In this section, you’ll find information to assess language from a sentence-focused perspective. We’ll describe ways to use measures from parent-report tools and language samples to identify progress on each developmental step. You’ll also find links to published research relating the sentence-focused measures to traditional measures of grammatical development and later-developing structures. This section is written primarily for speech-language pathologists.

Verb Diversity

Verb diversity refers to the number of different verbs children understand or say. Verbs can be action words like goeatplay, or sleep or state words like wantlike, or need. Verb diversity is used to estimate the size of a young child’s verb vocabulary and can be assessed with parent report tools or with spontaneous language samples. 

In this section, you’ll learn how to assess verb diversity and ways you can help build your child’s verb vocabulary. 

Verbs Pave the Way for Language Development (by Lauren Lowry, The Hanen Centre)

This article lists examples of verbs and explains why verbs are an important part of vocabulary development. It summarizes age expectations for verb vocabulary size and growth from 24 to 30 months, based on a research study from the APL. The article also provides tips for helping children learn new verbs and when parents may want to talk to a doctor or a speech-language pathologist, if they are concerned about their child’s vocabulary development.

For more information on verb diversity, see 

Hadley, P., Rispoli, M., & Hsu, N. (2016). Toddlers’ verb lexicon diversity and grammatical outcomes. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 47, 44-58. PMID: 26803292

Sentence Diversity

Sentence diversity refers to the number of different subject-verb combinations children say. Early child-like sentences have I-subjects and are about what the child wants or has. Later sentences are about objects or other people, appearing first with pronoun subjects and then with noun subjects. Sentence diversity is assessed from spontaneous language samples and is used to estimate the strength of children’s knowledge of sentence structure.

Other Pronoun SubjectsOther Noun Subjects
I want juice.That fall.Tower fall.
I need help.It go in.Ball go in.
I got cookies.Her sleeping.Baby sleeping.

This article, written for parents, provides examples of word combinations and child-like sentences, and explains why the transition to child-like sentences is important. The article also describes when children should say simple sentences, based on research from the APL, and when parents may want to talk to a doctor or speech-language pathologist if they are concerned about their child’s sentence development.

How to Help Your Child Use Early Sentences (Lauren Lowry, The Hanen Centre)

This article, written for parents, describes strategies that can be used to help children start saying a variety of child-like sentences.

Computing Sentence Diversity (Pamela Hadley, Megan McKenna, & Matthew Rispoli)

This supplemental resource, designed for speech-language pathologists, provides instructions for gathering a language sample and computing the measure of sentence diversity. The resource includes step-by-step instructions, an example, and a blank worksheet for analyzing sentence diversity by hand.

For more information on sentence diversity, see 

McKenna, M., & Hadley, P. (2014). Assessing sentence diversity in toddlers at-risk for language impairmentSIG 1 Perspectives on Language Learning and Education, 21, 159-172.

Hadley, P., McKenna, M., & Rispoli, M. (2018). Sentence diversity in early language development: Recommendations for target selection and progress monitoringAmerican Journal of Speech-Language Pathology27, 553-565.

Tense/Agreement Productivity

Language-specific grammatical structures transform child-like sentences into adult sentences. These grammatical structures may also be referred to as grammatical morphemes, function words, suffixes, or word endings. The tense/agreement productivity (TAP) score is a composite measure for use with child speakers of mainstream American English. The TAP score is made up of five categories of grammatical morphemes that mark tense and agreement. The TAP score estimates children’s developmental progress in marking tense/agreement in diverse sentence contexts in spontaneous language samples. Children earn up to 5 points for each sufficiently different use of tense/agreement morphemes from the five categories above.

Child-like SentencesTense/Agreement MorphemesAdult Sentences
__ doggy _ hungry.copula BEThe doggy is hungry.
He need_ food.3rd person singular present –sHe needs food.
The juice spill_.past tense –edThe juice spilled.
__ him need more?auxiliary DODoes he need more?
Doggy __ not eatingauxiliary BEThe doggy is not eating.

COMING SOON, you’ll learn how to assess the emergence of tense and agreement morphemes in preschool children and ways you can help your child learn these grammatical structures.