What is critical for children’s and adolescents’ communication, language, and literacy success? There are so many contributing factors, but vocabulary development is most definitely critical. Speech-language pathologists need to focus on building vocabulary skills of children and adolescents when providing speech-language therapy each week to those with communication and language disorders.
Children’s exposure to vocabulary varies based on how language rich their home, school, and community environments are in providing language stimulation. The playing field is not the same. Vocabulary knowledge and use is directly linked to economic status of families. The National Center for Education statistics reports that by the time a child in the U.S. reaches 3 years of age, there is a 30 million word gap between children of wealthy vs. poor families. Similarly, 34 % of kindergarten children in the U.S. lack the basic language skills that are necessary to become effective readers and learners.
This is why it’s so important for speech-language pathologists to provide intervention to build vocabulary skills. This is a powerful way to deliver positive and visible results in children’s communication, language, and literacy skills. There are so many words that children need to learn. How can you as the SLP provide therapeutic intervention in a way for them to understand and practice new words? You need to provide multiple exposures of the word in context of hands on activities, sentence context, and paragraph context. Children and adolescents will learn new words when they can hear the word, see the word, say the word, act it out, read the word, and write the word. Here are 4 activities to harness the power of building vocabulary through context.
1) Emphasize new words during play activities.
For younger kids this will help them build nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Use seasonal activities to build everyday tier 1 vocabulary for early language learners with speech-language impairment. Fall is a great time to bring objects into the speech room. Kids can name the items such as apples, pumpkins, stem, leaves, seeds, vine, and squash. They can describe the objects using adjectives such as red, green, orange, yellow, white, big, little, smooth, bumpy, sweet, sour, slimy, wet. Provide visuals for kids to label/match the nouns, verbs, and adjectives with the appropriate item. The SLP can provide a verbal model for simple sentences. Then kids can say and write their own sentences with key vocabulary such as: I like the green apple, It tastes sour, The inside of the pumpkin is slimy, or The pumpkin seed is little.
2) Use task cards to build tier 2 vocabulary using sentence & paragraph context.
I suggest using my Fall Multiple Meanings task cards with upper elementary and middle school students. The SLP or students can read aloud the sentences and then the children have to select the correct meaning of the homograph from a choice of 4 answers. They can use a dry erase marker to select their answer on laminated cards. This activity works well during group speech-language therapy sessions. These task cards are a part of my differentiated Fall Themed Multiple Meanings activity packet.
3) Use children’s literature to build tier 2 vocabulary using sentence & paragraph context.
I recommend that the SLP preselect tier 2 vocabulary from fiction text. Use your favorite seasonal or year round books to introduce more challenging vocabulary to children and adolescents. Read aloud the story and teach them how to use context clues or helpful hints in the sentence or paragraph to predict the meaning of the unfamiliar word. As extension activities across multiple sessions, you can integrate Marzano’s 6 vocabulary building steps discussed in my last blog post with the new vocabulary from the fiction book. Subscribe to my blog/upcoming newsletter to get a related worksheet for children to use as they learn new words in children’s literature.
4) Use high interest non-fiction and diverse text with key tier 2 vocabulary targets.
Select topics of interest for children on your caseload. Give them excerpts of text and have them highlight or underline challenging vocabulary. Guide them through using context clues strategies to identify the meaning of the unfamiliar word. Again, use Marzano’s research based & proven six steps of vocabulary building to further reinforce and provide multiple exposures of tier 2 words. Remember as an SLP, your job is to maintain the therapeutic focus of the lesson by modeling the strategy that needs to be implemented and providing opportunities for children to practice.
Speech-language pathologists will remediate receptive and expressive language disorders in children and adolescents when they use the power of building vocabulary in context. Build vocabulary using context from hands on activities, sentence context, and paragraph context. Remember children need repetition and multiple exposures of a word to truly build receptive and expressive vocabulary skills in a meaningful manner. Make sure that you integrate this significant intervention method so children can build speech-language skills. Overtime, this will contribute to closing the achievement gap for children with communication and language disorders.