Later Language


1. Pronouns 6. Temporal Concepts
2. Negatives 7. Developing Vocabulary
3. Conjunctions  8. Developing Story Telling Skills
4. Questions 9. Shape Coding 
5. Tense 10. Asking For Help


The following activities aim to help your child to develop the use of pronouns, for example:

he’, ‘she’, ‘they’, ‘his’, ‘him’, ‘her

The games are easy to play. Choose the ones your child enjoys and have fun playing them together.

Try to set aside a short amount of time each day playing the games. Your child may find them difficult to begin with. Many children require lots of repetition before they will learn and remember pronouns.

Pronouns: He and She

Place a picture of a girl and a picture of a boy on the table in front of your child. Place a pile of action pictures involving boys and girls face down next to the picture of the boy and girl.

  1. Encourage your child to turn over a picture from the pile and say whether it is a boy or a girl. If he says it is a boy say:

We say he for a boy.

Put this picture next to the picture of the boy. Your child can tell you about the picture, for example:

He is swimming.

Repeat with the remaining pictures, taking it in turns to turn one of the action pictures over and place it with either the ‘boy’ pile or ‘girl’ pile as appropriate.

Keep reinforcing, ‘We say he for a boy’ or ‘We say she for a girl’.

  1. Look at action pictures of people doing different things, for example:
  • She is running.’
  • He is jumping.’  … etc.

Turn the pictures face-down in a pile. Your child can turn the first picture over and describe what’s happening, using the pronoun. If he is correct, reward him with a turn in a game, for example, putting a piece of Lego on a model, placing a brick on a tower, taking a turn at snakes and ladders, whatever your child finds motivating.

  1. Play miming, signing or acting out an action picture, for example, a picture of a girl swimming.

Take it in turns guessing what is happening, for example:

She is swimming.

This game can be played in a group at school, or at home with family, friends, etc.

  1. Choose a picture of a boy and a girl. Look at them and try to remember what they are wearing. Then hide the picture and ask:

Who’s wearing a red jumper?

Encourage the use of pronouns; if your child says:

‘The boy is wearing a red jumper.’

You say:

‘Yes, so we say he is wearing a red jumper.’

The game can be adapted for hair colour, eye colour, … etc.

  1. Draw two blank faces. Explain to your child that one will be a girl and one will be a boy. Give the picture of the girl some hair and then say:
  • Now he needs some hair!
  • She needs a nose.’ … etc.

Encourage your child to join in.

  1. Discuss pictures of well-known people with your child, for example, a pop-star or actress, etc. Talk about what they do, for example:

She sings songs.’ … etc

Pronouns: His, her and him
  1. Using a picture of a girl and a boy, encourage your child to colour parts of one of the pictures, or to add certain features. Comment on the pictures:
  • ‘Let’s give him black trousers.’
  • ‘Let’s give her a big nose.’  etc.  …
  1. Have two toys which your child identifies as a boy and a girl, for example, a teddy (boy) and dolly (girl), or use miniature figures such as Playmobile or Lego.

Give each character a shopping bag.

Make up stories about going shopping, or hiding items in their bags.

Your child has to guess where the items are hiding:

  • ‘It’s in her bag.’
  • ‘It’s in his bag.’  etc.  …
  1. Use miniature figures in pretend play and talk about the items the characters are using, for example
  • ‘It is her bike.’
  •  ‘She is riding her bike.’
  • ‘He is driving his car.’ etc. …
  1. When playing turn taking games with family members, siblings, friends, etc.
    Your child can be encouraged to say whose turn it is; for example:
  • It’s his go.’
  • It’s her go.
  1. In everyday situations, emphasise whose turn it is. For example, when cooking pancakes, taking turns kicking a football at a goal, etc.
  • ‘It’s his/her pancake.’       
  • ‘It’s his/her turn.’
Pronouns: They
  1. Within a group, give a couple of people an action picture and ask them to mime what is happening, for example, a picture of a girl swimming.

Your child must guess what is happening, for example:

They are swimming.

This game can be played in a group at school, or at home with family or friends, etc.

  1. Give your child two paper dolls to dress and sets of paper clothes. Say:

He’s going to wear shoes.

Your child gives shoes to one of the dolls only. Then say:

They need jumpers.’

Your child gives jumpers to both of the dolls.

Give your child a turn telling you what to do.

You can play this game with boy and girl Lego, Playmobil or miniature characters. You can build the Lego character:

  • He needs legs.’
  • She needs hair.’
  • They need arms.’

Or find items for the miniature characters:

  • She needs a sword.’
  • He needs a horse.’
  • They need a car.’
  1. Find a picture or use a photograph of a boy, a girl and a group of people. Then find pictures or photographs of two or more people doing an action. Place the pictures on the table face down in a pile.

Encourage your child to turn over a picture and say whether it is a boy or a girl or a group of people. When it is a group say:

We say they for more than one person.’

Encourage your child to put the action picture with the boy, girl or group of people picture and then tell you about the picture, for example:

They are swimming.’

Repeat with the remaining pictures, taking it in turns to turn one of the cards over.


Being able to understand and use negatives is a powerful skill for any child. ‘No!’ is often one of the first words children acquire. As well as being able to say ‘No’ and use negatives, it is important for children to understand negatives in an instruction, for example:

  • ‘We are not going to the park.’
  • ‘Who’s not listening?’ 
  • ‘Who’s not finished their work?’

Children with Down’s syndrome often miss this important piece of information, so the distinction needs to be taught, practised and emphasised in everyday communication.

In everyday life, draw attention to negative words by signing and putting emphasis on them in your speech. Grammatical negatives are small and subtle in the sentence so easily missed, but they convey important information that significantly changes the meaning of what is said.

Negatives: Negative and a Noun

Children learn different forms of negatives at different stages.

First they learn the meaning of ‘no’, and later ‘not’, before they will understand ‘don’t’ or ‘can’t’. The following activities describe how to teach and practice ‘no’ at different word levels. Early Language talks about word levels and how much information a child is required to understand to follow a sentence.

A. Toys: Draw pictures of trees – one with apples and another with no apples.

Show me the tree with no apples

Try with other pictures at the one word level, for example:

Show me the face with no nose’ … etc.

B. Toys:

Draw pictures of faces – one complete, others with things missing, for example, ‘nose’

Now you can move to two words together.

Ask: ‘Who has no nose?’ ‘Who has no eyes? … etc.
C. Toys: Pictures of cars, one complete and another one with no wheels, etc.
Ask: Show me the car with no wheels.’… etc.
D. Toys: Dolly, teddy and some objects. Give different objects to the toys.
Ask: Who has no spoon?, Who has no plate? … etc.
E. Toys: Pictures of houses, one complete, others with an item missing, for example, a door, a window, … etc.
Ask: Show me the house with no door. … etc.
Negatives: Developing Understanding of Negatives

Adapt the following activities using different prompts to help your child to generalise her understanding of negatives across different environments and scenarios.


  1. Put out two pictures, for example, a man brushing his hair and a man painting. Discuss with your child, ‘Who is painting?’   ‘Who is not painting?’
  2. Gradually increase the selection of pictures so that he keeps listening and selecting a range of pictures in response to ‘Who is not …….?’
  3. In the classroom situation, when groups are carrying out different tasks, discuss what each group is doing. For example, in P.E. say ‘Your group is skipping. Is that group over there skipping?’ ‘No! They’re not skipping!’


  1. Play board games, such as lotto. Emphasise the distinction, for example, ‘Who needs a tiger?’ ‘Who doesn’t need a tiger?’  ‘Who has finished?’  ‘Who hasn’t finished?’  ‘Does John need a car?’  ‘No, he doesn’t!’


  1. Use pictures where it is obvious someone can’t do something, for example, a child reaching up to get a book down from a shelf that is too high. Comment on what is happening. ‘Can she get the book?’ ‘No. She can’t. Why? The shelf is too high.’

To help your child generalise understanding of negatives to everyday life, use photographs and create scrap books of things that she and other people in the family like and don’t like, and things that they can or can’t do, for example: ‘I can walk.’, ‘Baby Jo can’t walk.’, ‘I like chocolate.’, ‘I don’t like oranges.’, ‘Daddy doesn’t like strawberries.’, ‘Granny has a dog.’, ‘We don’t have a dog.’ Etc.


Conjunctions are the little words that connect a sentence together. These words are sometimes called connectors. Conjunctions include the words ‘and, then, so, but, because, when, while, until, etc.’

Children with Down’s syndrome often use single words, short phrases and simple sentences to communicate, and do not use conjunctions. Conjunctions are an important part of grammar, and are useful in developing more complex language for sequencing, storytelling and communicating greater amounts of information.

Like many parts of grammar there is a developmental sequence, and children often understand and use conjunctions in a particular order. For this reason, it is a good idea to consider your child’s understanding and use of conjunctions in the following order:

  • and, or, but
  • because, to
  • until, when, after
  • unless
Conjunctions: Activities to develop 'And'
  1. Favourite things/Treasure chest: Make a box of objects of favourite things or treasures. Encourage your child to pull them out and tell you all the things.  ‘My car and book and teddy and ….’
  2. Feely bags: Put 2 familiar items in a bag, e.g. a teddy and a spoon. Encourage your child to feel what’s in the bag and tell you both items, ‘I can feel a teddy and a spoon!’
  3. Shopping: Unpack the shopping with your child and ask him to list the items as he pulls them out of the bag e.g. We have bananas and carrots and biscuits, etc.
  4. Lists: Make a list together of what your child wants for her birthday, Christmas or a shopping list. Talk about the list together, for example: ‘I want a ball, and a bike, and a teddy….’
  5. Book sharing: Look at pictures of people doing the same thing. You can look at photographs of family activities as well. ‘Mummy and Daddy and Jo are walking’; ‘Biff and Chip are on the climbing frame’, etc. …
  6. Play lotto: Encourage your child to talk about which pieces he needs to complete his lotto board. ‘I need a tiger and a monkey.’
  7. Talk about things you see out and about. ‘I see a dog and a ball.’ ‘Can you see the tree and the bird?’ etc. …

When your child is telling you something:

  1. Look at the child as if you are expecting her to say more.
  2. Encourage your child to express what she is saying by asking ‘and…?’ or question her further, ‘what next?’ or ‘who else?’, etc. …
  3. In everyday conversation, model the language to describe what you have been doing, for example, ‘We went to school and to Cubs.’

You will know that your child understands ‘and’ when he spontaneously uses it to join two ideas in retelling events. Useful prompts to encourage use of ‘and’ include:

  1. Encourage him to retell familiar stories from books.
  2. Talk with your child about what she did at school.
  3. Ask him to tell you what happened on his favourite television programme, or in a film he’s just watched.
  4. Encourage her to tell you what she would like for dinner.

Because, To

Introduce “because” when your child is using ‘and’ in her everyday speech. Understanding and using ‘because’ will help your child express herself more clearly, and answer ‘why’ questions. ‘To’ is a conjunction that has similar uses to ‘because’. For example, ‘I’m eating because I’m hungry’ or ‘I’m putting the meat in the fridge to keep it cold’.

Conjunctions: General Strategies
  1. Use the word ‘because’ when talking to your child and, emphasise it slightly.
  2. Talk about why you are doing things and why things happen. For example, ‘I’m having a sandwich, because I’m hungry’. Or, ‘I’m washing the dishes because they’re dirty’.
  3. You can ask ‘why’ questions. At this stage, it doesn’t matter if your child does not easily understand ‘why’ questions as you are using them to model ‘because’, not for your child to know the answer. For example, ‘Why is it cold? Because we left the window open.’ ‘Why are you drinking? Because you are thirsty.’
  4. Provide choices, for example, ‘Why are you crying? Because you fell off your bike.’
  5. When your child is beginning to understand ‘because’, you can model the response you want him to give, for example, ‘We put on our hats because it is cold’. ‘Why are we wearing our hats?’ Aiming for your child to respond with the sentence you have just modelled, ‘Because it is cold.’

More Conjunctions

When your child is using ‘and’ and ‘because’ to join sentences and ideas, you can expect her to learn other words used for joining sentences. These may include ‘but’, ‘so’, ‘if’ and ‘or’.

Model these words when talking with your child, for example:

  • I want to go for a walk but it’s raining.
  • It’s sunny today so we can go swimming.
  • If you eat your vegetables, you can have some pudding.
  • Do you want to orange juice or water?

Books are a great source for these words. Look out for good examples. Some books which give lots of repetition of conjunctions include:

  • Dear Zoo, by Rod Campbell but
  • Oh Dear, by Rod Campbell but
  • Would you rather…, by John Burningham
  • If I were an Easter Bunny, by Louise Gardner

These books are repetitive, so once your child is familiar with them encourage him to say the target conjunction. Pause and wait a moment see if he will say it.

Conjunctions: Activities for older children'

If your child is reading and beginning to write you can show her two sentences, written down, with full stops, and then show her how two sentences can be turned into one sentence using a conjunction.

  • See if your child can fill in the correct ‘missing’ word from a sentence. Give him several conjunctions to choose from and see if he can select the correct one.
  • Try giving your child a conjunction and ask her to make up a sentence using it.


There are many types of questions and there is a developmental order in which children learn to understand and answer them.

Questions: Understanding Questions

Generally, children first learn to respond to questions about their immediate environment. These usually require simple short answers. For example:

Source of a noise ‘What can you hear?’
Naming objects  What is it?
Naming people     
  • Who is that?
  •  ‘Is it mummy?

Later, children are able to answer simple questions about things outside their immediate environment, like those related to past events, for example:

Did you go to the park? Where have you been? What did daddy give you?

As children’s’ memory, vocabulary, reasoning skills and knowledge of the world develop, so does their ability to answer questions that draw on these skills. For example:

Why did you do that? Where do we go to see…?’ What is the opposite of hot?

‘First hand’ experience will always make the question easier to answer.

Overall, questions beginning with ‘How…’ are the most difficult to answer.   This is because they require both reasoning and explanatory skills.

Children learn to reply to routine type questions such as:

How old are you? Where do you live? When is your birthday?

This is because they hear and answer them repeatedly. It does not necessarily mean they understand ‘how’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ when they are used in unfamiliar questions.

Questions: Recognising Difficulties in Responding to Questions

Children with Down syndrome may have problems in both understanding and responding to questions. Their development of these skills may not follow the usual pattern. They are likely to find it easier to respond to simple questions related to immediate events and concrete ideas.

Your child may:

need questions to be rephrased before he can answer them; not respond appropriately in conversation even though the answer may be predictable; repeat the question or respond by opting out and saying ‘I don’t know.’

Confuse the type of question asked, for example: give a ‘who’ response to a ‘where’ question or tell ‘how’ instead of ‘why’?

Take longer to understand and reply to questions as the required responses become harder.

Questions: Types of Questions

Children have to answer many questions throughout their day. It is useful if they learn to cope with the hard questions as well as the easy ones, as this will allow them to access more information when they are in school and as they get older.  Remember to think about the complexity of the question you are asking your child, and how a question might be simplified if the level is too hard. Question types can be broken into four groups, moving from easy, concrete questions to more difficult abstract ones:

Level 1 Questions 

Are concrete and your child can use his surrounding environment to answer questions. Responses involve naming and recalling; for example:

What did you hear/touch?’ ‘What is this/what did you see/what can you see?’

Level 2 Questions

Require your child to be more selective and analyse what she sees, feels and hears. Responses require more information; for example:

What’s he doing/what’s happening?’ Where is the dog?

Level 3 Questions

Require your child to give a response based on what he knows, not just what he sees, feels and hears. Responses involving more thinking; for example:

‘What will happen next/what could we use?’ How are these different/the same? Which one is not a cup?

Level 4 Questions 

Require your child to think about what could, would or might happen in a situation. Your child needs to predict, formulate solutions and problem solve; for example:

Why is he crying? What would happen if…/why did that happen?


This section will focus on Level 1 and 2 questions. Think about how you use questions in everyday life, for example when you are doing the washing up, setting the table, making a sandwich or going shopping.

Aim to use questions from your child’s level, and then add a few challenging questions that he will find harder to respond to. Then use prompts to support answering questions when your child does not answer or finds responding difficult. Prompts for the question, ‘What are scissors for?’ might include:

Sentence completion   ‘scissors are for …’ Add a cue sound  ‘scissors are for c…’ Add a gesture cue  mime cutting Offer a choice ‘scissors are for cutting or drawing’

Remember, if you ask your child a question and he does not respond, simplify the task so he experiences some success and doesn’t become frustrated. Work through the following simplification techniques until your child can respond; for example: when asking the question:

What is he doing?

Gain your child’s attention  If your child is not concentrating on the
task gain his attention first.

Wait  Give your child time to process the
question and respond.

Repeat the question


Give a choice   For example:
Is he watching television or sleeping?

Give a model    For example:
Oh! He’s sleeping

Other ways to encourage your child to respond to a question are:

  • Use gesture and sign to help your child answer.
  • Encourage your child to focus on the relevant feature. For example, if you are asking about why two items are the same, draw attention to their features like colour, size and shape.
  • Simplify the question by breaking it into smaller steps.
  • Rephrase the question in a different way.
  • Give the first sound or syllable to the answer to prompt your child.
  • Demonstrate by showing what happens next. Then ask the question again. For example, ‘What will happen if I put water in this bucket with a hole?’ Then demonstrate.
  • Experience will help your child answer. For example: ‘How does it feel? Touch it.’
  • Relate to previous experiences. For example: ‘Spaghetti is hard, how will it feel when it is cooked? Remember when we cooked the potatoes?’
  • Use questions to clarify your child has understood.

Remember that children will be more likely to answer questions if you really need to know the answers, so:

  • Do ask questions about people or things that are not in the room.
  • Do ask questions when you know the answers will have an effect.
  • Do say absurd things to get a response!
  • Do to create interest within your child in order to get the most out of him.
  • Don’t ask redundant questions when it is perfectly obvious that you know.
Questions: Activities for Level 2 questions

Ask about things that you really want to know; for example:

‘What-doing’   Dad is working outside, so say:
What’s dad doing?
to which your child might respond:
Cutting the grass.
‘Where?’   When tidying away, say:
Where will I put the pens?’
to which your child’s response might be:
‘in the drawer.’If the response is just ‘There’, you could say something like: ‘Where? On the floor? To encourage your child to be more specific.
‘Who?’   You are at cutting and sticking with your child and say:
Who’s got the glue?

and your child says:

Me’ or ‘Sarah’… etc.

Here is a list of further games and everyday activities you may like to use. Some are best played in small groups with friend, family or in school:

Puzzles and Barrier Games

You are doing a puzzle and need to find all the pieces (‘inset’ puzzles are best).  Put a barrier between you and the other players.  Split the puzzle pieces between other players and say, for example:

Who’s got the dog?

Your child must tell you, for example:

I’ve got it.
or  ‘Charlie’s got it.’


Have pairs of action pictures, for example:  someone running, someone jumping, … etc. Give one of the pictures to each player (a maximum of two pictures given to any individual).

You have to find the picture your child is looking at (you might get another person to help). You ask:

What’s he doing?

Your child tells you, for example:


You hold up the picture and see if it’s the same one.

Cutting and Gluing

Make paper hats, collages and picture scrapbooks. Ask your child to give you directions, for example:

  • ‘I’ve got the scissors. What shall I do?
    or  ‘Where will I put the glue?
  • Before you start you put the things you need in different places and ask your child, for example:
  • Where are the scissors?’, etc.

Outdoor Games / PE

Have turns telling the other person what you will do together. You say:

  • Let’s run!
  • and both of you run.
  • Ask your child:
  • What will we do now?
  • Your child could say:
  • ‘jump/skip/hop/throw’, etc.
  • Remember to give alternative choices at first, if your child doesn’t respond; for example:
  • Shall we run or jump?

Reading Books

You can read books with your child and ask questions intermittently, for example:

What’s the boy doing? Where’s the dog? Who’s got the dog now?

Don’t ask too many questions, though, as it may become boring. Remember to comment yourself about the pictures as well, for example:

Look! He’s pushing the car!

Tidying Away Activities

Ask for instructions; for example:

What will I do? Where’s the …? Where will I put it?

Comment about dirty hands, dirty tables, etc.,  saying:

What will we do?


Make easy things (for example: sandwiches, coloured drinks, popcorn, pancakes, iced biscuits, etc., asking questions such as:

What am I doing? What will I do?’  (when you have the spoon in the glass, ready to stir.) Where will I put the … ?’  (you have finished the cooking and are looking for a place to put it.)

Guess Who

This is a popular barrier game available in many toy shops and online. It encourages understanding and use of ‘who’; For example:

Who has blue eyes and brown hair?’

Questions: Other Level 2 Question Types

These include:

Identifying by function   

Which one can run?’, ‘What can I cut with?


Barrier games – using pictures or objects; for example:
  • Who’s got one you cut with?
  • Who’s got one you sit on?
  • What can I stir with?
  • Which one can I eat?

Identifying Two Attributes 

Who’s got something big and blue?


Barrier games

‘Who’s got something big and blue?

You need big and little things in various colours so your child has to make a choice.


Have everything you need lined up on a worktop.  Say:

I need something round and green’ (for example:    apple)

Reading books

Look at the pictures and ask questions and saying, for example:

What has four legs and horns?

Identifying Parts of Objects 

Which one has wheels?


Cooking Show me the handle of the cup
Books Look at the pictures saying, for example:  ‘Which one has got legs?’, ‘Where’s the lid?
Dolls and toys Ask where parts of dolls and toys are, for example:    ‘Where’s teddy’s tummy?
Questions: Asking Questions

Asking questions is a vital way of obtaining information. The skills involved vary according to the type of question asked. They include:

  • An ability to use the rise in intonation at the end of a sentence or words.
  • The ability to use question words.
  • The ability to change the order of the subject and verb so that a statement becomes a question. For example:

That hat is mine.

Is that hat mine?

Having the underlying motivation to ask questions is a very important part of communication. It relies on the ability to recognise that there is a gap in our knowledge and knowing how and where to seek out the relevant information.

Recognising Difficulties in Asking Questions

Children with Down syndrome often find it difficult to ask questions and not understand the function of questions. They may therefore:

  • not seek information
  • not ask for help
  • ask the same question repeatedly (even though the answer has been given) as a younger child might
  • use a question form without a real intent to seek an answer; not waiting for, or listening to, the reply
  • ask questions that are inappropriate to a topic of conversation.

It is important your child asks questions so that he is able to find out about things that he does not know or things that he is interested in.

What doing’  for example:

  • What is he doing?
Who?’  for example:

  • Who’s got the ball?
    Who’s running?
Where?’  for example:

  • Where is the book?

It is important that your child really needs to ask the questions. The following activities and games will encourage asking question:

Puzzles / Barrier Games

Use ‘inset’ puzzles. Set up barriers so that no one can see what pieces of the puzzles the other person has. Give the puzzle board to your child.

He must ask ‘Who’s got the…?’ (so it is really important your child can’t see who’s got it!). An adult may have to sit with and model questions for with your child at first.

Don’t pressure your child to ask the question absolutely correctly. These are hard and take time to master, so keep giving clear models.

Barrier games. Two players sit opposite each other with a barrier between them. One player selects a picture and the other player asks questions to find the same picture on their own side of the barrier.   Use pairs of pictures of people doing things, or games like Guess Who:

  • Your child picks a picture.
  • You say ‘What’s she doing?
  • Your child says, for example ‘She’s sitting on chair’.
  • You find that picture.
  • You pick a picture.
  • Your child says ‘What’s she doing?
  • You say ‘She’s eating an apple’.
  • Your child finds the picture.

Again, someone may need to sit with your child to model the question for her.


Put all the groceries in different places, for example:  in the fridge, in a cupboard, on a shelf, … etc. Your child must ask, for example:

Where’s the butter?

Take turns at being the shopper and the shopkeeper.


Have a puppet show (puppets can easily be made from socks). Have conversations with your child pretending that the puppets are talking. Say, for example:

  • What’s your name?
  • What are you doing today?
  • Where’s your mummy?
  • Have you got any friends?
  • Who are they?

Then encourage your child to get his puppet to ask questions about yours. Say “You ask me something.”

You could get the people in the family to play and model two-way conversations with the puppets.

Remember – asking questions is difficult for your child, so:

  • Do lots of modelling and provide support, for example:  have someone to help during the barrier games.
  • Make sure your child really needs to ask a question, that is, make effective barriers:
  • ask questions about people who are not in the room.
  • get your child to ask things of other people.
  • Be patient. If your child is having difficulty – don’t push, accept a good attempt and model the correct question.

Other activities encouraging the asking of questions

Twenty Questions

Put an object or a picture unseen into a large envelope or bag. In a group take it in turns to ask questions to find out what the object may be.

Models this first by allowing someone else to choose the object.

Encourage questions that proceed according to a hierarchy, that is, that become specific, for example:

  • is it something to eat?
  • is it a fruit?
  • is it an apple?

Exploring Interesting Objects

Ask questions about objects your child takes an interest in or finds out and about.

Discuss the object – where is it from, how it was made, … etc. Then encourage your child to ask questions about the object.

Guess Who?

A popular game available commercially.

Happy Families.

A popular game available commercially.


All children confuse verb tense when they start using verbs. This is a typical part of development. Tense can be difficult for children with Down’s syndrome to learn because it is a very subtle part of grammatical structure. It is easily missed, particularly if your child has hearing difficulties. Regular past tense, which is when a verb ends in ‘ed’, is easier to remember and most children will use regular past tense for all verbs when they begin to differentiate verb endings. Irregular verbs come later. At the end of this section is a list of regular or irregular past tense verbs. You can select the ones you want to use for some of the activities described below.

Always sign the action word as you say it. Some sign language can indicate the verb tense, but don’t worry about using these with your child. If you are using a basic sign or gestural system, then sign and say the verb but emphasise the tense when you are talking or remodeling for your child.

To increase awareness of past tense, talk about what you did yesterday or earlier today. Model the use of past tense, emphasising the past tense structures slightly. If your child tries to use past tense, encourage him by giving lots of praise. If he uses past tense incorrectly, remodel and reinforce the correct form. For example:

  • “We walking to the park.”
  • “That’s right! We walked to the park.”
Tense: Activities to encourage the use of regular past tense
  1. Read a story and ask your child to tell you what happened. If your child uses present tense or an incorrect form of past tense, repeat the sentence for your child, using the correct form and expanding the sentence a little. For example:
 ‘Do you remember what happened at the beginning of the story? Jack and Jill falled down the hill. Yes, that’s right – Jack and Jill fell down the hill. They bumped their heads. What happened next?
  1. Look at pictures. Cut out pictures of people doing things from magazines and newspapers. Talk about the pictures to check your child knows the verb. Sign and say the words. Turn the pictures over when your child has looked at them and say ‘What happened?’. Encourage use of the past tense when talking about what you saw.

 Play ‘Simon Says…’

If possible, play this game with other children, friends and family members. Choose an action from the list below and take turns to do the action. Encourage your child to do the actions too. For example:

  • Simon says ‘jump’!’   Everyone jumps.
  • You can then ask:
  • What did you do?
  • You are aiming to elicit, ‘I jumped!
  1. Play charades, miming an activity, for example brushing hair. When you have finished, your child must guess what you did. For example, ‘You brushed your hair.’ Other examples may include:
cleaning teeth You cleaned your teeth
washing face You washed your face
crying You cried

Learning to use verb tense correctly is difficult. Keep reinforcing correct use of verb tense, and keep these games fun. If your child is struggling to use the correct verb tense, you can still play these games. It helps to expose your child to verb tense, by offering lots of repetition and experience.

Irregular past tense makes things even more complicated! Do not ‘teach’ irregular past tense unless your child is using regular past tense correctly most of the time.

Tense: Activities to encourage the use of irregular past tense
  • Pretend play activities, for example:
Shopping to practice buy and bought. What did you and Mummy buy?’……. ‘We bought…’
Pretending to feed dollies and teddies, or miniature toys and action heroes, to practise ate and drank.

What did teddy eat?’

‘What did dolly drink?’

‘He ate…’

She drank…’

Pretending to be robbers to practise took. What did you take?’ ‘I took a spoon…’
  • Give instructions to each other to draw a picture to practice drew.
Draw a house! What did you draw? I drew …
  • Build with toy bricks or blocks to practice built.
‘What did you build?’  ‘You built a tower!’
Tense: Examples of regular and irregular past tense
Regular past tense
  • agree: agreed
  • bounce: bounced
  • carry: carried
  • chase: chased
  • climb: climbed
  • cook: cooked
  • copy: copied
  • cry: cried
  • dance: danced
  • escape: escaped
  • fry: fried
  • hop: hopped
  • try: tried 
  • start: started
  • stir: stirred
  • play: pray   
  • walk: walked
  • want: wanted
  • work: worked
  • share: shared
  • sail: sailed
  • prayed: played
  • stop: stopped
  • skip: skipped
  • jump: jumped
Irregular past tense
  • beat: beat
  • become: became  
  • begin: began
  • bleed: bled
  • blow: blew
  • break: broke
  • build: built      
  • buy: bought 
  • came: come
  • catch: caught  
  • choose: chose
  • catch: caught 
  • cut: cut     
  • dig: dug 
  • do: did
  • draw: drew
  • drive: drove
  • eat: ate
  • fall: fell
  • feed: fed
  • find: found
  • freeze: froze
  • ran: ran
  • read: read
  • ride: rode
  • sing: sang
  • sleep: slept
  • swing: swung
  • win: won


Temporal Concepts

Temporal (time based) concepts often develop after prepositions. They are important words and understanding them will help your child follow instructions, particularly in the school environment. When teaching temporal concepts, always sign as well as say the word. Use visual cues and move around to help your child learn these concepts. Temporal concepts convey meaning about position, for example, ‘first’, ‘last’, ‘before’ and ‘after’.

Temporal Concepts: Activities to develop understanding

First and Last

  • In day to day life comment on who’s first, for example:

When eating at meal times say: ‘Look who’s the first to finish. Ben is first!’

  • Talk about what you are doing, for example:

When cooking: ‘I’m putting the eggs in first.

When tidying: ‘Let’s tidy the puzzle first.’

  • When looking at books talk about the ‘first’ page and the ‘last’ Talk about the ‘first’ word on the page and the ‘last’ word on the page.
  • Play ‘Ready, steady go…’ For example:

‘Who can be the first to touch their nose, ready, steady, go…’  Comment on what happened, for example ‘John was first.’

  • Play games where you can talk about and model who was first and who was last, for example:

Simon says, ‘Sarah was last to touch her ear.’

Snakes and ladders, ‘I’m first, Jack is last.’

  • Line up, for example in school before going out to play, or at home with other children, friends and family members before going out of the house, or when queuing to get an ice cream or at the shops. Comment, ‘Daddy is first, Mummy is last.’ When your child is beginning to develop understanding of ‘first’ and ‘last’ you can then ask, ‘Who’s first in the queue? Who is last?’
  • When your child is beginning to understand ‘first’ and ‘last’, give simple instructions using these temporal concepts, for example:
Playing with a selection of toys, pretend to line them up to wait for a bus: ‘Put the car first in the queue. Put teddy last.
When tidying up: ‘Put away the pens first. Tidy up the puzzles last.’
When getting dressed: ‘Put on your pants first and your jumper last.’

Before and After

Children who do not understand the concepts ‘before’ and ‘after’ will carry out instructions in the order they hear them. For example, with the instruction:

          ‘Before you put on your coat, wash your hands.’

A child who does not understand the concept ‘before’ will put on his coat and then wash his hands. If your child just washes his hands and misses out the first part of the instruction completely, this may be because there are too many pieces of information in the instruction. In which case, you might need to work on developing understanding described in Early Language.

RESOURCE – visual timetable

Changing the order of ‘before’ and ‘after’ in the instruction can make it easier for your child to follow correctly, for example:

‘Point to the spoon, before you point to the cup.’

In this example, if your child follows the order but does not understand ‘before’, he will still be correct. Use this sentence position when teaching ‘before’. Give lots of practise and praise, always using the sign as well as the spoken word. Then try changing the order, for example:

Before you point to the spoon, point to the cup.’

Now your child must understand ‘before’ to carry out the instruction correctly. Giving lots of exposure to the sign and spoken word ‘before’, in the initial word order, should help your child understand the importance of the word and how it changes the meaning of the sentence.

Use the same technique when teaching ‘after’, for example:    

  • After you point to the chair, point to the table.’
  • ‘Point to the chair, after you point to the table.’
Temporal Concepts: Sequencing

Teaching temporal concepts can be combined with developing sequencing skills (Section F3). Using two, three or more picture sequences, encourage your child to place them in order. When possible use familiar routines or stories, for example, cleaning teeth, making a drink of juice, etc. Encourage your child to place the pictures in the correct sequence and talk about the order, for example:

  • Cleaning teeth: First, you put on the toothpaste…’  and last you rinse your mouth.’
  • ‘This picture goes before, that picture.’
  • Making toast, ‘We butter the bread, after we have put it in the toaster.’

As concepts become more difficult, continue to use sign, gesture, pictures, symbols and/or written words as prompts to support spoken language. All children with Down’s syndrome continue to benefit from visual support to aid their language development as they mature. Temporal concepts can be particularly difficult for children with Down’s syndrome as they typically struggle to think chronologically.

Developing Vocabulary

All children’s vocabulary continues to develop throughout their life. Children with Down’s syndrome may require specific vocabulary to be taught, because they may struggle to pick up new vocabulary in everyday life. This may be because of auditory/visual processing, memory and/or physical difficulties. As well as needing more support to continue developing their vocabulary throughout life, children with Down’s syndrome are more likely to have difficulty remembering and retrieving vocabulary for the words they know.

Developing Vocabulary: Continuing vocabulary development

When teaching new vocabulary, remember to use the sign or gesture alongside the spoken word. You can also use pictures of the word and show your child the picture and the written word. Talk about what the word means, and make up sentences using the new word. When possible, physically touch, feel and explore the new word. If it is a verb, ‘do’ the word. If the word is more abstract, describe the meaning using other labels, e.g. ‘evil means bad’, ‘grief is like sad’, ‘shock is like surprise, but does not feel nice’, etc.

Specific activities could include:

Listening to sounds in the environment, and talking about what you can hear. For example, animal noises; noises around the home (e.g. clock, kettle, washing machine); noises out and about, (e.g. traffic noises, aeroplanes, helicopters), etc. Teach your child the sign and say the word. Find pictures to go with what you hear.

Choose an item and encourage your child to think of all the different uses for that item, for example:

Spoon  stir, wash, eat, scoop, measure
Cloth  wash, dry, scrub, rinse

When teaching adjectives, give your child a word and see if she can think of things to go with that word. Use picture prompts. For example:

shiny, hard, round, small, soft, slippery
  • Round might go with ball.
  • Shiny might go with necklace
  • Soft might go with pillow, etc…

It can be helpful to teach adjectives in pairs or opposites, for example:

hard/soft long/short full/empty tall/short cold/hot
Developing Vocabulary: Categorisation Skills

Researchers believe all people store vocabulary in categories in their minds, or lists called ‘mental lexicons’. This is the same for children with Down’s syndrome, but because of speech, language and memory difficulties it is harder for them to create and add to these lists. This is why working on categorisation can help vocabulary development.

To develop categorisation skills:

  • Collect pictures of things that go together. Easy categories include:
food animals toys
transport plants clothes
  • Harder categories are items grouped by function, for example:
 Things you cut with Things you clean with Things found at the seaside Things made out of wood
  •   Even more closely linked categories include:
Things we wear inside/outside Things we wear on our hands/feet. Farm animals/zoo animals
  • Finally, categories can be organised by the relationship between the items, for example:
Opposite Relationships
  • hot and cold
  • slow and fast
  • up and down
  • cry and laugh
  • rough and smooth
  • long and short
Spatial Relationships
  • far and near
  • away and distant
  • before and after
  • connected and joined
  • back and front
  • above and below
Temporal Relationships
  • seed and tree
  • bud and flower
  • seconds and minutes
  • smoke and fire
  • sleep and night
  • early and morning

Categorisation games will vary depending on your child’s ability. Start by sorting two distant category types, then try sorting three or more categories. Increase the difficulty by sorting closely linked categories, for example, flowers and vegetables or transport that flies and transport that goes on the sea, etc.

  • Draw or cut out a picture of a place and choose, cut out and stick pictures to match that place to create a collage, for example:
A farm farm animal pictures
A kitchen things you find in the kitchen
A supermarket things you buy in the supermarket
A park things you find in the park

Then have two scenes and two sets of pictures. Encourage your child to place the pictures in the correct scene. Remember the more distant the categories the easier the activity. So from the list above sorting zoo animals and things you find in the kitchen is easy; sorting farm animals from zoo animals is more difficult.

Search through magazines for pictures relating to a specific category, e.g. ‘let’s find all the animals’. Cut out and stick all the animal pictures together.

Choose a category. Roll a dice and label the same number of items in that category as shown on the dice.

  • Play word association games where someone says one word and the next person has to say a word associated with the first word, for example:

‘glove’, ‘hand’, ‘foot’, ‘sock’, ‘shoe’, ‘run’, ‘jump’, ‘P.E’, ‘hall’, ‘assembly’, ‘sing’ …

  • Play word pair games:

‘Which of these are the same/different?’

pillow cushion
sweet sour
Sunday week
unlock open
close lock
Developing Vocabulary: Semantic Link Activities

Sadie Bigland-Lewis and Jane Speake developed resources available in a book called ‘Semantic Links’, which you might like to use when working on categorisation. It is also possible to create your own resources, using photographs, pictures, symbols and written words.

Odd one out

Using objects, pictures and/or written words, select three items. Two are related in some way and one is not, for example:

Difficulty Items
Easy Sock, T-shirt, toy car  (Target: clothes, things you wear)
Medium Apple, slice of bread, banana  (Target: fruit, more specific than just things you can eat)
Hard Teddy, pillow, cup   (Target: things which are soft)

Help your child to work out the answer, by talking about and exploring the items together. Start with an easy ‘odd one out’ group of items, and increase the difficulty depending on your child’s vocabulary, memory and understanding.

Similarities and differences

Describe similarities and differences between two objects. For example:

bird aeroplane
orange tennis ball
football rugby ball
the sea a pond
a tree a flower

Lotto Games

Create category based lotto boards, and play lotto. You can use the categories animals, people, transport, plants, toys, etc…

Word Retrieval

Using objects or pictures whose name your child knows. Place the items in front of you. You can use items that are completely unrelated, for example a toy car and a ball, or items that are more similar and related by appearance or use, e.g. ball and apple. The more physically similar the items or the more similar their use, the harder the activity.

Describe one of the items using single words and phrases, for example:

Target: Ball
Say: ‘Round, bouncy, kick, throw, sports’

See if your child can find the item. Then swap over, see if your child can label features of one of the other items. Your child may just say the name of the item. In this case, talk about the features of the item. Use the signs or picture prompts to show features of the item, or what the item is used for. For example:

Target: Ball
  • a picture of someone kicking a ball, a circle (the shape of the ball), etc…
  • a prompt picture for another item that is not relevant to ‘ball’, for example someone eating (Target: Apple), etc…

See if your child can select the relevant picture.

For older children with good language skills, you can expand on this game by giving clues:

Target:  Rabbit
  • ‘it has long floppy ears’
  • ‘it likes eating carrots’
  • ‘it hops’
  • ‘it has long floppy ears’ 
  • ‘it likes eating carrots’

Describing objects to develop word retrieval will help your child to develop more abstract vocabulary. Encourage your child to think about features of the item he is describing, such as:

  • Size
  • Shape
  • Colour
  • Materials (what it’s made of)
  • Texture (how it feels)
  • Weight (how heavy it is)
  • Function
  • Location

If your child is able to read and write, or use symbols, you can complete a table like the one below to help him think about the different features of an object:

Target Sock Car
Category Clothes Transport
What is it for? Wearing Driving
What colour is it? Blue Red
How big is it? Small Big
Where is it? On foot/in drawer On road/in garage
What is it made of? Cotton Metal

Choose target words depending on the vocabulary you are encouraging your child to develop, and choose descriptive questions relevant to the target words.

Use sign, symbol and picture prompts along with the spoken and written word, depending on the type of support your child needs.

Prompts to help your child retrieve the words she knows

You may feel your child knows more words than she chooses to say/sign. This may be the case, so you can give her prompts to help her retrieve the word when she is talking, if you know the word she is trying to say. Different prompts might include:

  • sign or gesture the word
  • give the first sounds of the word
  • give a sentence to complete, for example, ‘shoes and …’
  • give the object’s function, for example, ‘you use it to brush your hair…’
  • give a closely associated word, for example, target: hairbrush, say ‘comb’
  • give information about the structure of the word, how many syllables (clap your hands to mark the syllables), or a rhyming word
Developing Vocabulary: Descriptive Language Skills

Encourage your child to describe what is happening in a picture sequence. First, ask him to put the pictures in the correct order, then describe what is happening. You can model the language while he is sequencing the pictures, by prompting and describing what you see.

Encourage your child to use a picture depicting a scene to tell a story. This is harder than describing a sequence of pictures.

Describe the function of familiar objects. For example, a cup, pencil, kettle, hoover, lawn mower.

Remove an item from sight, but rather than just naming the missing object, your child must describe it. If your child struggles with short term memory, you can have just two items on the table and remove one. The hidden item is then described. Gradually add additional items as your child understands the game and her memory improves.

Hide an item in a bag or pillow case. Encourage your child to describe how it feels. Taking turns will give you the opportunity to model the language to your child.

Developing Vocabulary: Reasoning Skills

In the early years, you modelled vocabulary by commenting on things that interested your child. You can help your child to develop reasoning skills by modelling in the same way. Many children with Down’s syndrome understand more words than they can say, so although it is important to use language they can understand, it is equally important to use language which is age appropriate and adds to their linguistic experience. For example:

Do comment and give explanations. ‘The cat is stuck up a tree. I wonder how it will get down? The man could use a ladder to get the cat down.’

Don’t just question. Give information, model the language, then question. Model the language as in the example above and then ask: ‘What could the man use to get the cat down?’ This gives your child the best chance of success, gives positive reinforcement, and models verbal reasoning.

Expand on possible answers your child can give. For example: ‘He could use a ladder because he can climb a ladder. A ladder would get him to the top of the tree. He could reach the cat from the ladder.’

Model questions and answers using an, ‘I wonder…’ format: ‘I wonder what he could use to get the cat down…  I know he could use a ladder.’ This demonstrates the thought process and reasoning behind different scenarios.

Use sign, gesture, pictures and symbols.

Act out the answer by play acting possible scenarios.

Model reasoning skills in the here and now, during real life scenarios where thinking and problem solving is required. This helps to make more complex language meaningful to your child. Examples of activities to practise reasoning skills are:

  • Cooking
  • Arts and crafts
  • Book sharing
  • P.E
  • Measuring
  • Packing a bag for a day out

Remember to use simplification techniques if your child does not seem to understand. You can check whether your language is simple enough, by thinking about:

  • Is your child familiar with the language you are using and the topic you are talking about?
  • Is the question you are modelling too hard? Is it a ‘What?’, ‘Where?’ or ‘Who?’ question – which are relatively simple; or a ‘Why?’, ‘How?’ or ‘When?’ question – which are harder.
  • Think about the type and amount of information you gave.
  • Is your child paying attention?
  • Did your child try to respond before you had finished modelling the language?

Developing Story Telling Skills

Research has shown that storytelling, or narrative ability, is closely linked to academic success. As well as academic success, narrative ability enables children to communicate more independently, and share information with parents, friends and teachers. A child needs to be able to ‘talk’ a story before she can ‘write’ a story. Children with Down’s syndrome may find it harder to tell stories verbally. Using pictures, sign and gesture, acting out stories, organising written words into sentences, and sequencing sentences into stories will all help develop narrative ability. Stories do not have to be fictional or in book form. Story telling includes telling a friend about a film you’ve just seen, what you did at the weekend, or something that happened in school.

The following activities will help develop your child’s narrative ability:

  1. Encourage your child to listen to simple stories. Early stories can be describing picture books. As your child matures, stories might be fictional, like fairy tales, or factual books, for example about how things are made.
  2. Talk about the structure of stories with your child. Do not specifically ask the questions below, but use these to help you draw your child’s attention to the different elements of the story by commenting and talking about what is happening.
  • What happens at the beginning, middle and end?
  • Where does the story take place?
  • Who are the main characters in the story?
  • What important events take place?
  • What problems do the characters encounter?
  • How do the characters overcome their problems?
  • What are the consequences of the characters actions?
  1. Act out stories. Play at being different characters, dress up, use objects as props and talk about the sequence of events.
  2. As your child matures, and when he is familiar with a particular story, you can begin to be more specific and ask questions about the different elements of the story. You can ask about who, what, where, when, why and the characters feelings, depending on your child’s level of ability. You can use picture cards and drawings to prompt and help your child to respond without always relying on speech.
  3. Sequencing is an important part of storytelling. Section F3, Increasing Talking has more information on sequencing. When thinking about storytelling, encourage your child to tell, draw or sequence pictures to show the beginning, middle and end of the story.
  4. As your child’s storytelling ability and awareness improves, encourage her to tell other people about a favourite book or film, or what she has done at school or at the weekend. The ‘Special Stories’ App summarised in Section N2, Useful Apps: School Age is a great way of involving your child in creating stories to tell her news.

Shape Coding

Shape Coding was developed by a speech and language therapist called Susan Ebbels. Shape Coding explicitly teaches rules of grammar using shapes. Shape Coding enables you and your child to review what he has said or written using shapes, colours and arrows, so that it is easier to visualise the grammar and structure of language, both spoken and/or written.

In Shape Coding:

Colours underline the individual words.

Shapes go around phrases and sentences.

Arrows demonstrate tense.

Specific types of words are highlighted by underlining them in specific colours. The colours used by Shape Coding are:

Noun – RED object words
Determinants/ possessive pronouns – PINK   used in place of names and object words
Verbs – BLUE doing words
Adjectives – GREEN    describing words, e.g. happy, hard, colours
Prepositions – YELLOW positional words, e.g. on, in, through
Adverb – BROWN describe doing words, e.g. quickly, carefully
Coordinating conjunction – PURPLE linking words, e.g. and, but, or
Subordinating conjunction – ORANGE linking words, e.g. because, if

Phrases are grouped together with shapes and linked with a colour, a question and a symbol, for example verb phrases go in a hexagonal shape, feelings in a ‘cloud’ shape and positional phrases in a semicircle.

This sounds complicated, but the system can be very useful for children with Down’s syndrome, particularly if they attend mainstream secondary school. This system can help children access more complex language structures to answer questions, aid understanding, and develop more complex spoken and written language.

Shape Coding should be delivered by a speech and language therapist or professional trained in using this system. There are lots of online resources and videos explaining how to use Shape Coding if you want to find out more information about this system.

Asking For Help

Your child may be reluctant or find it difficult to ask for help because of:

  • Delayed speech and language skills
  • Poor speech intelligibility
  • Social awareness (e.g. not wanting to ask in front of peers, or not wanting to get into trouble)
  • Not realising that she hasn’t understood

Use scenarios where you know your child needs assistance. and wait to be asked for help. For example:

 Ask your child to go and get the fruit bowl which is kept out of reach. Depending on his speech, language and signing skills:
  • encourage your child to point at what he needs.
  • encourage your child to say and sign ‘Help’.
  • encourage your child to say and sign what she needs help with, for example ‘Help, fruit’.
  • Encourage your child to physically take you and show you what he needs help with.
Ask your child to write down some words, but do not give her a pen and paper.
  • encourage your child to ask for a pen and paper

Ways you can encourage your child to ask for clarification include:

  • hand over hand signing
  • say, ‘You don’t understand? You can say, “I don’t understand” and I can help you.’
  • ask, ‘Did you hear me? Oh! The music was too loud. You say, “The music was too loud. I didn’t hear you. Tell me again, Mummy.’

Children respond surprisingly well to this technique – they are able to practice the language needed to ask for help and increase independence.

  • prompt your child to tell you what she thinks you were asking. If she has not understood, then clarify for her.

In social situations where your child may be too self-conscious to ask for help, create opportunities for him to ask discretely.

Ask other children and family members to model how to ask for help.

Remember to praise your child when she uses questions and asks for clarification.

The aim in encouraging your child to ask for help is to empower him to help himself, and to take greater responsibility for managing and coping with his difficulties without an adult always pre-empting his needs.

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