Colourful Semantics: How Children Can Develop Language Through Colour

Learning Environments

child drawing with colour crayons

Colourful semantics can help children understand words and develop their language by using colour.

For any child, language is very important as it supports their ability to communicate with others. If a child is unable to communicate or struggles to interact with other people, this can negatively impact their confidence and can make them feel isolated.

Whether that’s inside or outside of the nursery classroom, language is vital for helping young learners build relationships and integrate into social settings.

It’s important children learn these skills during their early years, as this sets the foundation for later life. From establishing friendships with peers, to securing jobs in adulthood, the ability to communicate is essential.

However, lots of children struggle with words and find it challenging to structure different sentences. This is where colourful semantics come into play as it creates a sense of order using simple but effective visual assets.

In this blog post, we’ll explain exactly what colourful semantics is and how you can use this approach in your own early years setting.

What Is Colourful Semantics?

We’ve touched on this slightly in the intro, but colourful semantics is an approach to learning whereby colour is used to support written and verbal language.

It was developed by Speech and Language therapist, Alison Bryan, and aims to help children develop skills when it comes to sentence structure, understanding questions, developing narrative, and understanding written text.

Whilst it is aimed at helping children develop their grammar, it is rooted in the meaning of words (semantics).

This approach can be useful for a range of children, especially those who are first learning vocabulary. However, it is particularly useful for children who struggle in the following areas:

  • Confusing the order of sentences and getting words the wrong way around
  • Piecing sentences together in a meaningful order
  • Always sticking to the same sentence structure
  • Missing out verbs and other important details in a sentence
  • Frequently having to restart a sentence when speaking out loud to get it right

If you’re a teacher and notice some of your class struggle in these areas, then they could benefit from colourful semantics.

Similarly, if you’re a parent and you’ve recognised some of these occurrences at home, perhaps when reading with your child or in general conversation, then this approach could be highly useful.
child speaking with mouth open

How Does Colourful Semantics Work?

Colourful semantics help children identify the most important parts of sentences so that they can learn how to put them together in the right order.

Essentially, it works by ‘cutting’ sentences up into their thematic roles and then colour codes them accordingly.

This means children are taught to associate different ‘types’ of words with different colours so that they can start to build their own sentences. Generally, this starts off with a simple sentence comprising two to three words and then progresses into longer, more complex sentences.

For example, take the sentence below:

‘The man is eating an ice cream in the park.’

We can break this up into 4 different themes and use colours to help children understand its structure.

  • ‘Who?’ – also known as the ‘subject’, e.g. ‘the man’ (orange)
  • ‘What doing?’ – also known as the ‘verb’, e.g. ‘is eating’ (yellow)
  • ‘What?’ – also known as the ‘object’, e.g. ‘an ice cream’ (green)
  • ’Where?’ – also known as the ‘location’, e.g. ‘in the park’ (blue)

The colours you choose aren’t important and you could choose different colours instead that the child would relate to best.

For example, you could use a child’s favourite colours as this will engage them in the learning activity even more. The most important thing is that once colours have been chosen, they remain the same as this ensures consistency.

Once you have taught children the 4 key stages above, there are additional stages for adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, and negatives.

Using colours for question structures has two obvious benefits for a young learner:

  1. Colours are great visual aids and can help children establish connections between words and meanings. It is also easy for teachers and nursery practitioners to integrate colours into learning across the curriculum. For instance, you could show a child an orange prompt card while reading with them and ask who has been mentioned in the story. As such, they will begin to associate orange with the word ‘who.’
  2. As children become more confident and familiar with which words the colours represent, they will be able to start constructing their own sentences by following the pattern.

What Are the Benefits of Colourful Semantics?

Colourful Semantics brings lots of benefits to children as it gives them confidence in their own ability to communicate.

As we mentioned earlier in the post, not being able to communicate can have a negative effect on your child as they will become very withdrawn.

Other benefits of Colourful Semantics include:

  • Helping children to expand their vocabulary.
  • Helping children to learn how to answer questions.
  • Develop a child’s use of nouns, verbs, prepositions and adjectives.
  • Improving their story-telling skills, as it helps them to form a narrative.
  • Helps children make their sentences longer.
  • Can be carried out individually or in small groups which build social skills.
  • Ultimately will help children with sentence writing and language comprehension skills.

colourful alphabet letters

Who Can Benefit From Colourful Semantics?

Colourful semantics is beneficial for anyone who has difficulties with developing their words and structuring sentences.

This could include children with developmental language disorder (DLD) ( also sometimes known as specific language impairment), children with Down’s Syndrome or Autistic children, or children who have any form of special educational need or disability (SEND).

However, it is also used in nurseries for children who do not have an SEND, as it supports their development in terms of their speaking and listening skills.

Furthermore, colourful semantics can help young children with their early reading and writing development as it helps them to see the order of different sentences. It can be an effective way of supporting children with English as an additional language to become more familiar with English vocabulary and sentence structures.

In turn, this helps children integrate better into a classroom environment as they are able to communicate with others. This is a core skill for outside the nursery too, as children will inevitably come into contact with other people so it’s important they build their social skills.

As a teacher, it’s also a great way of making your practice inclusive as it supports the needs of a wide range of pupils.

How to Get Started With Colourful Semantics

It’s important to remember that every child is different.

Therefore, the starting point for colourful semantics will vary depending on a child’s speech and language skills before the approach begins.

If a child can talk in small phrases like “she eating,” then you can start by looking at ‘who’ and ‘what doing’ together and build the other questions in as their confidence grows.

However, some children might be much further behind and might still struggle with these smaller phrases. As a result, they will need more support and guidance from you so that they can start small with their vocabulary and work their way upwards.

Let’s take a look at the different stages of getting started with colourful semantics.

Stage 1

Choose a prompt picture and give the child the 2 part sentence strip (orange and yellow which represents ‘who’ and ‘what doing’).

Provide them with a choice of 2 symbols for each section.

Work through each colour by asking – “who is in the picture” (orange) “what are they doing” (yellow). Ask the child to choose the correct symbol to answer each question and put it in the allocated space.

Once all of these symbols are in place, help the child to read out the sentence remembering to point to each picture. E.g. “the boy is eating a sandwich” “the girl is riding a bike”.

Stage 2

A child should not move onto stage 2 unless they are able to consistently achieve stage 1.

This stage follows the same steps as above but will require the 3 part sentence strip (orange, yellow, and green)

Work through each colour by asking – “who is in the picture” (orange) “what are they doing” (yellow) and “what’s this” (green)

Ask the child to choose the correct symbol to answer each question and put it in the allocated space. Once all symbols are in place, help the child to read out the sentence remembering to point to each picture. E.g. “the boy is eating a sandwich” “the girl is riding a bike”.

Stage 3

A child should not move onto stage 3 unless they are able to consistently achieve stage 2.

This stage is about the child adding more detail to the sentences e.g. describing where the person is doing the action (blue).

Therefore the sentence above would now become “the boy is eating a sandwich in the park” or “the girl is riding a bike in the garden.”

Practical tips for using Colourful Semantics

When you first start with colourful semantics, try not to be too concerned about the smaller grammatical words, e.g. ‘the, is, a’.

If you find a child is missing these terms out, just model the sentence back to them with those words included for them to hear.

If a child has good literacy skills, you can also link colourful semantics into reading and writing activities too. For example, give them a reading book and ask them to colour code different parts of a sentence.

This will deepen their understanding of different words, and will also introduce them to new types of sentences.
teacher talking to children on carpet

Who Can Implement Colourful Semantics

There are a range of adults trained in the approach who can implement colourful semantics to help your child with their development.

This includes:

  • Speech and Language Therapists
  • Teachers
  • Teaching Assistants
  • EAL specialist/support Teachers
  • Parents/Carers
  • Tutors
  • Professionals

If you’re unsure about how to implement this approach, make sure to speak to a Speech and Language Therapist.

They can provide training on how to use colourful semantics with specific children or if this is something you want to incorporate into your classroom, then they can provide training on a whole school approach.

Colourful Semantics: How Children Can Develop Language Through Colour

Colourful semantics helps children understand different words and build sentences independently by using colour.

This is a fantastic visual aid and allows children to associate different ‘types’ of words with different colours so that they can better understand where words fit into a sentence.

In turn, this enables them to speak and write more coherently, and also enables them to communicate with confidence.

This is a vital life skill and will set your little learner in good stead for the future. Not being able to communicate can have a huge negative impact on your child and can affect their personal development.

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