The table below lists the developmental trends of linguistic characteristics and abilities for children from kindergarten to high school.

Grade Level Age-Typical Characteristics Suggested Strategies
  • Knowledge of 8,000-14,000 words by age 6
  • Difficulty understanding complex sentences (e.g., those with multiple clauses)
  • Overdependence on word order and context (instead of syntax) when interpreting messages
  • Superficial understanding of being a "good listener" (e.g., just sitting quietly)
  • Literal interpretations of messages and requests (e.g., not , realizing that "Goodness, this class is noisy" means "Be quiet")
  • Increasing ability to tell a story
  • Mastery of most sounds; some difficulty pronouncing r, th, dr, sl, and str
  • Occasional use of regular word endings (-s, -ed, -er) with irregular words (sheeps, goed, gooder)
  • Basic etiquette in conversations (e.g., taking turns, answering questions)
  • Reluctance to initiate conversations with adults (for many students from Asian and Mexican American backgrounds)
  • Read age-appropriate storybooks as a way of enhancing vocabulary.
  • Give corrective feedback when students' use of words indicates inaccurate understanding.
  • Work on listening skills (e.g., sitting quietly, paying attention, trying to understand and remember).
  • Ask follow-up questions to make sure students accurately understand important messages.
  • Ask students to construct narratives about recent events (e.g., "Tell me about your camping trip last weekend").
  • Increasing understanding of temporal words (e.g., before, after) and comparatives (e.g., bigger, as big as)
  • Occasional confusion about when to use the versus a
  • Incomplete knowledge of irregular word forms
  • Increasing awareness of when sentences are and are not grammatically correct
  • Pronunciation of all sounds in one's language mastered by age 9
  • Sustained conversations about concrete topics
  • Increasing ability to take listeners' prior knowledge into account during explanations
  • Construction of stories with plots and cause-and-effect relationships
  • Linguistic creativity and word play (e.g., rhymes, word games)
  • Teach irregular word forms (e.g., the past tense of ring is rang, the past tense of bring is brought).
  • Begin instruction about parts of speech.
  • Use group discussions as a way to explore academic subject matter.
  • Have students develop short stories to present orally or in writing.
  • When articulation problems are evident in the upper elementary grades, consult with a speech-language pathologist.
  • Encourage jokes and rhymes that capitalize on double meanings and homonyms (i.e., sound-alike words).
  • Knowledge of about 50,000 words at age 12
  • Increasing awareness of the terminology used in various academic disciplines
  • Some confusion about when to use various connectives (but, yet, although, unless)
  • Ability to understand complex, multiclause sentences
  • Emerging ability to look beyond literal interpretations; comprehension of simple proverbs and increasing ability to detect sarcasm
  • Emerging ability to carry on lengthy conversations about abstract topics
  • Significant growth in metalinguistic awareness
  • Assign reading materials that introduce new vocabulary.
  • Introduce some of the terminology used by experts in various academic disciplines (e.g., simile in language arts, molecule in science).
  • Conduct structured debates to explore controversial issues.
  • Present proverbs and ask students to consider their underlying meanings.
  • Explore the nature of words and language as entities in and of themselves.


  • Knowledge of about 80,000 words
  • Acquisition of many vocabulary words specifically related to various academic disciplines
  • Subtle refinements in syntax, mostly as a result of formal instruction
  • Mastery of a wide variety of connectives (e.g., although, however, nevertheless)
  • General ability to understand figurative language (e.g., metaphors, proverbs, hyperbole)
  • Consistently use the terminology associated with various academic disciplines.
  • Distinguish between similar abstract words (e.g., weather vs. climate, velocity vs. acceleration).
  • Explore complex syntactic structures (e.g., multiple embedded clauses).
  • Consider the underlying meanings and messages in poetry and fiction.
  • When students have a native dialect other than Standard English, encourage them to use it in informal conversations and creative writing; encourage Standard English for more formal situations.

Sources: Bowey, 1986; L. Bradley & Bryant, 1991; Capelli, Nakagawa, & Madden, 1990; S. Carey, 1978; Delgado-Gaitan, 1994; Karmiloll-Smith, 1979; Maratsos, 1998; McDevitt et aI., 1990; McDevitt & Ford, 1987; Nippold, 1988; O'Grady, 1997; Owens, 1996; Reich, 1986; Sheldon, 1974; Stanovich, 2000; Swanborn & de Glopper, 1999; Thelen & Smith, 1998.