Supports: Stage 4

When little analytic language processors (ALPs) begin using grammar they are between two and three years of age. Their grammar is fledgling, experimental, and imperfect. They’ve just begun to learn from the grammar around them — and have processed it for a very short period of time. They make lots of mistakes, but we expect that, and don’t call them ‘mistakes’ at all — because for any language developing child, ‘formulating’ from scratch with grammar and then ‘retrieving’ it are all new territory. But at age three, the ideas that ALPs express with grammar are limited — unlike the more sophisticated ideas an older GLP has by the time they are at Stage 4. So the requirements of using grammar for an ALP and a GLP can be quite different. But our supports can help a lot!

As with the three Stages before Stage 4, supporting your GLP still means following their lead! That means not going ahead of them, not expecting anything that is developmentally beyond them, assessing their progress often, checking in with your SLP regularly, recognizing grammar development as a logical process, and staying in partnership with your child.

So support at Stage 4 begins this way:

First ask yourself the question: ‘What is it about Stage 3 that hints that your child is ready to expand referential word + word combinations to more grammatical word + word combinations?’

Do you know absolutely that if ‘red + ball’ is followed by ‘throw + ball’ that the child wouldn’t revert to Stage 2 and say “I’m going to throw the ball.” We don’t want Stage 2 to re-emerge here! We want everything that Stage 3 is meant to accomplish to have been accomplished. 

Then you are ready to introduce grammar, but not just any grammar, pre-sentence grammar! Grammatical elements stretch referential word + referential word combos in every conceivable direction. Word order doesn’t matter, in fact the opposite of how phrases sound is good for practicing word + word combos! The following list includes examples, but check your DST chart for a complete list:

  • referential word + verb (‘kitty + go’ and ‘go + kitty’)
  • Wh word + referential word (‘where + kitty’ and ‘kitty + where?’)
  • referential word + negative (‘kitty + not’ and ‘not +kitty!’)
  • referential word + conjunction (‘kitty + and’ and ‘and + kitty’)

Yes, verbs, and question words, and negatives, and conjunctions! At a pre-sentence level, ALPs play with grammar like all these forms and more. Again, please check your DST.

Specific supports at Stage 4 include these:

  1. Review the reasons it seems ok that your child is seemingly moving on from Stage 3. You child may seem to be leading you to grammar, but make sure this isn’t a return to the comfort and familiarity of Stage 2.
  2. If it is, your child will probably have to repeat Stage 3. That’s ok, and it happens a lot, but try to support your child to play with Stage 3 until 50% of their utterances during your Stage 3 games are of the referential word + referential word type.
  3. Listen for indicators that your child might still be using contractions like ‘It’s,’ ‘We’re,’ and ‘I’m.’ They hint at Stage 2 appearing again. Make sure they get separated before you move much further with Stage 4. You can model things like ‘Is that red? Yes, it is!’ and ‘Am I happy? I sure am!’ and ‘Are we ready to go? I think we are!’
  4. Try to find an SLP to help you, and study Developmental Sentence Types (DST) and Developmental Sentence Scoring (DSS) together. You will start with: DST for early Stage 4, DST + DSS 1-3 for middle and later Stage 4. 
  5. Begin your Stage 4 modeling with brand new formulations, ones you suspect your child has never said. This way, you can avoid the old mitigations that might trigger a return to Stage 2. Stay away from the contractions noted above, and especially stay away from ‘Let’s…’ Model new grammar like, ‘Kitty is so cute.’ and ‘I saw that kitty!’ and ‘Where is he now?’ and ‘I found him!’
  6. Get ready by doing some private brainstorming about alternative grammar for the first Stage 4 grammatical combos. Use the DST for guidance, and think about grammar that allows you and your child to see the power that grammar provides! 
  7. Use a progression through Stage 4: early Stage 4 combos from DST, middle Stage 4 combos from DST + DSS, and later Stage 4 combos from DST + DSS. 
  8. Know that it’s to be expected that kids will sound less fluent than they did at Stage 2, similar to how they sounded at Stage 3 but more so. They are formulating ‘from scratch’ now, retrieving their new vocabulary and grammar, and have no musical ‘echoes’ in the back of their heads to rely on. Because they have no pre-fab intonational contours to use, our language models can support them best by using clear speech, and lots of intonation!
  9. The videos here will tell some real stories, and, over time, more stories will further amplify our points.

Know that it can be fun: more fun than you thought it would be. And we will bring you more to help you. Our Supports section will grow as this site expands. 

In the vernacular of Stage 3:

  •  ‘Fun + now’ 
  • ‘I + fun’
  • ‘Grammar + fun’

And of beginning Stage 4:

  • ‘Get + grammar’ 
  • ‘Funny + grammar + play’
  • ‘Is + fun + grammar?’

And of later Stage 4:

  • ‘I love grammar.’
  • ‘You love grammar.’
  • ‘You and I both love grammar.’
  • ‘Are you serious?’

Keep playing!

Supports Stage 4.Ereeni

In this video, Ereeni demonstrates how a wordless book can be used to both elicit a language sample, and model Stage 4 grammar. In the conversational style both participants adopt, this language sample shows how grammar can be modeled and used in conversation in a very natural way. Marge offers thoughts about grammar development, as illustrated by DSS.