Tips for Taking Language Samples

Language samples are an essential assessment tool when it comes to speech therapy.

What are language samples and why are they important?

A language sample consists of eliciting and gathering a spontaneous sample of one’s speech. It often consists of at least 50-100 utterances spoken by the child.

Language samples are critical for assessing one’s speech and they allow us to gather a variety of data. We can assess utterance length, vocabulary, syntax, semantics, morphology, pragmatics, narrative skills, comprehension, and more.

Ideas to encourage participation during a language sample:

  1. Use a play based approach! Use highly engaging toys and follow the child’s lead.
  2. Put a band aid on and tell the child how you got “hurt”. Ask them if they have a story about a time they got hurt. This usually gets them talking!
  3. Bring a toy catalog and have the child choose 3 toys they could take to a birthday and explain why. If they don’t participate, you can take a turn or have a stuffed animal or action figure take a turn.
  4. Use silly scenes and find the funny things happening in them.
  5. Put a high interest object in a clear bin and bag and pretend you can’t open it. Usually the child will be eager to help you, and that builds enough rapport that they will be more eager to talk and play with the toy.
  6. Ask the caregivers if there is anything the child is especially excited about currently. For example, if they just went to a Monster Truck show or just had a birthday.
  7. Watch a short video and have the child retell it. Find some good short films on this Pinterest board.
  8. Use wordless picture books. Have the child tell the story or retell the story you create. Wordless picture books.

What to Avoid:

  1. Don’t ask questions that have one-word responses.
  2. Don’t bombard with questions
  3. Don’t jump in during silences – Be sure to use good wait time!
  4. Don’t start the language sample with no game plan and materials ready to elicit conversation.


  1. Use Audacity or another program to record the sample. If you can, take a video recording from the front to be able to watch motor movements.
  2. Use a program to help you analyze the sample. SUGAR Language Analysis Method is free.
  3. Use development charts, such as the Grammar Development Handouts pictured above, for informal assessments! This video shows using the narrative development page during a narrative language sample.

    Print out the black and white copy, write directly on it, quickly see where the child is developmentally + what they need to work on. Pull out the same page the next time you want to assess, but use a different color marker! Don’t forget to include the date and age of the child. This resource also has a handout about 4 narrative structures that are especially difficult. I could tell immediately that there were good temporal markers, while an area that could use work is character contrasting.

3. Use a checklist to help you assess a language sample. Download this FREE checklist that is an overview of skills. It follows the pattern of development pages in the Grammar Development Handouts, making it easy to quickly go through and assess based on age.

Do you have any tricks to taking language samples?

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