Do your students struggle with word finding? It’s a chronic concern with many students on my caseload — and research backs it up. According to Dockrell, Messer, George, and Wilson (1998) 23% of children on a speech-language pathologist’s caseload will have difficulty with word finding.
My students usually shrug their shoulders when they don’t know an answer to a question. I spend a lot of time vocabulary building with my students, but that’s a different discussion. Word finding means that the student can’t think of words they already know or have been exposed to.
When researchers look more closely at word finding errors, they find three main types of errors (McGregor 1997):
- Semantic substitutions (Saying “horse” for “burro”)
- Phonological errors (Saying “manza” for “manzana” — ‘apple’ in Spanish) — This type of error is less common.
- “Don’t know “errors (My students’ errors are often in this group)
While I love learning about research (I geek out on it just a bit), I really need specific therapy techniques to help my students. So how do we help students with word finding difficulties in therapy? I’m compiled a list of ten strategies to use in therapy:
- Priming — Start out a therapy task with a review of all of the relevant vocabulary words in a lesson. This activates the student’s categorical vocabulary knowledge and gets their brains ready for the task ahead.
- Vocabulary drill — Throw it back to traditional speech therapy and get out those picture cards in categories and have a student name, name, name. Pair it with a game and you are set for motivation.
- Narrative intervention — Bring out the books, preferably related to grade-level curriculum, and focus on story retell. Recalling the parts of the story and the key vocabulary with help the student learn and retain important words. Must be done consistently and story grammar visuals would be beneficial, too.
- Visualization — When a student is stuck, consider asking the student to close their eyes and imagine the object. Then ask him/her to say what they see in their mind.
- Providing phonemic cues — If you know the word the student is search for, provide the first sound. For example, if they are looking for the word “mug,” say, “It starts with ‘m.'”
- Providing semantic cues — Again, if you know the word that the student can’t find, ask the student questions about the category, “Is it a tool?” or the function “It is used to hit nails.”
- Reverse engineer their error — If the student says “tiger” for “lion,” consider offering other associated words, like “It’s an animal that lives in Africa like a zebra, gazelle, or a cheetah.”
- Providing the opposite word or a similar word — Telling the student the antonym of the target word or a synonym is another way to have the student think creatively to locate the missing word.
- Gesture — So many of my students use gesture naturally when they struggle to name a word. But pantomine or gesturing can really work to recall that missing word.
- Word vomit (aka Circumlocution) — Ask the student to just say as much as they can about the word and sometimes then they land on it.
I hope that this blog post helps you by offering you new ideas that you can use during your next therapy session!
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