Teaching Pragmatic Language Skills

Instructor: Lori Sturdivant

Lori has a specialist's degree in Instructional Leadership/Mild Moderate and currently serves as the Lead Teacher for The University of Southern Mississippi's Autism Project.

Do you have students who struggle to use appropriate verbal and nonverbal language in different social situations? Then this is the lesson for you! Read on for fun activities that will increase your students' pragmatic skills starting today!

Pragmatic Language Skills

Pragmatic language is the language that we use daily to communicate with other people. This can include the words we use and how we say those words as well as our body language when we are speaking and when we are silent. It also applies to how we do all this in different social settings. Deficits in pragmatic skills can make it difficult for our students to correctly and appropriately express what they are thinking and feeling, as well as making it difficult to understand what others are thinking and feeling.

Pragmatics Activities

The following activities and exercises will help you help your students become masters of pragmatics!

To Say It or Not To Say It?

Create different social scenarios for students to pick from and place them in a container. Have students draw a paper and read the scenario out loud. Next have the group decide if the sentiment in the scenario is something they should say out loud or something they should just think to themselves. Have the students explain their answers. This activity is great because you can create specific scenarios based on your students' exact issues. Example scenarios include:

  • Your friend Johnny is wearing a Batman shirt. You hate Batman and think Johnny's shirt is ugly.
  • Your teammate scored a goal in soccer. You think he did a good job.
  • Your teacher told the whole class to line up for lunch. You are not hungry.

Accommodations: You can read the scenarios out loud, and students can answer with a thumbs up or thumbs down sign.


Charades is a great game for teaching body language. Place in a container slips of paper with different emotions written on them. You can start with easy emotions like happy, mad and sad. You can later add emotions such as anxious, scared and confused. Divide students into teams. Have one student from each team act out the emotion. The team members must guess what the person is communicating using only their body; no words allowed!

You could also record the students acting out the emotions. After the game, play the video for them and have them describe their body language to you. This helps the students visually acknowledge how their bodies are positioned to demonstrate different feelings. For example, if Johnny acted out 'angry' have him explain what he's doing to show this emotion. He might say something like 'my fists are clinched.' This helps students recognize these emotions in other people.

Who Are You Talking To?

To help your students understand how to adjust their language when speaking with different people, role-play conversations with them and have them role-play conversations with each other. Pretend to talk to different people in different situations. For example, set up a situation students would encounter during a typical day. In the situation you create, have the student explain the same thing to different people. You may need to model this activity for your students.

For example, Johnny loves to play dodgeball in P.E. Create a situation in which Johnny has to teach another student and a teacher how to play the game. After Johnny has explained the game to both people, discuss how the conversations were similar and different. You could model this by showing how you would give directions to the cafeteria to a new student and how you would give the same directions to a new teacher. Make sure the students are allowed to practice this skill many times!

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account