Key Word Levels

These key word levels are taken from the Derbyshire Language Scheme*: a resource created so that those working with pupils with learning difficulties can appreciate which words a pupil needs to understand to comprehend at a certain level, and how to assist them in progressing to the next level.

The key word level tells us the number of key words that a pupil has to understand in a sentence, in order to carry out an instruction.

In order to be sure that there is true understanding at any of the stages, there must be a choice for the underlined words.

For example
(Use age appropriate equipment)

12 - 24 months

  • 1 word level
    Where’s the DVD?
    Equipment needed: mobile, DVD

20 - 30 months

  • 2 word level
    Give a drink to John
    Equipment needed: drink, snack, pupils

28 - 36 months

  • 3 word level
    Put the spoon in the bag
    Equipment needed: shoe, spoon, bag, box, in/on/under

Generally as language develops, a pupil’s understanding will be at a higher level than his spoken language, e.g. a pupil may understand a 3 word level instruction, but may be joining 2 words expressively e.g. ‘daddy car’. This may be either verbally or non-verbally through the use of signs, symbols, eye-pointing, or via a VOCA.

** In the language development of pupils with autism, the reverse may be true: what the pupils says is often a poor indicator of what they understand.

Specific activities to develop comprehension have been listed in a number of tables in Appendix 4.

These tables are designed to be made into activity cards which can be stored in a file/index box. All you need to do is photocopy the table, cut it out, fold it in half along the central line and laminate it. You will then have an activity card with comprehension activities on one side and expressive communication activities on the
other side.

*Knowles W and Masidlover M (1982 , published by Derbyshire County Council)

** This is used throughout the document and refers to puplis with autism

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Last updated: 28 October 2015

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