Incidental Teaching to Promote Initiating Communication

by FS&TS

By: Jenna Steinbach. MS/CCC-SLP


Incidental teaching involves manipulating your child’s environment to promote the natural teaching of targeted goals.  While it can be used for a variety of language goals, incidental teaching is particularly effective in promoting initiation.  Incidental teaching has four main steps:

  1. The environment is arranged to set the occasion for a child’s response
  2. Parent waits
  3. If necessary, child is prompted
  4. Child responds

Here are three simple ideas to manipulate the environment to promote initiating communication:

1.     Place desired toys within sight, but out of reach. By placing preferred toys within your child’s sight, that will motivate them to want to play with it, but because they can’t reach it, they will need to communicate with you.  After your child points to, or reaches towards the object, you can either target asking for help, or target the vocabulary word by labeling the wanted item (car, bear, etc).

2.     Place toys in clear, hard to open containers. Again, your child will be able to see the object and this will motivate them to want to play with it. If your child cannot open the container, they will need to request assistance.  Let your child struggle for a bit, and if they do not ask for help spontaneously, prompt them by asking, “Do you need help?” You can then model the sign for help, or again verbally model “help” and request them to imitate.

3.     Give one piece of a toy and withhold the other parts. Puzzles, blocks, and other toys with manipulatives are great for this technique. When your child wants the next piece of the toy, he or she will need to communicate that to you. You can then label the item and ask your child to imitate, or request that your child say/sign “more.”