You have heard it from teachers: “He doesn’t remember anything I teach him.” or “We have covered the same words in spelling lists, writing, in class, and she doesn’t come back the next day with anything.
Teachers have really great strategies for increasing vocabulary retention for the majority of their students. However, we run into problems when the student:
- has a communication impairment
- has no experience with the words
- speaks a different language at home
This is a HUGE problem for us because many of these kids are arriving on our caseload because they are being over-identified for special education. Our job as speech pathologists is to rule out second-language and socio-economic influence in order to find out if low vocabulary is due to a true disorder. We can accomplish this through dynamic assessment.
We refer to the approach we use as FACT: Function Attribute Category Therapy. Here is how language disorder (read: not learning disability) can be ferreted out.
1) Dynamic Assessment
Ask the child to name 20 objects such as animals or clothes – something appropriate for their age.
Set aside the items that they were able to name and work on the ones they could not name.
2) Teach about the category (clothes/animals)
We use a grammar map where we move the object through a description such as: “A horse (name) is an animal (category) that runs (function) or lives on a farm (attribute). This is HUGE for children with limited expressive language. Just think how linguistically rich a 7-word utterance like this is.
3) Teach about opposites (how are a horse and snake different/same?)
We know what something is by understanding what it is not. If a child does not have this ability then we normally need to build it and it can be a quick fix. We often think matching or same-different activities are for really young children. Here is an example of opposites from Super Duper that can be used with older students. We can have pretty complex conversations and writing with topics that are age-appropriate.
4) Teach about attributes
Think about the last time you were in a conversation where you did not remember the name of something. What did you say?
You know! It’s that thing that’s red and furry. That animal from Sesame Street with the high voice!
We increase vocabulary retention by making the descriptive qualities extremely rich so that we have many routes and relationships to get back to the word we are looking for. This is the easiest of the 6 steps because we can use non-fiction books, images and online videos.
5) Put the object back in its native environment
And lastly, that horse needs to get back on the farm. When we are teaching vocabulary we need to have the object reunited with the other categorical objects. Put the horse on the farm, the shoe in the closet, etc.
6) Retest the original 20 objects
We need to remember that we are scientists (cSd 101 remember?) and although we may not like the outcome, we need to check our week and see if we make a difference. Following these steps creates linguistically rich vocabulary and we are positive you will be successful.
Our knowledge as speech pathologists helps a child increase vocabulary retention.
Note that as speech pathologists we can be more successful if we are not teaching the NAME of the object. OBJECT NAME = VOCABULARY, this is part of the general education initiative. We are teaching a structure that allows a student to retain the 100s of words that he hears each day.
Also see ASHA’s 5 Tips to Maximize Your Vocabulary Instruction
Here is a course we put together to help all of us get up and running with vocabulary: