The Power of Verbal Routines

Contributed by Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist, Yvonne Smith, M.S., CCC-SLP

My daily life consists of verbal routines. In fact, many of us engage in these routines and don’t even realize it. How often have you heard yourself saying a familiar line from a movie in a given situation? “I’ll be back!” said in the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger when you are leaving a room. “Houston, we have a problem!” when something is not going right, and one of my often-used phrases, “Oh man!” in the voice of Swiper the Swiper from Dora.

Verbal routines are an extremely helpful tool when you are trying to get little ones to start talking. If I said, “Ready, Set…,” but did not finish that phrase, I bet you could finish it for me. How about, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little…”. This is the power of verbal routines.

These phrase and songs become so familiar that we are easily able to finish the line. I always add a gesture to what I am saying or singing, so even if a child cannot say a word, they can maybe imitate the gesture that goes along with the verbal routine. Using this tool daily with your little one can help them start to “fill in” gestures/sounds/words more easily.

I learned the power of verbal routines firsthand when my youngest was a toddler. One day we went to the grocery store, and as I lifted her into the basket she said, “wokka-wokka-wokka.” Hmmm?  It was only then that I realized that over the last few months, every time we had gone to the grocery store, I had made that same exact noise as I put her in the basket. (Don’t ask me why! I’m an SLP so I’m always making some kind of noise!) She had picked up on that little verbal routine, and although she was a late talker, that was one thing she could do. Should could do it because it was familiar routine for her.  This powerful tool can help your child, too.

Here are a few of my favorite verbal routines.

The Knock-Knock Box:

Anyone that has ever been in my therapy room, knows my “Knock-Knock-Box” routine. I do this with every young child I work with, and let me tell you, they pick up at least some part of it quickly. I always have all my toys in a big box. When we are ready to get a new toy out, we always go through the same routine. We knock on the box 3 times while saying, “knock-knock-knock.” We then “pop” the lid on each side with a verbal “pop-pop,” followed by, “open.”

Most kiddos are knocking on the box after only a few demonstrations, and many will start saying, “nah-nah” pretty quickly.  We can then carry that “knock-knock” routine over to doors and other things we want to open. We can also start to expand the “open” as they start talking more. “I open,” “open it,” “open box,” “John opens,” etc…

Pop Ball

I have a few toys that I consider my “desert island” toys, and “Pop Ball” is one of them. It’s actually called a “Phlat Ball,” but that’s not as fun or easy to say, so I call it “Pop Ball.” You can use this routine with any item that has a “Push and Pop” kind of action with it. We start by saying/signing “ball” and then “push” as we push the ball down. We then sign and say “wait-wait-wait” and “pop” as the ball pops up. Kids absolutely love this, and they pick up on it very quickly. Often, they get the “wait” sign before anything else, and I encourage parents to use the sign to carry over into other situations. For example, when your child needs to wait for a snack that is being prepared, you can sign and say “wait-wait-wait,” and since they are already familiar with this in a routine it can help them understand it in other situations.

Purple Bag (or whatever color you have)


Most of you have probably read the “Brown Bear-Bear Bear” book by Eric Carle. This rhyme follows the same pattern. I have different color bags that I use, and I fill them with animals or objects. Sometimes I will fill the bag with objects that have a specific target sound for the child. (ie: Objects that start with /b/: ball, block, bus, bottle, baby, etc.) I put all of the objects in the bag and hold on to it. The verbal routine starts with “Purple bag, purple bag…. What do I see?” As you start to pull out an object say, “I see…”. I always add gestures to the routine.


(ie: Sign for the color of the bag, point to myself for “I,” hand to my forehead for “see.”) Sometimes I will give them a clue as to what I “see” before I show it to them. (ie: “Ooo, this is something that says, ‘moo.’ Hmmm?”). The skies the limit with this one. You can use any color bag, or I have had some families use something like a toy barn, and make it “Red Barn, Red Barn what do I see…” Use a dump truck and you can say, “Dump truck, Dump truck…” You get the idea, and your child will too.

Verbal routines are probably one of my top five recommendations to families when we are starting therapy. They are truly powerful, and they are an excellent tool to help get your little one talking. If you have concerns about your child’s speech and/or language skills, be sure to reach out to a licensed and certified speech and language pathologist for the specific needs of your child. Capital Area Speech and Occupational Therapy is here to help you if needed.


1 thought on “The Power of Verbal Routines

  1. Kelsi Knife

    I love this! I use SO many verbal routines in my daily life that I was unaware of until my kids (and husband!) started using them, too. They’ve also created their own routines that they require me to follow! 😉


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