You’ve probably heard the phrase “kids say the darndest things.” But if you are a teacher, parent, or have spent any time around a child, you know it’s true. 

Kids will make you laugh, shock you, and surprise you with something incredibly insightful.

Throughout my years teaching and working in schools, I’ve had countless moments like this.

Creating language-rich environments and having meaningful conversations with preschool and Pre-K children throughout the day are an important part of building their growing vocabularies. If improving your verbal exchanges and interactions with children is a goal, here are some tips using what we call the TALK Strategy.

Let’s break it down:

Tune In: Engage in the Child’s Interests

It’s much easier to get young children to talk about topics they enjoy. Tune into your child’s interests by observing them while they play and waiting for the right time to use a statement or question as a conversation starter. It’s usually a safe bet to start with “I noticed…” or “I see…” or “I wonder…” 

Watch how Joan, a pre-K teacher, starts a conversation with her student, Nathan about what he built during center time.

Ask Questions: Simple & Complex Questions Drive Understanding

Once you’ve tuned in and started a conversation, try asking questions to engage. It’s important to vary the types of questions — simple, choice-driven or open-ended — depending on where the conversation is going. Encourage the child to answer open-ended questions in complete sentences and to incorporate complex vocabulary when they can!

When your child is coloring, you can take the opportunity to start a meaningful conversation.


Start by asking a simple open-ended question such as, “Can you tell me about the picture you are coloring?” This question not only tunes in to the child, but also opens up the floor for the child to respond however she would like. If the child has a difficult time answering, use scaffolds to support the child in the conversation.


A scaffold in this conversation would be using simple question styles, such as fill in the blank and either/or questions, to give the child more confidence in their ability to give an answer.

You could scaffold with questions such as: “I see you are making beautiful people. Is this someone in your family?” or “”Who will you draw next, Gabby? Your big sister OR your baby brother?” Before you know it, she’ll be able to confidently answer open-ended questions that require her to think deeply or understand more complex ideas and events.

Lift Language & Keep it Going: Build On the Conversation!

Once you’ve started an exchange through questions, you can make the conversation a language-building opportunity by using the last two elements of the TALK strategy: Lift Language and Keep it Going.

Lifting language is modeling well formed sentences, using complex vocabulary in an intentional way, and building upon children’s responses meaningfully. And as you use the last part of the TALK strategy, Keep it Going, you offer more opportunities for learning and meaningful conversation. Just think: the longer you keep your preschool and Pre-K students engaged in meaningful conversation, the more they’ll feel heard and the more they’re able to learn!

By implementing the TALK strategy in your home, you’ll be able to turn even the smallest moments into opportunities for learning and language development with toddlers, preschoolers and Pre-K children.

Want to learn more about TALK?

Check out our free course originally designed for preschool and Pre-K teachers on the Cox Campus: “Meaningful Conversations.” It’s a great resource for families that want to learn how to connect with children through meaningful conversations, as well as how your everyday interactions impact their oral language development and other learning.

Recommended Resources for the TALK Strategy:

The Cox Campus is committed to ensuring literacy and justice for all. Through impactful strategies and learning experiences, families, educators, and anyone who works with children can make a difference by bringing the science of reading within reach for each child.