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Frequently used phrases

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One of the keys to communicating with children who have communication delays is choosing consistent phrases and using them frequently. By using a phrase consistently, your child can learn the meaning of the phrase (as a whole) instead of having to listen/decode words every time you give directions. Here are some phrases that we regularly use at school. You may hear your child saying some of these things--and you may want to use some of these phrases at home!


Good choices

This phrase is paired with a 'thumbs up' gesture. We use this phrase as social reinforcement to say 'good job' when students are doing the right thing. I also use this phrase as a prompt to encourage good choices, saying something like, "Make good choices" as a reminder if a student is doing the wrong thing.

Example: Beth shares the crayons with Susie. The teacher tells Beth "Good choices!" (with a thumbs up gesture). Beth smiles.

Bad choices

This phrase is paired with a 'thumbs down' gesture. We use this phrase to tell students that they are doing the wrong thing (i.e. misbehaving). This phrase provides students with feedback about their behavior so that they can make a better choice. In addition to teachers using this phrase, I often see students using it to communicate with peers. I have also seen students use this phrase like a question, "Bad choices?" when they are asking about a peer's behavior. To use this phrase, make sure and use the child's name so that they are listening. Tell the child "Bad choices" and monitor to see if the child is able to change the behavior. When the child makes the appropriate adjustment, be sure to tell him/her, "Thank you. Good choices."

Example: Peter stands up from his chair during circle time. The teacher tells Peter "sit down." Peter does not sit down. The teacher tells Peter, "Bad choices (thumbs down gesture). Please sit down." Peter sits down. The teacher tells Peter, "Good choices (thumbs up gesture). Thank you for sitting down."


(give direction)

This phrase is used to gain a child's attention before giving important information. Children do not always know when to listen, so a phrase like this is an important cue so the child can listen for what comes next. Use the child's name prior to the cue. 

Example: "Laurie, stop....listen...go wash your hands."

Counting down

Counting down from ten is used prior to major transition times at school. Counting down is helpful so that students can prepare for the transition and finish the activity they are playing with. This strategy might be very helpful at home. Remember to count slowly so that the child has the time to get ready.

Example: "10...9...8...7...6...5...4....3...2...1. Clean up please (Sing clean up song)" 

I'm going to help you. 1...2...3

Children with communication disorders need extra time to prepare and respond. If a direction is given and the child does not respond appropriately, it can be helpful to give the child time to respond without help. To do this, I use the phrase  "I'm going to help you....1...2...3" or "I'm going to touch you...1...2...3." As students hear this phrase consistently, they begin to respond prior to the physical touch. This is the overall goal. For students who are not able to respond prior to the end of the counting, provide kind and gentle assistance to comply with the task.

Example: Tera is laying on the floor. The teacher says "Stand up Tera" and shows her a picture. The teacher gives Tera time to respond. Tera does not stand up. The teacher continues to show Tera the stand up picture and says, "Ok, I'm going to help you....1....2....3." The teacher reaches down gently and helps Tera stand up. 

You say it.

This phrase is paired with a gesture of pointing to your mouth or the child's mouth. The use of this phrase and the gesture of pointing to the mouth helps children learn when their response is required. This phrase can be especially helpful if you are trying to encourage children to practice saying new words/phrases.

Example: Xavier hands the teacher his milk during breakfast. The teacher says "Open. You say it....Open." The teacher points to Xavier's mouth and waits until he says something.

Note: It does not have to be the right word if a child is just learning to talk. Any verbal response can be accepted if the child tries to say something. Once the child learns that a verbal response is required, then start working to help the child say the word correctly.

I need more time. 

This is an important phrase when children use behavior to show us they are not ready (i.e. crying, refusing to stand up, etc). The child is using the behavior to tell us that s/he is not yet ready, The child needs to learn the phrase "I'm not ready, I need more time" so that s/he can appropriately express needs without having a tantrum. By teaching the child the phrase, you can eliminate some of the problem behavior related to not being ready.

Example: Teacher asks Mary to clean up. Mary starts to cry and grabs all her toys closely. The teacher says, "I can see that you are not ready. You need more time. Tell me: "I need more time." [Child repeats]. "Ok, you can have one more minute. I'll be right back."

Example: The teacher asks Mary to clean up. Mary says, "I need more time." The teacher responds, "Ok, you have ten more seconds. I'm going to count you down: 10, 9, 8......1. Ok, your time is finished. It's time to clean up."

Note: These examples can be applied in any context and you can give the child as much time to get ready as you think the child needs. You can also tell the child, "Tell me when you are ready" if you think the child will be able to do that. Teaching this phrase can lead to very helpful behavior improvements.

Back up, I need more space. 

We use this phrase to help kids communicate with each other to decrease physical behaviors like pushing. Often, when one child pushes another child, s/he is saying "Back up, I need more space" with the behavior (pushing). Teaching this phrase can decrease physical aggression.

Example: Luis is standing very close to Phillip in line. Phillip looks nervous. The teacher prompts Phillip, "Tell Luis: Back up, I need more space." [Phillip repeats and Luis backs up.]

Example: Joey is pushing the teacher because he is mad. The teacher says, "Back up Joey I need more space] [Teacher backs up]

I'm ready/I'm not ready 

At times, kids have tantrums when they are not ready to transition to the next activity. Teaching these phrases can help children decrease tantrums and increase appropriate verbal communication.

Example: The teacher tells Jenn to clean up. Jenn starts to cry and falls to the ground. The teacher says, "I can see that you are not ready." In a few minutes the teacher approaches Jenn and asks, "Are you ready?" and offers a hand. Jenn stands up and walks to the next activity.

Note: For kids who are able to repeat phrases, encourage them to practice saying "I'm ready" and "I'm not ready" when you can tell that these phrases are needed.

I need help.  We use this phrase when children are trying to climb (to get an object) or when they are fighting over sharing with another student. We teach the kids to yell out "I need help" to gain teacher assistance. The teacher walks over and responds, "Yes, I'm here to help you." This is an excellent phrase for kids to learn because it can help them advocate for their needs. Anytime that your child is struggling with something, encourage him/her to use the phrase "Help" or "I need help" before you give assistance. This is a great strategy to improve his/her verbal communication and decrease frustration. 


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