Development of Stages of Understanding

Situational understanding

9 months

P1 - P2

A pupil begins by using all the cues around him to understand what is going on. These include cues such as;

  • what they see
  • gesture
  • tone of voice
  • familiarity with the situation

For a pupil to carry out an activity, they may not actually need to understand any of the language used. For example, if a mother asks a pupil to sit down, whilst pulling out a chair, tying his bib on as the smell of food fills the room, he is likely to understand what she wants him to do. The pupil however, may understand a few of the words, interpreting them as part of a whole situation.

When communicating with your pupils be aware of:

  • The cues that you are using (what pupil hears, sees, feels, tastes and smells).
  • The pupil’s knowledge of the routine. Once the pupil’s situational understanding is consistent, you can begin to work on understanding of spoken words.

Developmental stages of verbal comprehension

8 - 14 months

P2 - P3

  • Recognises a few gestures.
  • Understands a few simple everyday words accompanied by gesture and/or intonation (in context)
  • Turns to name when called
  • Matches object to object


  • Say the pupil’s name before speaking to them
  • Use gesture, body language and pointing to support simple verbal instructions.
  • Use a sing-song voice when talking to pupil and giving simple instructions
  • Use simple repetitive phrases during play e.g. ready, steady, go; one, two, three, wheeee! to develop anticipation.
  • Use a range of multi-sensory tasks to consolidate learning

1 - 2 years


  • Understands increasing numbers of single words, (1-50 word vocabulary).
  • Understands that a picture/photo represents an item.
  • Understands that a symbol represents an item.
  • Understands that a sign represents an item.


  • Stress key words
  • Use familiar and concrete concepts
  • Speak slowly and wait longer
  • Talk about the here and now
  • Use short simple phrases
  • Support your instructions with visual cues. Make sure they know what these mean first and use them consistently across contexts.
  • Consistently use the same phrase in Association with a particular, well known situation e.g. when putting toys away ‘it’s tidy up time’.
  • Target an agreed core vocabulary and reinforce across contexts
  • When repeating a phrase, use the same words

2 - 3 years

P5 - 6

  • Understands 50+ words
  • Understands the concept of ‘same’
  • Understands prepositions and simple concepts, e.g. big/little & primary colours
  • Understands the pronouns he, she, your and mine
  • Understands 2-3 word level commands
  • Remembers short instructions and carries them out


  • Give instructions one to one
  • Repeat instructions
  • Make instructions specific and keep wording the same
  • Give instructions one at a time
  • Promote generalisation of learning in a variety of contexts
  • Allow time for the pupil to process and respond to instructions
  • Gradually reduce the number of gestural and contextual cues that accompany your language so that the pupil understands the words alone.
  • Give clear unambiguous instructions. Use literal language - say what you mean, mean what you say.

4+ years


  • Understands past and future events.
  • Understands harder descriptive concepts, e.g. clean, dirty, hard and young.
  • Understands what and where questions.
  • Understands plurals.


  • Gradually move towards using the phrase slightly ahead of the event so that the pupil learns to anticipate the situation in response to specific language cues.
  • Expect the pupil to show understanding of your words e.g. if it is said that it is break time the pupil will fetch his coat.

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Last updated: 28 October 2015

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