Strands and elements

Across the strands of oral language, reading and writing, the elements describe essential language learning. Each element has a set of Learning Outcomes, which describe important language learning in terms of concepts, dispositions and skills.1 The elements are interdependent, as the Figure below shows.

Figure 3: The elements of language

1In this sense, the elements compare with the strand units in the 1999 curriculum in that they provide the organisers for the Learning Outcomes, just as the strand units did for the Content Objectives.


The elements of language learning across each of the strands are:

  1. Developing communicative relationships through language.
  2. Understanding the content and structure of language.
  3. Exploring and using language.

A web of interconnections exists, not only among the elements but also across the strands. While each strand supports the development of the other, the oral language strand requires specific attention in the early years as it is fundamental to the development of reading, writing and learning across the curriculum. This oral language work builds on children’s experiences in their pre-school education. Some of the concepts, dispositions (explained in the next paragraph) and skills developed through oral language are precursors to related skills and concepts developed in reading and writing. It is through an awareness of the interrelationships among the elements and across the strands that the potential of the integrated language curriculum is realised. This potential is highlighted through the use of the term texts (defined in the Glossary) across the strands and elements.

The Primary Language Curriculum builds upon the principles of Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework. These principles highlight the importance of adult-child relationships and playful and meaningful experiences for children’s learning and development. In nurturing children’s development as competent and confident communicators, Aistear spotlights the importance of developing dispositions alongside concepts and skills. The framework defines dispositions as enduring habits of mind and action and states that 'a disposition is the tendency to respond to situations in characteristic ways' (NCCA, 2009a, p. 54). In particular, Aistear advocates the nurturing of dispositions like independence, curiosity, playfulness, perseverance, confidence, resilience and resourcefulness. In schools, desirable and positive learning dispositions such as co-operation and persistence can be strengthened. In the case of children’s language learning and development, for example, a positive disposition towards reading (i.e., the ‘will to read’) is included in Learning Outcomes along with the concepts and skills involved in learning to read. The Primary Language Curriculum incorporates Aistear’s principles and builds on children’s prior language learning and development in early childhood settings. 

Concepts, dispositions and skills are at the heart of Language Learning Outcomes in this curriculum. These concepts, dispositions and skills are developed as appropriate to each school context and each child’s stage in learning in first and second languages. They are outlined in three Tables below, each of which focused on one of the three elements. For accessibility and manageability, the Tables are not exhaustive—they do not include all of the possible language functions. Further information on specific concepts, dispositions and skills is provided in the Glossary. The language skills that have particular application to each element are outlined in greater detail in Appendix 1.


Element 1: Developing communicative relationships through language  

This element focuses on developing children’s knowledge and understanding of how we build and share meaning together, in communicative relationships, as listeners and speakers and as givers and receivers of information. In specific terms, it is about developing the skills which support that process and in this way, the element builds on the theme of Communicating in Aistear. Building and sharing meaning in communicative relationships requires that children engage both as listeners and speakers. In this process, listening and speaking are reciprocal skills and these skills are developed in tandem. Children’s attention and listening comprehension are supported and developed through the relevance of their responses and contributions to the topic under discussion. In the conversational setting, the teacher affirms and/or adjusts the comprehension levels and takes her/his turn in contributing to the topic and further challenging the child/children for listening comprehension and expression as they contribute in turn. In doing this, the teacher recognises that some children learn best using signs, visuals, or through other senses including touch. The reciprocal exchange of meaning relies on the treatment of listening and speaking as reciprocal skills for development within the curriculum. The majority of children will come to school with a well-developed sense of the communicative relationship and this element builds on their existing experience. For some children these relationships will be less developed and, for a minority, the focus will be on initiating them into a communicative relationship. While the three elements are interrelated, the concepts, dispositions and skills represented in the Learning Outcomes for this element relate to children’s progress in the other two. As shown in the table below, these Learning Outcomes promote enjoyment, motivation, choice, and a sense of purpose and engagement in using language to communicate with others.  


Table 3: Element 1 - Communicating 


Learning Outcome label (concepts, dispositions and skills)

Oral language

Engagement, listening and attention (intentionality, verbal memory)

Social conventions and awareness of others (relevance, turn-taking, extra- and para-linguistic skills)


Engagement (intentionality)


Motivation and choice (relevance)


Engagement (intentionality)


Motivation and choice (relevance, purpose, audience)


Element 2: Understanding the content and structure of language  

This element focuses on developing children’s ability to create and interact successfully with oral and written texts using increasingly sophisticated knowledge and understanding of the content and structure of language. Eleven Learning Outcomes support children’s understanding of the content and structure of language. As shown in the table below, these Learning Outcomes focus on sentence structure and grammar, oral vocabulary and reading vocabulary, conventions of print, phonological and phonemic awareness, word recognition, spelling and comprehension. Within the curriculum, children will be required to comprehend and to use vocabulary and sentence structures at increasingly complex levels. Listening comprehension is critical to the child’s development of vocabulary and sentence structure. In the oral language strand, listening, speaking, comprehension and expression are developed as reciprocal skills in the social interaction of teacher/child and child/child(ren) conversation. The child’s listening and oral comprehension skills are given expression and are further developed through the child’s use of these words and phrases in the original context and in their generalisation to contexts beyond those in which they were originally heard and used.


Table 4: Element 2 - Understanding 


Learning Outcome label (concepts, dispositions and skills)

Oral language

Sentence structure and grammar (syntax, morphology)

Acquisition and use of oral vocabulary (semantics, verbal memory, articulation skills)

Comprehension (semantics)




Conventions of print (meaning and interpretation of text/illustration)

Phonological and phonemic awareness

Phonics and word recognition (alphabetic principle, word identification strategies)

Reading vocabulary (semantics)



Conventions of print and sentence structure (syntax)


Vocabulary (semantics)


Element 3: Exploring and using language  

This element prioritises the development of children’s ability to explore and use language for a wide range of purposes, in a variety of genres, and with a range of audiences, familiar and unfamiliar. Through exploring and using language, children’s developing sense of voice is nurtured and their appreciation of the aesthetic dimension of language develops. As they engage with and create a wide variety of oral and written texts, children develop a greater awareness of author voice. In exploring and using language in the curriculum, children will be required to listen to and present narratives and factual accounts of increasing complexity and abstraction. Listening comprehension of complex oral texts is critical to children’s understanding of how language is used within a curriculum to build ideas and propositions. In the oral language strand, listening and speaking are developed as reciprocal skills and comprehension is supported and extended through expression. This oral and social construction of meaning through listening and speaking supports reading and writing where the child is required to engage individually and to comprehend and respond in the construction of meaning with written texts. Questioning should focus on three types of questions—curiosity questions, procedural questions and questions used for social purposes. The creative and playful use of language includes playing with nonsense language which contributes significantly to the development of children’s metalinguistic skills. The 16 Learning Outcomes for this element focus on a wide range of language functions and genres across oral language, reading and writing as well as on fluency, comprehension, handwriting, the writing process, and author’s intent.


Table 5: Element 3 - Exploring and Using


Learning Outcome label (concepts, dispositions and skills)


Oral language

Requests and questions


Retelling and elaborating (narrative text and response)

Playful and creative use of language (aesthetic dimension of language)

Information giving, explanation and justification (expository text)

Description, prediction and reflection



Purpose, genre and voice (awareness of author’s purpose)

Sequencing and summarising (syntax and text organisational structure)

Comprehension (comprehension and fix-up strategies)

Fluency and self-correction (accuracy, fluency and meaning)


Purpose, genre and voice (sense of voice, aesthetic dimension of text)

Writing process (using processes, structures and language register)

Response and author’s intent (author’s purpose and responding)

Handwriting (legibility)