What is the Sentence-Focused Framework?

The Sentence-Focused Framework (SFF) was developed to focus clinical attention on young children’s ability to produce diverse sentences. For children developing typically, sentences become more diverse and complex between the ages of 2 and 3. For children at-risk for developmental language disorder (DLD) and other neurodevelopmental disorders, the transition from words to diverse sentences starts later and takes much longer. Some children may even say lots of different words, but their sentences sound similar — I want that. I want baby. I want baby out

The Sentence-Focused Framework is conceptualized as a series of four developmental steps: words, verbs, child-like sentences, and adult sentences (see below). The first two steps focus on building a core vocabulary of content-rich words. The last two steps focus on building sentence structure. The framework is intended to bridge early vocabulary and grammar interventions for toddlers and preschoolers with language disorders by emphasizing how verbs are related to sentence structure, and how later-developing aspects of grammar are related to diverse sentence structure.

We’ll use this blog to explain ways to assess children’s progress through the  developmental sequence — words, verbs, child-like sentences, simple, adult sentences. We’ll also provide recommendations about sentence-focused treatment targets that can help young children produce diverse sentences and point you to resources on this website and elsewhere. Although the examples are for English grammar, the general principles can be adapted for other languages too.

In the next blog post, we’ll talk about the first two steps — Words & Verbs — and how a diverse vocabulary made up of object names (nouns), location words (prepositions), descriptive words (adjectives) and action words (verbs) support children’s sentence development.

Photo Credits: Baby1 by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BYBaby2 by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC Little Boy is from publicdomainpictures.net./ Little Girl by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC


Welcome to the Sentence-Focused Framework Blog

Welcome to the Sentence-Focused Framework website and blog. I’m Pamela Hadley, Professor of Speech and Hearing Science at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. I’m a scientist and speech-language pathologist who studies and teaches about language development and disorders in early childhood. I’m dedicated to improving early identification and intervention for toddlers and preschoolers at-risk for developmental language disorder (DLD) and specific language impairment (SLI). Clinically significant preschool language delays often foreshadow poorer academic, social, and behavioral outcomes in the school years. Therefore, better approaches to early identification and intervention are needed.

I study the development of grammar between 2 and 5 years of age. During the toddler years, grammar develops rapidly for most children, but it develops very slowly for children with SLI. This makes grammar a sensitive indicator of preschool SLI, an established subtype of DLD. The preschool years are critical years for learning grammar, so this is an ideal time to initiate grammar interventions.

However, the study of grammar can be intimidating, especially for students. Why is that? Why is it hard to get others excited about assessing and treating grammar? It’s hard because we learned the grammar of our native language at a young age. We learned grammar by listening to others talk. We learned it unconsciously without being taught. This means children and college students alike have the ability to comprehend and produce complex sentences easily, but they can’t tell you how they do it. The way we learned grammar was different from the way we were taught to read, add and subtract, or drive a car.

As an educator, my challenge is to present the study of grammar in a way that will excite students and build their confidence. I try to help students understand how different parts of grammar are related to one another, and how focusing intervention on some parts of sentence structure can facilitate the development of others. As a clinician, the challenge is to select treatment targets that will make grammar interventions more efficient and  present input during therapy in a way that makes grammatical patterns easier to learn. And when working with parents or teachers, I introduce them to evidence-based strategies to support children’s language learning. The trick is to identify simple strategies that can bring about change in everyday interactions and language input.

Over the years, I have developed and used the sentence-focused framework to help students, clinicians, and parents feel more confident about supporting children’s development of grammar. The framework emphasizes different sentence-focused targets at different points in development.

I created this website and blog to share these ideas with a broader audience, to connect language theory with clinical practices, and to promote clinically-relevant research. My hope is that the resources on this site will help you support children who struggle with language development. Thank you for visiting and thank you for your efforts to improve the lives of children with language disorders and their families.