Much like a sports announcer gives a play-by-play of the action, you can use the Play-By-Play strategy to describe what your child experiences.

This provides your child with the opportunity to hear lots of words. Just how many words do they need to hear in these early years? Research tells us that children who hear 40 million words in the first four years of life develop early conversational skills, learn to read on time, do better in school, and have more communication opportunities in the future.

Using the Play-By-Play strategy will help get you closer to the goal of 40 million words by age four.

What It Looks Like

  • Narrate or describe out loud what you're thinking, feeling, and doing.
    • "You are so thirsty. Let's get a drink from the fridge."
    • Use Hear It Before They See It strategy and say, "Let's open the door." Then open the door.
    • After you open the door, you could say "Brr it's cold in the fridge. What would you like to drink? I see orange juice, milk, and apple juice. What do you want?"
    • Pause and wait "Oh you want milk. Milk is yummy. Let's take the milk out of the fridge and find a clean cup. I am pouring the milk in the cup. Here you go, here's your milk. Oh you were very thirsty. You're drinking your milk."
  • Use familiar phrases and commands so you can support your child's understanding of language during daily routines. Build their language by adding new words or phrases.
  • Speak at a normal rate with pauses and emphasis on the key words in your sentences. This gives your child time to respond and join in the conversation.
Icon for Play-By-Play LSL Strategy

When you use Play-By-Play, you're promoting your child's knowledge of language by surrounding them with spoken words during the meaningful interactions they have with you and other caregivers all day. This strategy is also called self-talk since you're talking aloud to yourself.

More Ways to Reach 40 Million Words

Forty million seems like a lot of words in four years. Looking at just the hours your child is awake each day, they’ll need to hear between 2,100 and 2,500 words per hour (35-42 words per minute). You won’t need to count the words – you’ll easily reach your goal just by talking, reading, and singing together every day. Keep the conversation going and your child will use the words, phrases, and sentences they hear to achieve spoken language success. 

Hear Dr. Teresa Caraway, Hearing First CEO, CCC-SLP, LSLS Cert. AVT, share practical tips to reach the 40 million word goal.


Children aren’t born smart. They’re made smart. YOU make your baby smart!

University of Chicago’s Thirty Million Words
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Three Tips to Reach Your Goal

Read aloud to your child every day. Aim for 15 minutes of daily reading together.

Talk to your child in phrases and full sentences. This provides more meaning to what you tell them.

Explore and talk about all the details. Think through the endless connections and tell them all about it.

Download our helpful handout for more ways you can reach 40 million words by age four.

More Ways to Reach Your Goal


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