Building Listening Memory



    It can be hard for kids to act on directions or discuss stories when they have difficulty remembering what they've heard. Memory is like a muscle- you can train it to do more work! Try some of these activities to increase listening memory.

    1) Make sure kids know how to ask about words they don't understand. If they don't understand the words you are saying it is as impossible to remember as if it were a foreign language. (Try having someone speak a sentence to you in a language you don't speak. Now try to repeat it. See how difficult it is?) Give them a verbal model of how to ask a question.

    2) Play parrot. Have your child repeat groups of words in the following order. Do not move onto the next step until your child can consistently complete the preceding one. You can work on this for 5 or 10 minutes a day.

    A) 3 related words (i.e. knife, fork spoon, or red, blue, green)
    B) 3 unrelated words (i.e. knife, red, sky)
    C) 4 related words
    D) 4 unrelated words
    E) 5 related words
    F) 5 unrelated words
    G) Sentences with a visual cue (perhaps from story book)
    H) Sentences without a visual cue

    If your child has mastered basic sentences, introduce distractors like the tv or outside noise. Increase the length of the sentence - see how long you can get!

    3) Practice outside of times strictly set aside for memory work. Ask them to repeat what someone on the tv said or something they hear on a store announcement.


    Following Directions

    The first step to success in following directions is making sure your child’s listening memory is adequate.  Make sure your child can complete the activities on the listening page before focusing on directions.

    I have many materials that can be used at home to practice following directions.  Please feel free to email me or come by to get items specifically for your child.

    The following are pieces of information that my students and I work on when trying to improve direction following abilities.

    Whenever a student hears a direction, I ask him to:

    1)      Repeat it to himself two times.  If he can do that, he should raise his hand and ask his teacher to repeat the directions.

    2)      Figure out what materials he needs (If the direction is to illustrate the story, he’ll need his story and crayons or colored pencils.)

    3)      Figure out how many things he needs to do. (“Push in your chair, get your coat and line up” is three things.)

    4)      Repeat the directions occasionally while he works to make sure he remembers everything.

    *A similar idea that works for some students is determining “What am I doing”, “what am I doing it to” and “what am I doing with with?” For instance, in “underline the people’s names in “red”, the answers would be: underlining, people’s names, a red pen.


    *As you give your child directions at home, work through this thought process out loud. Start small (one-step simple directions like "Pick up your shoe.") and work your way up (“Pick up your soccer shoes in the laundry room and your math book in the hall, and put them in your room.”)

    Setting the Stage


    Students will understand more about a topic if they do some "pre-thinking."

    1) Before reading a book, talk about the title. What do you think it means? What can it tell us about the story? Ex. The Very Hungry Caterpillar gives us some clues about the main character. We can guess how he might solve the problem of being hungry, what he will eat, etc.

    2) Look at the cover and any pictures in the book. What more does this tell us about the story? Who do we think the characters will be?  What is the setting?

    3) Brainstorm what the book reminds us of. For The Very Hungry Caterpillar, talk about caterpillars you have seen. What do they look like? Also, can you think of a time when you've been really hungry? If your child has a hard time with this, model this type of thought. Say "This picture reminds me of the time we went hiking and saw the little caterpillars on the leaves. When I touched it, it was soft. Then it crawled away slowly." By modeling descriptive thinking, your child will make connections to his own life!

    4) Practice these tools in other settings. For example, outside the movie theater look at the posters and discuss what the movie might be about.

    Who, What, When, Where & Why


    One of the first steps in overall comprehension is understanding the difference between the "5 Ws." Many children do not automatically understand what each of these words implies.

    Who-person, What-event or object, When-time, Where-place & Why-reason

    1) Pick one "W" to talk about for a period of time. Focus on that question when reading stories, talking about your day, etc. For instance, if "Who" is your area of focus ask questions about the character in the story. Ask general questions such as "Who brings the mail?" "Who is your favorite friend?"? Make sure your child is giving the correct type of answer (person for who) and then work on the correct answer.

    2) After each TV show, story or event, talk about the 5 W questions.

    3) Plan for a story. Decide the “who, what, when, where and why” and then tell a story around them.


    Figurative Language

    It can be very difficult for children who are working on concept development or who think very concretely to learn figurative language.  Idioms, similes and other devices can require specific instruction to understand.  The following pages require specific instruction to understand.  The following pages can be a resource to expose your child some figurative language they may encounter.







    Idioms are phrases or sayings that have meanings different than their literal meanings. Idioms are best learned by discussion of what it would really look like if taken literally and what it most likely means in context. This can be achieved by talking about it, drawing pictures, trying to think of other times we've heard this among other techniques.

    For instance, a child may hear the teacher say "I want all eyes on me." If this is something he doesn't appear to understand, you could talk about what it would really look like if we took all of our eyes out of our heads and stuck them on the teacher. (The sillier or grosser the better!) Then talk about what it really means, and in what context it would be used.

    Books for Idioms


    More Parts
    Even More Parts
    These are all by Tedd Arnold and are fabulous for visualizing idioms

    In A Pickle
    Mad As A Wet Hen
    & Punching the Clock
    All by Marvin Terban

    Monkey Business
    by Laura Hambleton, Sedat Turhan, and Herve Tullet

    Idiom List




    A Piece of Cake
    That test was a piece of cake.

    Break a Leg
    It’s your turn to present. Break a leg.

    Raining Cats and Dogs
    This morning is was sunny, but now it’s raining cats and dogs.

    A Toss-Up
    I don’t know what I want for lunch. It’s a toss-up between
    pizza and chicken nuggets.

    Down To the Wire
    We’re down to the wire on this assignment. It’s due in 20 minutes.

    Get Over It
    That happened last week. You need to get over it.

    Get On the Same Page
    Everybody in the group needs to be on the same page or
    we won’t get any work done.

    Out Of The Blue
    That pop quiz came out of the blue.

    Pulling Your Leg
    Don’t get upset, I was just pulling your leg!

    Turn Over a New Leaf
    I’m going to turn over a new leaf and start getting
    my homework done on time.




    Determining Solutions


    Teaching kids to problem solve can take repetition and patience.  Below are some general ideas I work with students on. If this is a goal for your child, we will work together to determine what works for his individual needs.


    1) "I Don't Know" is a forbidden phrase! Once kids figure out that they can say "I Don't Know" and an adult will step in, problem solving skills stop growing. For every problem my students encounter, they must at least tell me what they think they could do. This gives us a rough draft of a solution to work from

    2) Gather your thoughts. The size of a task can sometimes overwhelm a student. We break it down into steps. What materials do I need? What do I need to do first? Next? How much time do I think each part will take. How will I know I'm done? What will I do when I'm done? Focusing on one step at a time makes the project manageable.

    3) Students should think about what they do know about the situation. If they don't know how to go about solving a math problem, we talk about what we do recognize - i.e. we know how to add the numbers, we just don't remember what to do with the number that carries over.

    4) Think about past success. Have we ever done this before? What did we do then? This solves a lot of everyday "What do I do" questions (What do I do with this paper? Where do I go now?) A lot of times, students know the answer, but they just want confirmation.

    5) Write it down. If certain tasks (order of operations, prioritizing assignments) are a continued issue, students learn to write down the strategy. Then they can refer to it when they are stuck. Having that list available can also give a parent or teacher something to refer to in order to help guide the child.



    We use inferencing skills every day to determine what has happened in a situation, what we should do next or how people around us may feel and act. Practice building this skill with some of the following exercises.

    1) Feelings and Faces. Talk about what your face looks like with different emotions and practice them in the mirror (sad, happy, scared, etc). Then try to guess how other people are feeling by their expressions. Look for people at the store, on tv, or in book drawings . If your child has trouble, talk about the clues you see. "He is smiling and clapping his hands. I think he's excited!"

    2) Look at pictures in a magazine or book or pause a movie or tv show. Ask your child if he can figure out information from the picture. They can be open ended (How do you think he feels) or with choices (Do you think he feels happy or sad? Do you think he's going to school or the beach?) Make sure to talk about the clues that helped answer the questions.

    3) Guess the object. Play a game where you describe how you used an object and have the child guess what it is. You might say "I took a big gooey bite of it." or "I put my clothes in it, closed it and took it to the airport." Take turns describing and guessing. A variation of this is "What's for sale?" Write an classified ad and see if your child can guess what's for sale. Ex. 2004 4-door. Green. 30,000 miles. Runs well.

    4) Read mystery stories for kids. As an adult, you will see obvious clues and foreshadowing. Take time to talk about or list these as they pop up and brainstorm with your child the answer to the mystery. Make sure the guesses fit the clues so far. If another clue pops up that makes that guess impossible, brainstorm a new solution!

    Inference Books


    From the Monroe, IN public libary

    Adler, David. Young Cam Jansen series.
    Allen, Laura Jean. Rollo and Tweedy and the Ghost At Dougal Castle.
    Allen, Laura Jean. Where Is Freddy?
    Berenstain, Stan and Jan. The Berenstain Bears and the Missing Honey.
    Cushman, Doug. Aunt Eater series.
    Grambling, Lois. Happy Valentine's Day, Miss Hildy!
    Kwitz, Mary DeBall. Gumshoe Goose, Private Eye.
    Lewis, Thomas P. Call For Mr. Sniff.
    Lewis, Thomas P. Mr. Sniff and the Motel Mystery.
    Lexau, Joan M. The Dog Food Caper.
    Lexau, Joan M. The Homework Caper.
    Lexau, Joan M. The Poison Ivy Case.
    Lexau, Joan M. The Rooftop Mystery.
    Nixon, Joan Lowery. Susan and Mike series.
    O'Connor, Jane. Eek! Stories To Make You Shriek.
    Platt, Kin. Big Max.
    Platt, Kin. Big Max In the Mystery Of the Missing Moose.
    Putnam, Polly. The Mystery Of Sara Beth.
    Quackenbush, Robert. Detective Mole series.
    Sharmat, Marjoree. Nate the Great series.
    Shearer, John. Billy Jo Jive series.
    Skofield, James. Detective Dinosaur.
    Skofield, James. Detective Dinosaur: Lost and Found.
    Easy Chapter Books
    Adler, David A. Cam Jansen series.
    Adler, David A. Fourth Flour Twins series.
    Adler, David A. Houdini Club Magic Mystery series.
    Apablasa, Bill. Rhymin' Simon and the Mystery Of the Fake Snake.
    Apablasa, Bill. Rhymin' Simon and the Mystery Of the Fat Cat.
    Brown, Marc. Arthur Accused!
    Brown, Marc. The Mystery Of the Stolen Bike.
    Bunting, Eve. Jane Martin, Dog Detective.
    Bunting, Eve. The Skate Patrol.
    Bunting, Eve. The Skate Patrol and the Mystery Writer.
    Cameron, Ann. Julian, Secret Agent.
    Christian, Mary Blount. The Undercover Kids and the Museum Mystery.
    Clifford, Eth. Flatfoot Fox series.
    Conford, Ellen. A Case For Jenny Archer.
    Dadey, Debbie. The Adventures Of the Bailey School Kids series.
    Dicks, Terrance. The Adventures Of Goliath series.
    Duffey, Betsy. The Camp Knock Knock Mystery.
    Frith, Margaret. Mermaid Island.
    Giff, Patricia Riley. The Adventures Of Minnie and Max series.
    Hall, Lynn. The Mystery Of Pony Hollow, and many others.
    Hayes, Geoffrey. Otto and Uncle Tooth series.
    Joosse, Barbara. Wild Willie series.
    Keller, Holly. Angela's Top-Secret Computer Club.
    Landon, Lucinda. Meg Mackintosh series.
    Levine, Caroline. The Detective Stars and the Case Of the Super Soccer Team.
    Levy, Elizabeth. Brian and Pea Brain series.
    Levy, Elizabeth. Invisible Inc. series.
    Levy, Elizabeth. Magic Mysteries series.
    Levy, Elizabeth. Something Queer series.
    Myers, Walter Dean. Smiffy Blue: Ace Crime Detective: The Case Of the Missing Ruby and Other Stories.
    Quackenbush, Robert. Miss Mallord series.
    Quackenbush, Robert. Piet Potter series.
    Roy, Ron. A To Z Mysteries series.
    Stefanec-Ogren, Cathy. Sly, P.I.: The Case Of the Missing Shoes.
    Stevenson, James. The Mud Flat Mystery.
    Tashjian, Janet. Marty Frye, Private Eye.

    Predicting & Effect


    Students with difficulty predicting what will come next may have trouble following storylines, completing tasks or monitoring their own behavior.

    1) Tell stories that draw your child's attention to the outcome. Adding phrases like "Do you know what happened then?" or "...the result was..." helps focus in on the result of previous actions.

    2) Predict what will happen in your world. When someone pulls up to the gas pump, have your child predict what will happen next (The man will put gas in his car). If your child can't reach a conclusion, make your own guess and talk about why you think so.

    3) Orally predict probable outcomes of hypothetical situations such as "John was angry at his brother." or "Erica went to the library."

    4) Predict what will happen in books and entertainment. Stop while reading and predict what will happen next. Practice using full sentences (I think he will get in trouble because he broke the lamp). If you have a DVR, pause the TV and do the same thing. Decide at the end if you were right.



    1) Model sequencing in every day language. When you're talking to your family about your day (and if you're not, start now :-), be sure to tell it in sequential order with time markers (First I dropped Joe off, then I went to the grocery store, then I stopped at the movie store, and finally I came home.

    2) Talk about what happened in a favorite TV show, movie or book. Make it one that your child will not have to struggle to remember. Start simple with first, next and last. Add details to the middle as this becomes easier.

    3) Apply sequencing to new stories. At the end of each story, chapter or episode, verbally review what happened and in what order.

    4) Let your child play camera man through out the day and take some snapshots. Pull them up on the computer or print them out and let him tell you what order they should go in.

    5) Cut apart the boxes from a comic strip. Have your child put them back in the right order and tell the story.

    6) Have your child plan his "perfect day". Have him tell you what would happen in detail in chronological order.

    Social Language


    Many children learn the "rules" of social language almost automatically. However, some students need modeling, instruction and practice to master skills such as joining a group, taking turns, and listening in a group. Below are some general ideas for encouraging this learning.

    1) Model good social skills in your own home. Be overly polite to your family. Use sentences like "Can I play the game with you?" or "That hurt my feelings." Hearing you say these things will give your child a reference to draw from when he's at school or with friends.

    2) Point out the good and bad you see around you. Whenever you see a child use good skills in public or on television, talk about it! Say something like, "I like how he told his friend he was mad instead of hitting him" or "See how he asked what they were doing and they let him play with him?" Along the same lines, if you see something not positive, talk with your child about it. Brainstorm what that person could have done or said differently.

    3) Feelings and Faces. Sometimes children make mistakes because they can't figure out how the people around them feel. Talk about what your face looks like with different emotions and practice them in the mirror (sad, happy, scared, etc). Then try to guess how other people are feeling by their expressions. Look for people at the store, on tv, or in book drawings . If your child has trouble, talk about the clues you see. "He is smiling and clapping his hands. I think he's excited!"

    4) Role play. Make up silly or serious scenarios and characters (joining a group, watching a movie with friends, asking for information). Practice what you would say or do. Reward your child for trying to think of appropriate or productive actions.

    5) Practice! Playing board games with your child helps him practice taking turns and being a good sport. Letting your child order at a restaurant or pay the cashier at a store gives him opportunities to interact with adults. Taking him to a new park or play group gives him a chance to practice meeting people. Discuss what great things you saw and brainstorm better approaches as appropriate!

    Category Activities


    Note: All activities assume the student can describe objects with basic attributes such as color, function, etc.

    1) Begin adding category labels and definitions to your conversations and pointing them out during your day. At the store, say something like "We need apples. That's a fruit. Let's find the fruits." Or "Look at that horse and that cow. They're both animals."

    2) Does It Belong? Pick a category to play with. This can focus on appearance (i.e. color), function (things we wear), or another group that your child understands such as (i.e. animals, family members). Name some items and have your child decide if yes, it does belong or no, it doesn't. Increase the difficulty as warranted by choosing harder categories (maybe something they are learning at school) or a "two-part" category (i.e. things we wear in the winter, or animals on a farm).

    2) Once your child can identify if an object belongs in a certain category, start working on generating the objects independently. Name a category and then take turns naming things that might fit. Talk about why the answers are right or wrong. Occassionally give a "wrong" answer and see if your child can pick up on it.

    3) Now, turn the thinking around. Instead of naming objects that fit into a category, see if your child can name the category that goes with the objects. Start easy and get harder. In the beginning, list many items. For instance, blue, red, yellow, green & purple. As you go on, list fewer and/or more abstract items - aqua, violet. Once your child has this down, name one item and brainstorm different categories it could go into. Ex. dog could be animals, pets, things with fur, etc. Orange could be fruits, things that are round, colors, or things in a kitchen.

    4) Continue to work categories into your daily life. Stores with different departments are a great opportunity. (Produce/dairy/frozen or tools/toys/clothes) When cleaning the house, have your child place items into piles before putting away (by family member, by type of item).



    Help your child add to his or her descriptive vocabulary!

    1) Model descriptive language. Talk about your day and your surroundings in colorful terms. Instead of "I see a flower," try "I see a tall pink flower. I wonder if it smells sweet."

    2) Describe things you normally wouldn't. If you went to the bank that day, talk about what the buiding looked like, how the teller talked, etc.

    3) Make A Chain. Take turns with your child adding a describer to a noun. For instance, if the object is his cookie he might start with brown, you might add crumbly, he might add good, etc. See how long a chain you can make. Get silly!

    4) Challenge your child to describe an item by telling how it looks, how it feels, where you would find it and what it's used for. Take turns - you pick the item and he describes, then switch.



    Your child can describe items and experiences, but may have trouble comparing and constrasting two different descriptions.
    Try the following activities to encourage this skill.

    1) Pick an attribute (blue, round, soft) and take turns naming items that have this attribute. Talk about how all these items are the SAME because they all have this quality. I.e. grass, dollar bills and Kermit the frog are the same because they are all green. Then talk about how they are different. Kermit is different because he is an animal, etc. Be sure to use complete, full sentences. Instead of “They're green”- say "the grass, dollars and Kermit are the same because they are the same color. They all are green!

    2) Pick two items (from your house, that you can see from the car window, etc). Work together to think of things that make the two items the same and qualities that make them different.

    Once your child can do this, branch out. Move beyond color and shape to more complicated qualities like function (what it’s used for), parts, origins, etc.

    Sterling-Orth, A. (2007). Sound Reading:Targeting Articulation and Phonology Through Children's Literature. Greenville SC Super Duper Publications


    General Suggestions for Home Language Intervention

    o   While reading picture books, point out skills that your child is working on, such as: concept words, such as “in, out, on, off, over, under”, etc., pronouns (he, she, him, her, they, them, etc.), action words (expand to today, yesterday, tomorrow)

    o   Ask your child “wh” questions (who, what, when, where, why) and yes/no questions about books you read together, about activities you engage in together (shopping, cooking, game playing)

    o   Model correct responses to your questions, and expand your child’s utterances through modeling (What color is the apple? Red.  Yes, the apple is red.)

    o   Use descriptive words in your interactions with your child. (Round, red, juicy apple.)

    o   Let your child select a recipe to prepare.  Shop together for the ingredients, then help your child to follow the step-by-step directions.  Use sequencing words, such as first, next, then, last.  Talk about the importance of following the steps in the correct order for the best outcome.

    o   Play Simon Says with opposite terms.  Give such directions as “Simon says stand up.  Simon says sit down. Simon says put  it on top. Simon says put it on the bottom.”, etc.