Many children with language disorders struggle with understanding the skill of categorization. Pediatric speech-language pathologists frequently write objectives for children to improve their ability to name items in categories, name categories when given items in the group, and identify what items do not belong in a category. SLPs select these objectives in therapy often because a child did not demonstrate mastery of this skill on an assessment.
Do you really think about why this is such an important language concept for your client with communication disorder to master? As speech-language pathologists, we need to be able to readily explain to parents, special education teachers, and administrators, the reason we are targeting categorization in speech-language therapy as well as the skilled therapy techniques we use to improve this area.
Children need to learn categorization because it is a critical language processing skill. Semantic or vocabulary processing is a large part of how children understand language and effectively retrieve words. After young children learn to label basic nouns and express their functions (e.g. verbs) during their daily routines, they naturally progress to learn word associations. Categorization is typically the next skill in this developmental hierarchy.
Children need to learn categorization because when they do, it helps them effectively store new words and information in their brain. In doing so, they connect a new vocabulary word or concept to their schema or pattern of knowledge that they already know. For example, when a child learns the subcategory of desserts his or her brain makes an association because he or she already knows that is a type of food. When an older child learns about the water cycle, he or she can make meaning based on previous knowledge about weather, types of precipitation (rain, sleet, snow, etc.), and/or sequence of events.
Preschool children and children in grades K-2 with language disorders need to learn various categorization tasks with Tier I vocabulary words. They need to practice divergent naming task or expressing items in categories such as food, clothes, transportation, and shapes. They need to practice convergent naming tasks that require them to say the category name when told examples of items in that category. Similarly, they need to be able to distinguish what item does not match the group during an elicited task.
Children in grades 3-5 can further their development of categorization by practicing divergent and convergent naming tasks with Tier III academic vocabulary. Since many speech-language pathologists support teaching the language underpinnings of the common core state standards, they can teach their students how to categorize English/Language Arts vocabulary. For example, students can sort parts of speech vocabulary, types of nouns, types of literature terms, or figurative language vocabulary into groups. They can name Tier III words when given a category and state the category when given examples in this group.
So, what materials do you use to take data, instruct children, and provide language practice opportunities for categorization objectives? I have several items in my TPT store to work on these goals. Some of these include:
1) Categories Data Check- 8 forms to quickly assess Tier I vocab
* If you own my Vocabulary Progress Monitoring Tool, it will be updated with this
expanded category data check. Email me if you have questions at email@example.com
2) My Speech Language Category Book- sorting Tier III E/LA
3) E/LA Comprehensive Categorization Bundle- Tier I & III vocab
4) E/LA Vocabulary Memory Concentration Activity
So the next time someone asks you why you teach categorization in speech therapy? You can remind them that you also provide language therapy and then effectively explain your rationale.
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