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Skill Overview

What is a receptive language?

Receptive oral language is the ability to understand spoken language.  It usually develops earlier than expressive oral language and can be accessed by listening to verbal communication, accurately interpreting non-verbal gestures, and (ultimately) comprehending written language (reading).


What tasks should students be able to demonstrate to indicate mastery of this skill?

  • Apply meaning to spoken words, such as understanding oral storytelling, following simple and complex directions, and reacting to someone’s questions.

  • Interpret non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions, body language, and hand gestures. 


Why is receptive language important to reading?

Receptive language is how we first build an understanding of the world.  It supports comprehension because it houses our “schema” for interpreting both oral and written language.  The ability to understand spoken language is the foundation of our word knowledge, which is critical to comprehending text and to building a more robust vocabulary for reading and for writing.

What screener can be used to determine if there is a deficit in receptive language?

Structured Literacy Tools

Sequential and Cumulative

Systematic and Explicit

To Mastery

There are general norms for language development established by speech and language practitioners.  While these milestones are not finite, they do provide guidance for teachers and parents to reasonably expect certain levels of performance.  Your speech and language pathologist is a great resource for assessing receptive language.

In the early literacy classroom, teachers should provide regular and daily visual cues and reinforcements to support students’ understanding of verbal communications.   Establishing routines and communication standards for how students are expected to respond (e.g. use complete sentences, emphasize prosody) is an effective approach for  building oral language.   

By the time a student arrives at Kindergarten, receptive language should be well established for everyday discourse that goes beyond understanding simple commands.  However, many children come to school with compromised language development.  Therefore, teachers should be cognizant of these developmental stages and provide modeling and instruction with these sequential goals in mind: respond appropriately to voice levels and tones; listen and respond when spoken to; recognize names of familiar objects; follow simple directives; track conversations and simple stories; follow multiple instructions given at one time; understand lesson content.

Practice Resources

Downloadable Files From BRI Resources
Downloadable Files From Literacy Partners
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