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  • Writer's pictureStacy Crouse

Vocabulary Learning Strategies to Use in Speech Therapy Intervention

As SLPs, it can feel like the vocabulary work never stops in speech therapy. There are (and will always be) more words for students to learn. As SLPs (or teachers or parents) we simply cannot teach them all. However, teaching strategies is a way to equip students with the tools needed for ongoing vocabulary learning and development.


Teaching vocabulary learning strategies fits in perfectly with the other components of vocabulary intervention that we use in speech therapy (such as explicit instruction, multiple exposures, and meaningful practice).


Helping your students understand and utilize a variety of techniques to tackle new vocabulary in speech therapy, school, the community, and the home will have a much greater impact than only teaching isolated words alone.


Use Context Clues to Identify Word Meaning.

Teaching students find and use context clues has always been the bread and butter of vocabulary intervention... anyone else? By looking at the text that surrounds an unknown word, students can find helpful hints about its meaning.


A speech therapy activity targeting the vocabulary learning strategy of context clues in speech therapy

Sentence context can provide general information about a word's meaning. Even the sentences before and after can be helpful. One way I like to use this strategy is to put a finger over the unknown word while reading the sentence or paragraph. This takes away some intimidation of the unknown word and gives the student a more zoomed-out perspective of what the sentence is about.


Types of Context Clues for Vocabulary Learning

We can take context clues even further by teaching students the specific types of context clues and how they help us determine word meaning.

1. Definitions

Sometimes, the surrounding text might give an actual explanation of the word's meaning... Jackpot! Here's an example.

As the elected delegate, Rita felt confident that she could represent her country when making decisions.


2. Examples

Sentence context may also contain one or more examples that illustrate the meaning of an unknown word. In this example, clues about what a "mollusk" is are given by way of a few examples.

The marine biologist collected a sample of snails, clams, and oysters before examining the mollusks back at the lab.


3. Synonyms

In order to avoid sounding repetitive, texts will often use a similar word in another part of the sentence. In this example, a synonym for "agony" (pain) is used later in the sentence.

The crowd could see that the athlete's knee injury was causing her agony as she winced in pain with every step as she walked off the court.


4. Antonyms

In addition, the surrounding text might point out a contrast of the unknown word. The following example uses an opposite of "furnished" (empty) which provides an antonym context.

While a few of the apartments Martin looked at were furnished, most of them were completely empty.


Analyze the Parts of the Word.

Students may feel intimidated by unknown words (especially big ones), so another great strategy is to break apart the word into smaller pieces that still carry meaning (morphemes).


Morphemes include root words and affixes (prefixes and suffixes), all of which carry meaning. The meanings of each can be pieced together to figure out a word's greater meaning.


Word Parts for Vocabulary Learning

Helping students understand the terminology of word parts makes it easier for them to intentionally break down words and look for meaning in each part.


1. Root Words

A root word is the most basic part of a word that conveys a meaning. Some examples include struct, astro, and phil. Root words are similar to base words, which can stand alone as a single word. Some examples of base words are agree, joy, and view.

2. Prefixes

Prefixes are used at the beginning of the root word or base word to slightly modify its meaning. Some of the most common prefixes are un-, dis-, re-, and mis-.


3. Suffixes

Similarly, suffixes attach to root/base words to add to the meaning. The suffixes -tion, -ity, and -ment are common suffixes in English.


The concepts of root words, prefixes, and affixes can be a little abstract for students. A simple visual for parts of a word can be used to teach each one and continued to be used as a reminder when working on vocabulary learning in various contexts and activities.

Prefixes and Suffixes Anchor Charts for Vocabulary Learning used as visuals in a speech therapy room

If you're looking for a comprehensive set activities to help you teach your students about affixes and how to use them to identify words, don't miss this prefix and suffix bundle for speech therapy. It includes both printable and digital versions of the lessons and practice activities for dozens of affixes. If you just need the digital version, you can get that here on Boom.


A student holding an iPad in speech therapy and doing a suffix activity

Look at the Text Features on the Page.

As students get older, the informational texts they read become more complex. While that generally means that the vocabulary is more advanced, it also means there's a greater likelihood that the author has included some text features.


Text features are elements that help make the information clearer for readers. Text features include things like headings and subtitles, charts and graphs, and captioned pictures.


These embedded visual aids provide an alternate format for students to comprehend the concepts and words. SLPs can encourage students use text features as another way of identifying the meanings of unknown words. You may do this by taking a closer look at parts of the page or even annotating a digital version or photocopy.


Check a Reference Tool.

Learning how (and when) to use reference tools is a valuable life skill! If the meaning of an unknown word cannot be deciphered using one of the previously mentioned vocabulary learning strategies, a word reference tool is a great option.


There are many digital and physical ways to find the meaning of new words, and it's a great idea to help students become familiar with a few (if they aren't already). This might include a dictionary (or thesaurus) book, website, or app. It could also be the glossary of a textbook.


Vocabulary Goals for Speech Therapy

One of the best parts about teaching vocabulary learning strategies (other than equipping your students with helpful tools they'll use again and again 💪), is that it makes measuring progress so. Much. Easier!


Rarely is it effective (or practical) to make up a list of random words that students should learn by the end of the progress period. Instead, SLPs can teach students vocabulary strategies and work on using them with various texts and situations.


A student pointing to a vocabulary learning strategy visual in speech therapy

Like with other strategies we teach in speech therapy, you're probably going to introduce the concept and do some structured practice.


Vocabulary Activities for Speech Therapy

Vocabulary learning strategies are super easy to incorporate into a variety of different activities. Find texts that are motivating, interesting, and/or functional, and have fun with them!


Of course, students' specific academic coursework is a great way to make therapy time more meaningful. But if you have students who are a little reluctant to engage, use material related to their interests. This might include magazines, websites, song lyrics, or comics.


If you're looking for some ready-to-go ideas, here are a few activities that you could use to facilitate the use of the vocabulary learning strategies shared above:


Vocabulary Activities for Elementary Students:


Vocabulary Activities for Middle and High School Students:


Don't forget that you can also work on vocabulary strategies using spoken language, too! You could use role plays or videos to practice using the strategies, especially if your student is already pretty familiar and comfortable with using them with written material.


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