I recently wrote about the first step in the language processing hierarchy, labeling or naming objects and ideas. If you’ve forgotten, the language processing hierarchy looks something like this:

and is directly related to our Common Core State Standards within Anchor Standard ELA.L.5 for word relationships. As we previously discussed, the first step to vocabulary is understanding an object or idea’s name. It’s this initial phase of language development that children begin to undergo around 12-24 months, as their expressive vocabulary for naming objects blossoms.

However, naming objects isn’t enough. In order for communication to be meaningful, they must not only assign the right name to the right object or idea, they must also attach genuine, accurate meaning to it. One of the earliest ways that children learn to do this is by grasping an understanding of an object’s function.

Some of the earliest of babies developing this skill naturally involve words like “mom,” “cup,” “bed.” Most children begin to instinctually understand that mom “cares” for me, cups are for “drinking,” and I “sleep” in my bed. The breakdown for many students becomes being able to state or explain functions, as well as make fine distinctions between different aspects of a word, rather than just inherent understanding.

Teaching students distinguish between what an object is, what an object does, what an object is made of, what an object is grouped with, etc… are all important and vital aspects of helping students build a lexicon that has incredible depth, rather than just extending its breadth.

Here are a few ideas and materials for targeting this second rung on the ladder that is language processing:

1 | Emphasize actions and verbs.

The key to function is what something does. By looking at words within their part of speech – nouns and verbs – students can begin to distinguish between label, function, parts, and category. Focusing on verbs to discuss function could actually be one of the easier distinctions to make, as the other aspects (label, parts, category) are all described using nouns.

2 | Create visualizations.

Asking students to imagine themselves using a particular object is an easy way to fire up the language that is needed to describe it. Taking it a step further, students could be asked to draw an object being used before they are asked to add vocabulary to that.

3 | Contrast when necessary.

If a student is providing the wrong words to a function questions – for example, stating “food” when asked what you do with an apple, it could be time to jump ahead a bit and contrast function to other aspects, such as category. Going back to the emphasis on verbs can help here, as action is the distinguishing factor of function. You can also go further, emphasizing that the function of both a carrot and an apple is to be eaten, but that they fall into two different categories.

4 | Use sentence strips.

Providing students who can read with a written prompt for providing function lets them see where the action/verb fits into the equation. As simple as writing “You _________ with a fork.” under a picture of a fork can establish that verb relationship to function.

When you’re ready to go, explore these fun activities!

1 | These sensory bins, which can be found for all 4 seasons in her TpT store, address both the expressive and receptive identification of object function.

2 | This black & white packet also targets expressive and receptive function and can also be used via tablet for a no-print activity

3 | This placemat activity uses the sentence strip method to target expressive object functions.

4 | My Object Function unit is great for older students who need to work on labeling in written form, without visual stimuli.