Pragmatic language, sometimes referred to as social language, is language we use everyday to communicate with others. It includes both verbal skills, such as initiating a conversation, and nonverbal skills, such as orienting one’s body towards the person with whom they are communicating.
Most individuals develop pragmatic language skills naturally, but for those who do not, specific intervention is warranted. Previous posts have talked about pragmatic language and why it’s important, as well as how to write pragmatic language goals. Goals are great and important - but the implementation is where the skills grow! In this post, we are excited to provide some resources for targeting pragmatic language development.
Pragmatic language goals, as with other speech and language goals, range from simple to complex skills. When creating pragmatic language goals, it is important to consider the individual and their current communicative skills. For example, if an individual needs a lot of support to make eye contact with anyone, including a familiar person (parent, caregiver), it may be more suitable to work on eye contact with a familiar person before targeting this goal with an unfamiliar person (doctor, waiter).
With this in mind, we have divided this resource into three categories: I, II, and III, which increase in complexity. I contains resources related to requesting preferred activities, and making eye contact for one turn with a familiar person. II is related to greetings and farewells, maintaining a topic, and asking an individual a question about that topic. III contains activities for initiating multiple topics, asking questions and follow up questions, and varying topics and responses based on the person with whom one is communicating.
Free digital downloads of these activities can be found on our Teachers Pay Teachers page as well!
Note: As with most of our resources, these can be used for individuals that use AAC devices as well. Many AAC devices contain vocabulary that support social engagement.
Goal: Individual will initiate a request for 5 preferred items/activities, during structured activities, with 90% accuracy.
Present preferred items/activities in the view of an individual, but out of their reach. These may vary depending on the individual’s preferences, but commonly used items may include toys, books, a tablet (for music, games, pictures, videos), bubbles, puzzles, or food/drink items. One tip is to begin with only 1-2 items (that can be rotated in and out), and increase to more items as the individual makes requests with increased independence. For example, at first only show them a book and a toy, but after they are able to request this successfully, show them a book, toy, puzzle, and bubbles.
*If you are unsure about what is a preferred item/activity for an individual, you can always have a number of items and rotate some in and out to see if any pique their interests.
Prompt the individual to request a preferred item/activity. Requests may be completed via spoken language, gestures (reaching/pointing), sign language, AAC devices, or vocalizations.
Goal: Individual will maintain eye contact for 1 conversational turn, during a structured activity, with 90% accuracy.
The individual may request a preferred item/activity like in Activity 1, but also make eye contact with the person who is presenting the item/activity to them when doing so.
The individual requests a book, and as they communicate it, or immediately after they communicate it, they look at you (or whoever is going to give them the book).
Goal: Individual will complete 1 conversational exchange, during a 15 minute group activity, in 4/5 opportunities.
An example of this is the individual is in a setting where there is a 15 minute morning meeting every day, and during that meeting, the group discusses the day of the week, the weather, and the activities for the day. The individual participates/tolerates the group activity for the entire 15 minutes, and contributes to the discussion 1 time, by saying the day of the week, the weather, and/or one of the activities they will be completing that day. In this setting, each meeting is considered an "opportunity."
Goal: Individual will greet a familiar person, and maintain eye contact, during a structured activity, in 4/5 opportunities.
Targeting greetings most naturally occur at the beginning of an interaction, but creating opportunities for more greetings is possible too. For example, you may be working with an individual learning to greet you by saying, “hi,” “hey,” or waving, while maintaining eye contact when you first see each other. You can then provide another opportunity by leaving the room/camera view (if being completed virtually) momentarily. When you appear again, you have contrived an opportunity for them to greet you again. If you are with more than one individual, you all can take turns leaving the room/camera view, or simply turning around, then facing each other and greeting each other. Other options include role playing greetings using stuffed animals, dolls, action figures, or other toys.
Goal: Individual will maintain the given topic of conversation for 2 or more turns, during a structured activity, with 90% accuracy.
Present a topic for an individual. This may be as vague as “sports,” or as specific as “today’s lunch.” Tell them that you are each going to say three things about one of these topics. If you are talking about a baseball game, but then they start talking about a movie they watched (that’s not about baseball), remind them that is “off topic” and you are talking about baseball, not movies.
*Topic webs - as we talked about here, are helpful for developing topic maintenance skills.
Summer break, Weekend activities, Sports, Weather, Food, Shopping, Restaurants, Colors, Toys, Current events, Books, School activities
Goal: Individual will ask a familiar person a question about a specific topic, during a structured activity, with 90% accuracy.
Present a topic, or instruct individual to select a specific topic. Instruct them to ask a question about that topic. Provide examples if needed.
What is your favorite color?
Do you like to play sports?
What did you do over the weekend?
What is your hardest class in school?
Conversation starter cards can be helpful here as well. Some resources on Teachers Pay Teachers are linked here.
Goal: Individual will adjust their vocal volume, across settings, in 4/5 opportunities.
First, discuss different vocal volumes and why they differ across settings. Name familiar settings (class discussion, small group, virtual meeting, cafeteria/restaurant), and what an appropriate volume would be. Keep in mind setting and also distance from one another (e.g. across the classroom or right next to you). Next, state a setting and instruct individual to say a simple sentence (e.g. "My favorite color is blue.") at the best volume for that setting. You may also play music, white noise, or people talking at different volumes and instruct the individual to adjust their vocal volume so it is able to be understood.
Goal: Individual will discriminate between phrases to use with a familiar individual vs. unfamiliar individual, within conversationally-based activities, with 90% accuracy.
First, discuss who would be considered a familiar individual (family member, friend) vs. unfamiliar individual (waiter, new classmate). Then, consider what you typically talk about with familiar individuals (specific hobbies, personal details), vs. unfamiliar individuals (requests, general interests). Create phrases and group them into phrases for familiar or unfamiliar individuals. Phrases may include things about birthdays, feelings, food orders, homework assignments. Role-play saying these phrases and indicating if you are speaking to a familiar or unfamiliar individual.
Goal: Individual will participate in a conversation for 4 or more conversational turns, when talking to a peer, in 3/4 opportunities.
Present a topic, or instruct individual to choose a topic, and brainstorm questions/comments related to that topic. Discuss what is considered a “turn,” e.g. asking a question, responding to a question, making a comment, asking a follow-up question.
- "What is your favorite restaurant?"
- "I like McDonald’s. What about you?"
- "I like Wendy’s. What do you like to get at McDonald’s?"
- "I like chicken nuggets. What do you like to get at Wendy’s?"
We hope that you find this resource helpful! As always, we welcome any comments or suggestions in the comments below or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Side note: Love on the Spectrum, a new series on Netflix, is about young adults with autism who are interested in dating and relationships, but have little to no prior experience doing so. Some of them consult with a relationship specialist, and while she is not an SLP, she touches on many pragmatic language skills as she works with those individuals; including greetings, asking questions, and making eye contact.