Understanding and using sentences

Understanding sentences

Children’s understanding of sentences develops gradually.  For activities for children learning to follow instructions with one, two or three key words, take a look at NHS Elect

When your child is ready to practice following slightly more complex instructions, try the 'Working on Following Instructions' activities from the Speech and Language portal

How to help your child’s understanding of language:


  • Check if your child has understood, and encourage them to ask if they haven’t
  • Break down information into simpler steps
  • Give time to think when listening, and talk (at least 10 seconds!)
  • Use pictures, gestures, or demonstrations along with words

Using sentences

Once children can understand sentences, and have enough words, they will start to join their words together to make sentences. 

One way we can teach children to use a range of different sentence structures is using Language through Colour (developed by Laleham Gap School).  This is a visual strategy for teaching the parts of a sentence, with a colour linked to each question word. 

Some examples of how schools are using Language Through Colour:

Hawkinge Language Through Colour
Hawkinge Primary School
St Mary’s C of E Primary Academy, Folkestone
St Mary's C of E Primary Academy, Folkestone
sentences with colour
Hawkinge Primary School
Language Through Colour example
If your child is using Language Through Colour at school, ask their teacher for examples of the sentence planners they are using. 


Children’s understanding and use of grammar in sentences develops gradually.  Grammatical markers include words such as negatives (e.g. ‘not’, ‘isn’t’) and pronouns (e.g. ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘I’, ‘their’), and word endings such as tenses (e.g. past tense ‘-ed’ vs present tense ‘ing’). 

If your child (or teenager) makes errors with their grammar when talking:

  • Repeat their sentence back, correcting the grammar
  • Focus more on what they say rather than how they say it, so they know they have been understood
  • For example, if they say “I kicked the ball to the goal and yell ‘score!!’”, you could say back “Wow!You kicked the ball into the goal and yelled loudly, did you?Was it a good shot?”

To practice grammar, try some of the language activities on the Speech and Language portal

Grammar checkers, such as Grammarly and Language Tool are available online to help young people become more aware of their grammatical errors, and to support them to learn to self-correct. BBC Skillswisehas activities to develop students editing and proofreading skills

People who have long term, persistent difficulties with their communication skills may have Developmental Language Disorder. To find out more about DLD, please watch the video below.