More Strategies for Developing Looking and Attention Skills

More Strategies for Developing Looking and Attention Skills

In the last blog post I talked about how babies learn to develop looking and attention skills, and what parents can do to encourage these skills for children who have communication difficulties.

As a speech therapist I get quite frustrated by the lack of good quality resources, so I have put together a programme for parents and teachers to develop looking and attention skills in children aged 4 to 7 (depending on their language levels) at home, nursery or school. These activities build on the ones in the previous blog post.

The programme is made up of six sessions, but you might decide to divide each session into two shorter parts. Ideally, sessions will be 15 to 20 minutes, but each session could be two 10-minute slots. The sessions contain:

  • Listening activities, g. following instructions, identifying musical instruments, spotting mistakes in well known nursery rhymes.
  • Looking activities.
  • Vocabulary activities,g. using an early word web to learn about the meaning of words and how to say them, sorting and categorising words.
  • Thinking skills,g. thinking of members of categories, listening to sentences and deciding if they are true or false

You can mix sessions together, add to them or take bits out – it is a tool for you to use and bespoke, if you need to. I have tried to write it very clearly, with no jargon, so that it is easy to understand and use. It can be given to early years practitioners, teaching assistants and carers and, hopefully, they won’t find it hard to use with a child one to one or in a group. I hope it is helpful.

You can also download the programme as a PDF.

Programme to Develop Attention and Listening Skills

Session One (15 minutes)

Use symbols (visual timetable) to show the child, for example, that first, he is going to do some listening, then play a game, and then sing a song 

1. Listening – taken from EYBIC (Elklan)

Developing looking and attention skills Ourselves – Washing toys:

You will need:

  • a big and a small toy, e.g. a big teddy and a little teddy, or two different toys
  • a toothbrush and a hairbrush
  • a wet sponge and a dry sponge
  • a sponge and a towel

You are going to give some key word instructions: NB: you must have a choice of two things for each item in the instruction so that the child is making a choice between two things and has to understand the which one you are saying. Give the child at least five instructions to carry out. Below are examples for you to choose between, and of course, you can make your own to suit the child’s level and interest:

Introduce the toys, e.g. big and little teddy. Then say something like, “Oh my goodness bears! You are so dirty! And smelly! Right, we will have to wash you! You can’t go out like that!” Ask the child if he will help.

TIP: Encourage the child to repeat the instructions to help him remember what he has to do:
2 key words:

Wash (choice of a sponge or a brush – wash or brush) teddy’s (no choice, just teddy) feet (choice of all body parts)

  • Wash teddy’s face.Developing looking and attention skills
  • Brush teddy’s tummy.
  • Brush teddy’s ears.
  • Wash teddy’s back.

3 key words:

Wash (choice of a sponge or a brush – wash or brush) baby’s (a choice of teddy and baby) hands (choice of all body parts)

  • Wash baby’s feet.Developing looking and attention skills
  • Brush baby’s hair.
  • Brush teddy’s back.
  • Wash teddy’s face.

4 key words:

Developing looking and attention skills Wash (choice of a sponge and a brush) little teddy’s (choice of little teddy and big teddy) feet (the choice is of all his body parts, Tommy cannot know which body part you are going to say)


Wash little teddy’s tummy.

  • Wash big teddy’s face.
  • Wash little teddy’s paws.
  • Wash big teddy’s back. 

Brush (choice of sponge and brush) big teddy’s (choice of little teddy and big teddy) tummy (choice of all body parts).


  • Brush big teddy’s back.
  • Brush little teddy’s face.
  • Brush little teddy’s legs.
  • Brush big teddy’s arms.

Remember there must be a choice for wash, little teddy and body parts so that the child has to understand what you are asking him to do.

Wash big teddy’s (choice of big teddy and little teddy) face (choice of all body parts) with a wet sponge (choice of wet sponge and dry sponge).


  • Wash little teddy’s tummy with a dry sponge.
  • Wash big teddy’s feet with a wet sponge.
  • Wash big teddy’s arms with a wet sponge
  • Wash little teddy’s ears with a dry sponge.

Dry (choice of towel and sponge) little teddy’s (choice of big and little teddy) legs (choice of all body parts).

Examples:Developing looking and attention skills

  • Wash big teddy’s tummy.
  • Dry big teddy’s back.
  • Dry little teddy’s face.
  • Wash little teddy’s feet.

2. Game (to develop listening and attention, looking and copying skills)

Give action commands to touch three, or more, body parts, for example:

  • Touch your head, tummy and knees. Ready, steady…….Go!
  • Touch your knees, your toes and your shoulders. Ready, steady…..Go!
  • Touch your ears, your nose and your back. Ready, steady….Go!
  • Touch your feet, your tummy and your mouth. Ready, steady….Go!
  • Touch your toes, your head and your shoulders. Ready, steady…….To!
  • Touch your tummy, your knees and your ears. Ready, steady ……Go!
  • Touch your back, your shoulders and your nose. Ready, steady …..go!
  • Touch your eyes, your head and your toes. Ready, steady …..go!

Tip: to make it more challenging, wait before you say go !

3. Song: Sing a song that contain body parts, e.g. heads, shoulders, knees and toes 

Session Two

1. Musical Instruments:

What you need: a selection of different musical instruments, e.g. bells, shaker, drum, whistle, etc.

Developing looking and attention skills

Instructions: Show the child at least three instruments. Play each one for him. Ask him to close his eyes and play one. Then ask him to show you which one he heard you play.

To make this harder: increase the number of instruments you play. Increase the number of children playing the game.

To make this easier: You both have an instrument. Place the instrument on the table, put your hands on the table, palms down. When you say, “Go!” you and the child pick up your instrument and play it until you say “Stop!”

2. Vocabulary game. You will need a resource like Language Link Descriptor cards – this a good resource for younger children and easy to use. If you don’t have Language Link, you can make a vocabulary card like this (see below) or use a word web (there are lots of these online and Speech Therapists always give this resource to schools and pre-schools)

Developing looking and attention skills

Tip: Start by using an object, not a picture, e.g. show the child a toy horse and go through the questions with them (talking not writing). For example:

  1. What is it for/what does it do? This is asking what it can do and what you can do you do with it, e.g. it can run, it can eat, it can neigh, you ride it. Take it in turns to think of things. If you go first, this will help the child understand the activity and think of things.
  2. Where do you find it? In a shop. At school. In the garden, etc. Take it in turns to think of where you find a horse, e.g. in a field, in a stable. One turn each is enough, you don’t have to have a lot of turns, you know the child and can judge what is appropriate for them.
  3. What has it got/ what is special about it? (this is asking about the parts that it is made up of). Look at the object together to help do this, e.g. it’s got ears, legs, a tail, hooves, etc. You can include as many or as few parts as you think the child can cope with.
  4. What group is it from? This is asking about the category, it is a hard question, so make it easier by offering two choices, e.g. Is it an animal or transport? If you make the two choices very different then you make it easier for the child to choose the answer.
  5. What is the first sound? This is asking for the first speech sound, not the first letter. Help the child by offering him a choice of two speech sounds if they find this hard, e.g. “Horse. Can you hear a h or a b? Horse What do you think?”

Tip: if the child is not able to think of responses, offer them a choice, e.g. “Where do you find a horse? In a field or in a school?” (A choice is easier when you offer the real answer and one that is obviously not the real answer. You can gradually make the choice harder.)

3. Listening:

You will need:

  • A picture of the boy, the girl. (You can draw the pictures and laminate them so you can use them again and again)
  • Stickers: you need to have a choice of two different stickers so that the child has to listen carefully to chose the correct one, e.g. a butterfly and a dog. Or a choice of a big and little sticker, e.g. a big butterfly and a little butterfly sticker. Or a choice of colour stickers, e.g. a blue butterfly and a red butterfly, etc.

Show the child the pictures, e.g. the boy and the girl. Then show him two different stickers, e.g. a butterfly sticker and a dog sticker so he has a choice of person and sticker.

Example instructions:

2 key words:

  • Put the dog (choice of 2 stickers, the dog and the butterfly) on the boy (choice of two pictures, the boy and the girl)
  • Put the butterfly on the girl.
  • Put the but dog on the girl.
  • Put the butterfly on the boy.

3 key words:Developing looking and attention skills

  • Put a big butterfly (choice of big butterfly and little butterfly sticker) on the boy’s (choice of girl and boy) head (choice of all body parts)
  • Put a little butterfly on the boy’s legs.
  • Put a big butterfly on the girl’s hand.
  • Put a big butterfly on the girl’s tummy.
  • Put a little butterfly on the girl’s head.
  • Put a little butterfly on the boy’s arm.

 4 key words:

  • Put a big butterfly (1) on the girl (2) and a little butterfly (3) on the boy (4)
  • Put a little butterfly (1) on the boy’s (2) head (3) and on his foot (4)
  • Put a big butterfly (1) on the girl’s (2) legs (3) and on her tummy (4)
  • Put a little butterfly (1) on the girl (2) and a little butterfly (3) on the boy (4)
  • Put a big butterfly on the boy’s face and on his body.
  • Put a little buttefly on the boy’s tummy and on his knees.

TIP: Get the child to repeat the instructions to help him remember what he has to do. Help him by offering choices, e.g. “Do you need a big butterfly or a little butterfly?”

 Session Four

1. Looking games: to develop looking, listening and turn taking

Adult looks down – players look at adult.

Adult sings, “Look at me! Look at me!” and then looks up at one of the players, if the player is looking at the adult they will make eye contact.

Developing looking and attention skills The adult rewards the eye contact with a motivating toy, e.g. blowing bubbles, a balloon pump to blow up a balloon and let it go so it flies around the room, pop up pirate – put a sword in pop up pirate, car ramp – put a car down a car ramp, a brick tower – when you make eye contact, the child adds a brick to the tower, etc.

To make it harder: increase the number of players so that the child has to wait longer for his turn.

Reverse it so that players take on the adult’s role. Help the child by telling him how many times to sing, “Look at me.” For example, “Sing it look at me four times” count four on your fingers so he can see how many he has sung and how many more he needs to sing.

2. Listening:

Nursery rhymes mistakes:

Tell the child that you are really good at saying nursery rhymes. Tell him that if he hears any problems, he can stop you, but he won’t because you are amazing at singing nursery rhymes!

Make errors in the nursery rhymes as you tell them. For example: “Baa, baa blue sheep” see if the child can correct you, e.g. “No! Baa, baa black sheep!” Ask if you can try again, e.g. “Oh sorry! I thought it was blue sheep. Can I try again? Thanks. I will be fine now. Baa, baa black sheep have you any wool? Yes, Sir. Yes, Sir. Five bags full” and so on.

3. Vocabulary game:

You will need objects from two different categories, e.g. animals and food, clothes and transport toys, or pictures or two different categories for sorting, e.g.

Easier: 2 different categories – transport and food, clothes and furniture, animals and plants.

Harder: within categories or categories that are more similar. For example:

  • Animals that live on a farm and animals that live in a zoo
  • Pets and wild animals
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Transport with wheels and transport without wheels

Developing looking and attention skills Make two post boxes to post pictures in or have two boxes to sort pictures into. One each post box or box, put a picture of each group, e.g. 1. An animal that can fly. 2. An animal that can’t fly. Turn the pictures face down, or put them in a bag. Take it in turns to take a picture and decide which box it goes in (which group it belongs to) and then put it in the box or post it.

Make your own pictures to sort using curriculum vocabulary, e.g. old toys & new toys.

Session Five

1. Listening

You will need:

Draw the outline of two heads with necks and draw the following:

Long brown hair and short brown hair (it can be any colour but you want a picture of long and short hair)

  • Orange hat and pink hat (can be any colour but you want two different colours)
  • Green eyes and brown eyes
  • Big nose and little nose
  • Big mouth and little mouth

Laminate the heads. You have one and the child has the other. Cut out the hair, eyes, etc. You need a set each of these. Make a face with your head and the parts to go on it, e.g. put short brown hair on your picture, a pink hat, brown eyes, a little nose and a big mouth. DO NOT SHOW THE CHILD!!!

Put the face you have made behind a barrier so the child can’t see it. Give him instructions to build the same face. For example:

  1. Put the short brown hair on your person
  2. Put the pink hat on your person
  3. Put the brown eyes and the little nose on your person
  4. Put the big mouth on your person

Then remove the barrier and the face the child has made should be the same as yours! You can make the instructions short and easier to follow (e.g. instructions 1 and 2 in the example above) or longer and harder (e.g. instructions 3 and 4 above). 

2. Vocabulary game

Developing looking and attention skillsUse the descriptor card again with an object or a picture (an object is easier and a picture is harder, so you can judge which is more appropriate for the child/children you are working with). Take turns to answer the questions about the words (See session 2 for full description)

To make it harder, you can add:

  • Ask the child to tell you the last speech sound in the word, not just the first sound. For example, the first sound in train is t and the last sound is n (we are interested in the speech sounds, not the letters).
  • Ask the child to clap the syllables with you and count them, e.g. train is one syllable, so say it and clap once.
  • Ask the child to think of a sentence about a train.

3. Turn-taking Game

Play a turn taking game with the child and at least one friend, depending on the child’s level and how many children you think he can play a turn taking game with. Play something like the shopping game or pairs. Help the child take turns if he needs support.

Session Six

1. Game is to increase flexible thinking skills

You will need a toy that you can add bits too and build, e.g. Mr Potato Head, Buckaroo, or a marble run – something that after each turn the child can add to it, until it is finished. You also need to think of some categories to ask questions Developing looking and attention skills about, below are some examples:

  • Can you think of 5 things that can fly
  • Can you think of 5 things that can swim
  • Can you think of 5 things you can eat
  • Can you think of 5 fruit
  • Can you think of 5 vegetables
  • Can you think of 5 sports
  • Developing looking and attention skills Can you think of 5 animals
  • Can you think of 5 pets
  • Can you think of 5 colours
  • Can you think of 5 shapes
  • Can you think of 5 things you can wear
  • Can you think of 5 kinds of transportDeveloping looking and attention skills
  • Can you think of 5 body parts
  • Can you think of 5 things in a bathroom
  • Can you think of 5 things in a kitchen
  • Can you think of 5 jobs

Add to the list and make up your own. Take it in turns to think of five things – you might think 5 is too many, in which case you can ask for fewer, e.g. think of 3. Use your hand to show the child how many he has to think of and how many he has thought of. After your turn, build a bit of the toy, e.g. put a bit on the marble run – when it is finished, the child can put a marble down it.

2. Listening: Thumbs up and Thumbs Down

Developing looking and attention skills The child listens to a sentence and decides if it is true or not, if he thinks it is true, he gives you a thumbs up, if he thinks it isn’t, he gives thumbs down. Practise this before you play the game to make sure he understands.

Example sentences for the toy to say:

  1. Milk is pink.
  2. It is very hot at the North Pole.
  3. Spiders have one leg.
  4. Apples grow on trees.
  5. Spaghetti grows on trees.
  6. Cats bark.
  7. A bicycle is faster than a car.
  8. A train is faster than a bicycle. An ant is smaller than a butterfly.
  9. Horses eat bananas
  10. You can ride a horse
  11. You can ride a pig
  12. Christmas is in the summer
  13. Father Christmas has purple hair
  14. Apples are square
  15. Bananas are a vegetable
  16. Potatoes are a vegetable
  17. The number 6 comes after the number 5.

Make your own sentences to say. When the children are used to this game, they can think of sentences with an adult.

3. Vocabulary Game

Do a sorting /posting activity as described in session 4.

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