Teaching Vocabulary Effectively

We all know that vocabulary is essential to daily life. We also all know that many speech therapy clients have difficulty learning vocabulary, especially children with developmental language disorders (DLD). However, guidance on how to teach vocabulary seems to be lacking, not to mention the lack of high-quality vocabulary materials. So, I dove into the research to see what I could do to help!

To find out what I learned and to grab some free materials, keep reading!

I am always looking to improve my therapy techniques and materials. To accomplish this for my vocabulary therapy,

  • First, I headed over to The Informed SLP. I read through 3 years of research reviews on vocabulary and picked out the articles that applied to my clients.
  • Next, I created a new treatment protocol.
  • Last, I made some "no print," effortless materials to match my new protocol.

Vocabulary Lists - First Things First!

I am sad to say that I would often grab or even make (insert cringe) vocabulary materials based on images that I could find instead of researched-based/academically relevant words. This is NOT ACCEPTABLE! Time is precious and I don't want to waste my client's time and energy.

To fix this, I found an awesome website, Flocabulary, which has tier 2 word lists for grades K-8th. I chose words from these lists to create effective, relevant materials. 

Tier 2 words are high-frequency academic words that can used across subjects/settings. I feel you get more "bang for your buck" with them!

Explicit Teaching VS Implicit Teaching

Should we drill vocabulary (explicit teaching) or target vocabulary naturally (implicit teaching)? That is what I wondered about. 

According to What Works in Therapy: Further Thoughts on Improving Clinical Practice for Children With Language Disorders and Retrieval-Based Word Learning in Young Typically Developing Children and Children With Developmental Language Disorder I: The Benefits of Repeated Retrieval, a combination is best!

What I applied from these articles is that,

  • drill (explicit) practice is crucial for short-term gains, the client has to learn the word
  • implicit (literacy based) is crucial for long-term gains/generalization
  • review (spaced retrieval) is crucial for long-term recall

HOW To Teach A Vocabulary Word

What is best practice for teaching a vocabulary word? Do we just drill definitions? Do we just run through EET? Do we teach new words each week? 

After reading Building Semantic Networks: The Impact of a Vocabulary Intervention on Preschoolers’ Depth of Word Knowledge and Teaching receptive vocabulary to children with specific language impairment: a curriculum-based approach, a combination approach is best! 

These articles discuss the importance of vocabulary depth (how well you understand a word) rather than KINDA knowing a lot of words (vocab breadth)! This is something I talk a lot about here. Some techniques for teaching vocabulary depth are to focus on:

  • background knowledge
  • explicit teaching
  • phonological awareness (spell it/rhyme it)
  • relating words together (group, function, synonyms, opposites)
  • varied contexts/review

Materials With New Protocol

Now, it is time to have materials that accomplish this new protocol. I created Google Slides decks for each grade in Speech Therapy Talk Membership's site that follows the following protocol:

1. Stimuli

  • I chose 2 tier words from Flocabulary because that it what I needed and separated them first by grade. Then, I separated them by verbs, science, math, feeling words, etc…

2. Drill Materials (explicit teaching)

  • For drill, I made a definition slide.
  • Once the child explains the definition, you can click on the slide and the answer will appear.
  • I use this to drill, track progress, take baseline data, etc…

3. Phonological Awareness

For phonological awareness, I will do the following for each word:

  • spell it
  • rhyme it
  • identify the first sound
  • identify the final sound

4. Background Knowledge

  • connect new knowledge with background knowledge
  • solidify learning

5. Critical Thinking/Verbal Reasoning

  • I love this part!
  • It is important to apply new knowledge to why/how questions. This helps so much with vocabulary depth.

6. Relate It & Apply It!

  • find synonym (relating it)
  • apply it to daily life
  • by applying to daily life, the child may use the word outside the therapy room
  • once you click on the slide, answers will appear or a check mark (depending)

7. Natural Learning (implicit materials)

  •  practice new words during literacy/reading challenges

 8. Review (spaced retrieval)

  • Review deck the following week

Vocabulary Learning Materials

Click this link to start using your materials!

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