Two verbs are better than one

Teaching young children new verbs can be challenging. If you use pictures, kids focus more on the object and person shown, rather than the action that is occurring, and they often view the object in the picture as central to the verb’s meaning. So, if you show a child a picture of someone throwing a ball and teach her the word “throw,” she might think only balls can be thrown, making generalization tougher.

Snape & Krott wanted to figure out how to help young children learn new words and extend them to novel examples. They had three-year-olds view simple videos of a novel action being performed in three conditions:  

  1. Single video of an action

  2. Two side-by-side identical videos of the same action

  3. Two side-by-side videos of the same action with different objects


As you may have guessed, children were only able to extend a novel verb to a new example when they were part of condition 3—two side by side videos of the same action performed on different objects. The authors concluded that children can learn new verbs from simultaneous examples, as long as the examples vary. This method may help children to bypass the tendency to focus more on the object than the action.

So, cool new teaching strategy, right? But keep in mind that the kids in this study were typically-developing. We can’t be sure things will work the same in language-delayed children, but it’s a place to start!


Snape, S., Krott, A. (2018). The benefit of simultaneously encountered exemplars and of exemplar variability to verb learning. Journal of Child Language. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1017/S0305000918000119