Tag Archives: internet games

Teaching Vocabulary: How Do We Learn New Words?

12 Apr

Students learn vocabulary most effectively when given opportunities to construct meaning rather than simply memorizing definitions, synonyms and antonyms.  To this end, there is no time and place to teach vocabulary, but it is a part of everything we do as teachers, parents and therapists.


When children learn to talk, they learn to say their first words by repeatedly hearing the words for concrete items in their environment.  Words like, “ball,” “cup,” “more,” “big,” “juice” are words kids learn first because they occur frequently in their environment.  Little kids learn and acquire new words through repeated exposure to them.  So do school aged children.

For school aged children, giving a definition for a new word usually isn’t good enough.  A child isn’t really experiencing a word or filing it away in their personal word bank for future use, by reading or hearing a definition.  Research suggests that It takes a minimum of 15 encounters with a new word for a student to understand and use the word independently.  In addition, words are nuanced.  There are subtle distinctions and variations between words that mean the same thing (synonyms) and unless children have the chance to interact with each of these words, experience them and engage with them it’s probably not going to stick.

Asking the right kinds of questions and helping students to make connections among words that they already know can be very effective.  Asking questions like, “Where have you heard this word before,” “Can you think of another meaning for this word,” or just talking about word meanings and being silly with definitions (substitute other words that don’t make sense or sound funny) help kids to expand the way they think about words.  If we build confidence and competence in dissecting and connecting words that students already know, this skill will start to translate and help kids “problem solve” when they encounter unfamiliar words.


One technique that most Speech Pathologists use with the little ones for stimulating language is focused stimulation. This is a pretty simple technique, but needs to be intentional and planned out.  The clinician decides on the target word for the mini-lesson and uses it over and over again while interacting with the child.  The idea is not necessarily to require a response or repetition from the child, but to expose them to a new word repeatedly, in a natural setting.  This can take place while playing a game or reading a book and is very different from simply making a child repeat new words.

If you’re interested in learning more about using Focused Stimulation, click here for some examples and a great summary of this simple technique.


It’s also good to keep in mind that vocabulary doesn’t just refer to the words we speak.  Sometimes we read or hear words that we would never use, but we still know what they mean.  So are these words a part of our vocabulary (words that we would never use, but know what they mean)?  Yes.  We have a receptive vocabulary and an expressive vocabulary.

Judy Montgomery, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, Professor, Chapman University has identified four kinds of vocabularies.  That is, our listening, speaking, reading, and writing vocabulary. Research shows that when you teach or target one of those categories, it has a large impact on the others.  So learning a new word is most effective when we can hear it, see it, read it, and write it.


Here are just a few of the games/ materials I use with kids to help build exposure and experience with new words:

Here are some links to internet games/ activities for building vocabulary (these links can also be found on the homepage under the link Category: Building Vocabulary Internet Games):


Social Skills and Judging Other’s Intentions

18 Nov

Social skills, and social communication is something that comes easily to some students, and for others, it needs to be explicitly taught.   Many students with language disorders have difficulty understanding figurative language, sarcasm, the body language of their communication partner, and other people’s intentions.  Using puppets to act out a variety of social situations is one thing I do in therapy to help students understand the intentions of other people and to make sarcastic and figurative language more concrete.

A large part of the ability to effectively and functionally communicate with others lies way beyond the words we say.  Being able to recognize someone’s intention or feelings based on tone, voice volume, facial expressions, body language and sarcasm is an extremely subtle part of communication.  We often don’t even realize the extent to which we use these “extra pieces” of language to communicate with each other.  Helping our kids to be successful judges of these aspects of language is critical to their overall ability to be functional communicators at home, in school, with friends, and eventually at work.

I came across some new research today in the New York Times about the ability to judge other people’s intentions in typically developing children.  The new research in the journal Child Development, suggests that children as young as 3 years old can judge a person’s intention.  Previously, it was thought that children wern’t aware of other people’s intentions until the age of 5 or 6.

What kinds of things can teachers do in the classroom and parents do at home to help foster your child’s awareness of other’s intentions?

Here are a few tips:

  • Talk about facial expressions you see in magazines.  Ask your child, “Is this person happy or sad? How do you know?
  • Cut out different pictures from magazines that exemplify “sad, happy, silly, surprised, hurt, afraid, proud,” etc.  Make up scenarios such as “Jamel’s mom unexpectedly showed up in his classroom for reading time.”  Ask your child to point to how they think Jamel felt [surprised].
  • Play guessing games about different facial expressions.  Can you make a face that is [sad, happy, silly, worried, surprised, etc.]?  or What kind of face am I making?
  • Use “social scripts” so that your child knows exactly what is expected in a certain situation.  For example, before going to the playground with your child, you can rehearse exactly what they can say to another child to ask them to play.  In therapy, I have pictures that I use that describe what happens when someone orders food at McDonalds.   Then, I walk through it step by step with the student, using the pictures to support what I am saying. “When I go to a fast food restaurant I stand in line until it is my time to order. The person taking the order will say something like, “Hi, what would you like to order?” I will say, “I want a cheeseburger, a small order of fries and a small coke.” If he asks me if I want anything else, I will say “No.” I will then hand him a five dollar bill and will be given some change. I will say, “Thank you,” when I get my food.”      – script from http://www.education.com

Social Skills Games on the Internet:

If you’re interested in working with your child more at home or if you are a teacher interested in learning more about ways to integrate social skills into your classroom, please contact me and I’d be happy to share many more ideas and brainstorm with you to come up with strategies specific to your child’s/ student’s needs.

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