Building sentences

Learning to build sentences is an important skill for young children and begins after children learn to link single words together. This takes place alongside their vocabulary development; the two skills are closely interlinked. Children need to know around 50 words before they will be ready to start building sentences – take a look at the vocabulary pages for some ideas.

Young children learn to build sentences by listening to others; often this skill develops rapidly after they have learned to link 2 or 3 words together. They will make lots of mistakes along the way and rely on adults modelling correct sentences and sometimes correcting mistakes in a supportive way appropriate to their age and stage of development.

Sentence building provides the scaffold for a child’s on-going language development. Once children can speak in sentences, they can use language to make requests, comment, ask and answer questions, and a number of other purposes!

Children’s sentences become more grammatically complex and more detailed as they are exposed to more complex language. Children will produce longer, more grammatically complex spoken sentences before they are able to produce written sentences using these grammatical structures.

The complexities of language include knowledge and skills linked to accurate use of:

  • The parts of language e.g. pronouns
  • Tense linked to their concept of time
  • Formulation of questions
  • Language purpose e.g. clarification, summary, explanation, planning, persuasion

Young people also learn to:

  • Explain the rules of grammar
  • Consider the interests of their listener
  • Use intonation to indicate meaning within a sentence or phrase

Non-urgent advice: Talking tips and strategies

  • Offer specific praise e.g. “That was a really good sentence. You remembered to use the ‘is’ word”. General comments like “Clever boy” do not help a child to become aware of what they did well.
  • Try to avoid anticipating or completing your child’s sentences, which limits his/her opportunity to express his/her self and reduces self-esteem.
  • Discourage others from interrupting whilst your child is speaking.
  • Reduce background noise when talking to young children. Create quiet times within the day when children can listen to an adult talking to the group.
  • Take turns within small groups to speak in simple sentences and comment on how people feel or what they are wearing/doing.
  • Provide the child with a good model of language, i.e. use complete concise sentences.
  • Expand the child’s utterance, e.g. if the child says “kicking the ball”, expand with “Yes, the man is kicking the ball”.
  • If the child produces an error, repeat the child’s utterance modelling back the correct word or grammatical structure. E.g. if the child says “the dentist looked at all my tooths”, respond with “he looked at all your teeth, did he?”, emphasising the key word.
  • Give children ‘thinking time’ (up to 6 seconds after you have asked a question). All children benefit from being given time to plan and organise what they want to say.

General Resources

Videos (coming soon)

  • Colourful Semantics
  • Lego Therapy
  • Moving on from single words
  • Offering choices to develop language
  • Talking to develop language

Resources by age group

1-2 Years

2-3 Years

4-5 Years (Reception)

5-7 Years (year 1-2)

7-9 Years (year 3-4)

9-11 years (years 5-6)

Page last reviewed: 1 August, 2022