What’s on this page?

What do we mean by language?

The different levels of language (three levels of difficulty)

How we help children who find this difficult

What does this mean to me?

We often assume that children can find the words needed to describe something and communicate clearly. Sometimes learning new vocabulary and remembering to use it in new situations is difficult. Sometimes children need to be taught vocabulary explicitly and then the way to form a sentence correctly.

There are 3 different levels or ‘tiers’ of vocabulary that we learn and use.

Tier 1: Basic vocabulary including many everyday words – often naming vocabulary and simple words: hair, coat, mum, dad, walk, run, happy, sad.

Tier 2: Common, regularly used vocabulary, which is sometimes called High Frequency vocabulary. It also includes more adventurous descriptive vocabulary that children will begin to use in their speech and writing.

Tier 3: Topic specific vocabulary, which means vocabulary that is not commonly used in everyday speech, but is used in specific topics or subjects. For example, when working in Maths, you may need to know, understand and use words like perpendicular, vertices, angle. These words are specific to the topic in question and not to general language.

Tiered vocabulary diagram

Tiered Vocabulary

Sometimes specific vocabulary from these tiers needs to be taught explicitly to children. We do this, and play with the new vocabulary regularly. This helps the children remember vocabulary and use it in their own sentences.

Building Vocabulary

Here are some ways to help your child’s vocabulary become more broader and more secure.


Teaching new vocabulary and reminding a child of the vocabulary they will come across or need to use. This is done before a topic is begun. This practice means the child is familiar with relevant words and phrases. When they are then used in a lesson or discussion, the child is aware of them and will be more confident. They will be better able to follow key parts of the discussion.

Talking boxes

Talking boxes are collections of objects. They can be used to play with and talk about with your child. The items will fit a theme, for example ‘fruits’. A collection of real and/or toy fruit that fit in a box can be opened with a child and talked about as they play shops or being at a restaurant. Children will be actively using the new vocabulary. They will be more likely to remember the new vocabulary, and be aware of when it can be used.  

Click here for an example of Talking Boxes you could set up with your child. The ideas can be changed for any topic and the specific vocabulary being introduced or practiced.

Vocabulary Maps and Books

Vocabulary maps present new vocabulary for a topic or theme. They can be made in different ways. It depends on the age of a child, the detail needed, and what works best for an individual child. Most use pictures and colour coding. Putting maps for different topics in a book keeps the collections together. This makes them easy to refer to at any time. When the topic is revisited or a recap is needed a child’s confidence or recall can be boosted.

Click here for examples of different types of Vocabulary Maps for Vocab books.

Click here for examples of making Vocabulary Maps work at different levels.

Developing Grammar in Speech

Sentence construction can be a tricky thing. We often pick it up without having to really understand what goes where and why. Sometimes children need support to hear that words are missing, in the wrong order, or are jumbled. Practicing the areas children find tricky helps build their awareness of how sentences work.

Building simple sentences video

Action words video


Pronouns are small words that can be used instead of a noun. They include they, he, she, we, theirs, ours, us.

Activities to learn about pronouns

Positional vocabulary

Prepositions are small words that add detail and clarity to a sentence. They often describe the position of something. Sometimes children miss these words out. Practicing sentences with the correct vocabulary helps them get used to adding them into their speech.

Preposition poster and activity sheet

Conceptual language

Language that is used to describe different concepts, is called conceptual language. It may describe:

location (here/there/above/below)

direction (left/right/up/down) and position (first/second/third/last/middle)

number and quantity (more/less/greater/fewer),

order and sequence (first/then/last),

attributes (soft/rough)

size (big/small/large/tiny)

similarities and differences (the same/different)

Children will usually be given one concept to work at a time.

Resources to support learning of many different concepts can be downloaded from the Twinkl website.

Activities to practice many different aspects of language including; pronouns, concepts, negatives, and question words. (Scroll down to Language section to find relevant activities)

Understanding Language

Even simple sentences contain information for children to understand and follow. As understanding of language develops, they will move from being able to pick up 1 information word in a phrase, to 2 information words, to 3 and then 4. This sequence of development often occurs in the first 4-5 years. Many children need help to be able to understand and follow instructions when there are 3 and 4 information words.

Understanding key words and instructions

Practicing sentences with information words with your child is really important. When they play or do things to help around the home, model increasingly complicated instructions and sentences to them. Encourage them to pick them up.

Here are a few examples of different sentences that show 2, 3 and 4 information carrying (key) words. You can use them as they are in play with your child, or use them as a model to create similar sentences for activities around the home or to structure questions as you and your child read a book.

1 Key Word sentences  … Shopping activity (1 ICW)   

Communication video (1 ICW)

2 Key Word sentences … Monsters activity (2 ICWs)  

Communication video (2 ICWs)

3 Key word sentences  … Train and Bus activity (3 ICWs)    

Communication video (3 ICWs)

4 key word sentences … The Lion and Elephant activity (4 ICWs)


Phonics is a way of learning to read (and spell) using the sounds that individual, and then combinations of letters make.  Every letter has its own sound, and when placed together with other letters, this sound can change … ‘a’ as in ‘cat’ … changes with ‘y’ to make ‘ay’ in words like ‘day’.  As sounds are learnt, children learn to blend them together. They will learn to ‘sound-talk’ – saying each sound they see as they read a word.

What is Phonics? video

Phonics Audio Guide – individual sounds and blending to read words

Hearing, saying and seeing the way letters make different sounds are all important when learning phonics. Practicing all of these skills is key to helping a child build their phonic knowledge. In doing so they work out words as they read and learn to spell. Sometimes some children find phonics difficult. Additional practice, taking a specific sound to focus on at a time, using visual aids, games and rhymes can help.

Here are a few websites that provide games that could help your child with a little extra phonic practice.

Phonics Play Website

Spelling Frame Website – most phonic sounds are covered within the Year 1 section

Cambugs APP

Tiered vocabulary diagram