers as a practical approach to improving language comprehension in struggling students. Both parents and teachers can easily incorporate strategies used in this intervention into their story time routine.
These strategies include:
- Reading age-appropriate short stories with your child that include new vocabulary words and chances for them to make conclusions that are not directed stated in the book.
- Asking your child questions about the story that focus on making predictions and understanding why certain things happened.
- Helping your child understand the meaning of new words that they hear in books and teaching them new words.
Overall, classroom-based interventions provide an exciting, cost-effective way to improve children’s language comprehension skills. Parents can also easily incorporate the intervention strategies into book reading routines with their children.
Hagen, A. M., Melby-Lervag, M., & Lervag, A. (2017). Improving language comprehension in preschool children with language difficulties: a cluster randomized trial. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, doi:10.1111/jcpp.12762.