A straightforward guide to collecting student language samples

The holiday season has ended, 2020 is (thankfully!) over and it is time to get back to learning. The return to school in January, whether it be in-person or virtual, is an ideal time to assess a student’s speech, language and listening skills and note any changes that may have occurred over break. To assess language skills, a formal assessment is not necessary; instead, consider the use of an informal language sample to gather information.

What is an informal language sample? An informal language sample is a tool used to track the language that a student is using during various times of the day. The professional collecting the sample writes down verbatim what the student says in order to determine present levels, update progress and set goals.

When and where can language samples be collected? In order to get the most accurate information about a student’s language skills, samples should be collected at various times of the day, such as arrival time when asking about their evening or weekend, in large group settings like free play or centers, during the morning meeting or in the hallway when transitioning between classes. Conversational tasks can also be planned to get a student talking, including:

  • Using a picture book to have the student tell you a story. If the student can read, use a wordless picture book.
  • Engaging the child in pretend/dramatic play or with toys (e.g., a house with toy people, a barn with animals, play food with puppets, etc.)
  • Asking an older student to re-tell their favorite movie or explain how to play their favorite video game.

How long should a language sample be? Language samples can vary in length but should ideally include at least 50 utterances in order to get a representative sample of the child’s skills.

What are some helpful hints for collecting samples?

  • Have paper or even a post-it note nearby if you know you are planning to take a language sample for a student, especially if you are listening to them during times outside of the classroom (e.g., at recess, during lunch, in the hallway).
  • Make sure to write down verbatim what the student says. It can be easy to fill-in-the-blanks and write down what the student intended to say instead of what they actually said; however, it is essential that their actual utterance is recorded in order to get the best look at their language skills.
  • Record interactions when possible. Having a recording can help to catch any utterances missed and can ensure the accuracy of those transcribed.

While collecting a robust language sample can seem tedious, it is a useful method to gather information about a student’s current language skills. Samples should be collected throughout the year but can be especially beneficial after a long break.

Click here to learn more about the CID TAGS, a rating system used to determine present language levels, set goals and track progress.


Jessica Klein Jessica Klein began working as a speech-language pathologist at CID in 2004, assessing and treating children from birth to age 12. Klein co-wrote the “Targeting Speech Skills for Children Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing” workshop, presenting annually at CID as well as at Southeast Missouri State University and the Missouri Speech and Hearing Association conference. In 2011, she accepted a job as a speech-language pathologist at a St. Louis charter school. While in the public school setting, Klein assessed and provided services to students with varying speech and language needs. She was a member of the school’s CARE team, collaborating with teachers and specialists to develop interventions for students struggling in the classroom. In 2015, she returned to CID ready to share her public school experiences with colleagues to help better prepare CID students for mainstream settings. Since her return, she has written a webinar about developing literacy skills in children who are deaf and hard of hearing as well as spoken about literacy skills and case managing students who are deaf and hard of hearing at Fontbonne University. She became associate coordinator of the CID Emerson Center for Professional Development in 2017.

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