Stimulating 2-Word Combinations

By Pam Marshalla

preschool boyQ: Do you have any advice for helping preschoolers begin to use two-word combinations?

The best way I ever have found to stimulate two-word combinations is to model them melodically following the basic research done on Melodic Intonation Therapy (see resources below) — this research was done with adults, but people have applied it to kids ever since it first came out.

I use a two-tone high-low melodic pattern. Model the first word on the high tone, and the second word on the lower tone. The two tones help the kids divide the verbal presentation into two separate entities. It helps them hear the two individual words. The tone acts like a little melody that teaches them to say the two words in sequence.

Do you know “The Wheels on the Bus” song? (The wheels on the bus go round and round…) The tones on “round” and the next “round” is the high-low melody I am talking about.

Model “Baby go” or “Eat cookie” as Tone-tone. At first you are just looking for the child to imitate the tonal pattern. The words will fill-in as the child’s production of the tone gets better and more consistent.

This is just like teaching a little kid to sing a song. You just keep singing it to him and pretty soon he is mumbling the tune along with you. Later, he begins to fill the words into the appropriate spaces.

I have always found that melody is one of our best tools to teach kids just about anything they might say. So I use it to teach 2+syllable words, 2+word combinations, counting, ABC’s, colors, etc..

Original Research

  • Albert, M., & Sparks, R., & Helm, N. (1973). Melodic intonation therapy for aphasia. JAMA Neurology (Formerly: Archives of Neurology) 29, 130–131.


  • Helfrich-Miller (1994). Melodic intonation therapy for developmental apraxia. Clinics in Communication Disorders, 4, 175-182.

4 thoughts on “Stimulating 2-Word Combinations”

  1. Thank you for the information! I know we (SLP’s) talk like this, but I never knew the research and reason behind it. That helps.

  2. This is amazing! Our son is delayed due to autism and this is exactly what we did not knowing research and he also did communicate in tones. For example, a specific tone for “all done” then specific tone for “ wear shoes” etc. omg it really works and now he is able to say many two word phrases. Biggest thank you for writing this.

Leave a comment!

Keep the conversation going! Your email address will not be published.