Function of Language

Knowing what vocabulary to introduce at the early stages of communication is always difficult. It is easier when making these decisions to think about what pupils will use communication for and why.

P1 Pre-Intentional communication

During these very early developmental stages adults will recognise and respond to pupils’ expressions of:

  • Likes
  • Dislikes
  • Wanting
  • Rejection
  • Recognition of Familiar and Unfamiliar

P2-3 Intentional communication

Pupils learn to express the following by using informal communication systems (e.g. gesture, facial expressions etc.):

  • Drawing attention
  • Requesting
  • Greeting
  • Protesting and rejecting
  • Giving information e.g. informing you by facial expression that the food you put in their mouth was cold
  • Responding e.g. reaching for an offered toy


Pupils will begin to use more formal communication systems such as a consistent vocalisation, symbol or sign. Pupils may bring objects of reference to you to communicate a change of activity, room or their needs.

They will start to understand and express some of the following:

  • Greetings
  • Rejection
  • Action
  • Location
  • Object
  • Existence/disappearance
  • Recurrence
  • Attribute
  • Agent
  • Possession


Pupils will understand and express using a formal language system e.g. speech, sign, VOCA, PECS/Symbols for the following language functions:

  • Socialising
  • Giving information
  • Describing
  • Questioning
  • Repairing
  • Directing


Pupils will understand and express using a formal language system e.g. sign, speech, VOCA, PECS/Symbols in increasingly sophisticated ways:

  • Giving and sharing information
  • Describing
  • Directing
  • Questioning
  • Reasoning
  • Predicting
  • Planning
  • Evaluating
  • Negotiating
  • Expressing feelings and emotions
  • Appropriate conversation skills

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Last updated: 21 October 2015

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