The Broken Bunny: Developing Vocabulary through Practitioner Dialogue


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Using Practitioner Dialogue for developing vocabulary in situ when something sad happens.

The Broken Bunny: Developing Vocabulary through Practitioner Dialogue

This is a really simple yet effective example of developing emotional vocabulary amongst our very youngest and least verbal children. The child is unaware of the cogs or concepts of EW but the practitioner has them in mind at all times during the conversation below. She is supporting the child’s emotional language development and making very early links through discussion, and later, using symbols supports.

A child’s favourite toy lost an arm. In the moment, the practitioner was able to empathise with the child and label the child’s emotions (orange cog) and behaviours (green cog): sad, upset, angry, crying, tears, sad face, shouting. The practitioner also named the trigger (yellow cog), bunny breaking. “Oh no! I can see you’re really upset because Bunny’s arm has come off. I can see your big tears.” The practitioner used actions to emphasise emotion words and behaviours.

Once the child was more settled, she found a sticker with a sad face and stuck it on to her Bunny’s tummy. The practitioner was then able to scaffold an emotional dialogue with the child about Bunny’s emotions and body sensations (red/pink cog): sad, hurt, sore, pain. The child explained the trigger (yellow cog): losing an arm. The practitioner made some suggestions for “making it better” or regulation strategies (blue cog): They agreed to sew Bunny’s arm back on, to help Bunny feel better, and that this would also help the child feel better.

After the toy was repaired, the child was able to retell the “story” to the practitioner, using facial expressions, a photograph of the bunny with a missing arm, simple props and symbols to support (post its and smiley face stickers).


Here is the practitioner’s recount:

“A much loved toy lost an arm yesterday. The child independently found and chose a wee crying face sticker and stuck it on. The child (3) said “Bunny is sad because she lost her arm”. We talked about how to make it better and decided on sewing it back on.
Afterwards, I took out a photograph of the “broken” bunny and we talked it over again. This time the child had a few stickers to choose from. Again she chose the
sad face and explained why. We wrote how we made it better on a post it and she insisted on sticking a happy face on our “resolution”. (She actually wanted to stick it on top of the sad one on Bunny’s tummy to show the sadness had gone but that didn’t make for a good photo!)

Since then, we have discussed the Bunny’s sore arm a few times, using EW visual prompts. The child was quickly able to find the sad face on the emotions lanyard when talking about Bunny’s arm falling off, and the happy face when talking about how we made it better.”


This is a really quick and easy way to support emotional learning in situ and could be used for any toy or resource in any setting. Even if concrete EW resources are not readily available at the time, other props can be used, as in this example, then EW resources, such as an emotions keyring or lanyard, used as a follow up.