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In this episode of the SLP Now podcast, I get to geek out on all things GRAMMAR! From identifying relevant targets to using them effectively in therapy; the evidence behind the intervention to practical applications in practice… We’re going to cover it all.

And as per usual, we’ve got your actionable therapy takeaways covered. After listening in, SLPs (that’s you!) will be equipped with three assessment tools that can be used to help identify grammar targets and have a solid understanding of evidence-based strategies that can be used to target students’ individualized grammar goals (and make them meaningful! 💪).

We’re going to introduce the fundamentals of grammar intervention and really create a solid foundation so that we can dive deeper over the next two weeks. That’s right → This episode is the first in a 3-part series, and I am SO excited about it. 🤓

So, grab your beverage of choice (I’ll have a London Fog this week!), put your feet up, and listen in.

Key Takeaways

– What’s the goal of grammar intervention?
– Embedding newly acquired structures into meaningful activities
– Why grammar gets a bad rap and what we can do to change that
– What YouTube has to do with setting grammar goals
– The 5-Step Framework for grammar intervention
– Assessment and Target Selection
– Treatment Strategies

Links Mentioned in the Podcast

Citations Mentioned in the Podcast

  • Fey, M., Long, S., and Finestack, L. (2003). Ten principles of grammar facilitation for children with specific language impairment. American Journal of Speech‐Language Pathology, 12, 3‐15.
  • Ukrainetz, T. (2006). Contextualized language intervention: Scaffolding PreK–12 literacy achievement. Eau Claire, WI: Thinking Publications. (affiliate link)
  • Eisenberg, S. (2014). What works in therapy: Further thoughts on improving clinical practice for children with language disorders. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 45, 117–126.
  • Fey, Cleave, and Long (1997): Grammar targets and cycles
  • Ehren, B. J. (2009). Looking through an adolescent literacy lens at the narrow view of reading. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 40, 192–195.
  • Gillam, S. L., & Gillam, R. B. (2014). Improving clinical services: Be aware of fuzzy connections between principles and strategies. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 45, 137–144
  • Modeling combined with production (Fey & Proctor-Williams, 2000)
  • Imitating contrasting sentences (Connell, 1982)
  • Combining sentences (Strong, 1986; Weaver, 1996)
  • Sentence expansion (Gould, 2001)

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Thanks so much!


Hello there and welcome to The SLP Now Podcast. Today we are going to be diving into all things grammar and I hope that you walk away from this presentation with tons of tips and evidence-based strategies that you can use when targeting those grammar goals with your students. And this is going to be a three-part series. Today we're laying the foundation and then we'll dive into super practical implementation for earlier grammar goals next week. And then the week following, we'll dive into super practical implementation for older students or those higher-level grammar goals.

Let's get to it. In terms of today, I'm going to be sharing some evidence-based strategies that you can use when targeting grammar goals and then we'll walk through the beginnings of the treatment plan, including moving from teaching to structured practice to embedded practice. And then, like I said, in the following weeks we'll really apply that and dive in. And then before we get to the super amazing strategies, I just want to set the stage and make sure that we are on the same page and setting that foundation for what we do and how we do it.

I've got a couple of quotes here that have been incredibly helpful and they also are research articles that I'll link to in the show notes. So if you go to, you can follow along. But the first article that was incredibly helpful for me when I was starting to dive into these things was by Fey, Long, and Finestack in 2013. And this was an article that included 10 principles for grammar, intervention and then this quote just really stood out to me.

I'll read it out here, again, from Fey, Long and Finestack in 2013. "The basic goal of all grammatical interventions should be to help the child achieve greater facility in the comprehension and use of syntax and morphology in the service of conversation, narration, exposition, and other textual genres in both written and oral modalities." That was a lot of words, but the goal is to help the child achieve greater facility. The goal isn't to do a probe where the student can name 10 past tense verbs, that doesn't ...

That's how we're going to work towards measuring that, but we're always thinking beyond and really looking at the student and what the student needs, like, "How is this going to be meaningful for the student? How is this going to help them in their conversations, in their reading?" And it is a huge factor. We'll definitely dive into this more during the older student or the older more advanced school presentation, but understanding the syntax is so incredibly important when it comes to syntax or when it comes to comprehension because it makes a big difference.

That's the first thing I wanted to touch on. There's another article by Eisenberg in 2007, and the quote that I pulled there is just talking about the approach that we use to target these goals because I think, typically, at least what I learned in grad school and what I saw happening was a lot of discrete skill instruction. And so I thought this one was helpful as I was trying to navigate how I was going to approach grammar intervention and help my students achieve more meaningful progress and results.

Here we go, "The use of discrete skill instruction, for example, grammar, analysis, modeling, imitation drills, error detection, and sentence combining," so those are all examples of discrete skill instruction, "As the sole intervention approach, without embedding use of newly acquired structures in meaningful activities, is not recommended." The syntax of this one was a little bit confusing, so I'll simplify it. The use of discrete skill instruction is not recommended as the sole intervention approach.

We want to be embedding these newly acquired structures in meaningful activities. We're not just drill, drill, drill, drill, drill, we're embedding these ... If we're working on pronouns, and past tense verbs, and compound sentences, and passive voice, we're doing that discrete skill instruction. We definitely want to be teaching, but we want to make sure that we're embedding that in a meaningful context, and that is super important to what we're going to be talking about today. It's the key. We will be sharing lots of discrete skill instruction ideas, but we want to make sure that we go beyond that and really help the student invent those skills.

And I always talk about literacy-based therapy because I think that is true no matter which skill we're working on. It's incredibly important that we're embedding these structures or skills in meaningful activities, and I think literature is a really great way to do that because it's relevant for the students, and it's what they're doing in the classroom, and it involves pretty much all of the skills that we would work on. And that's why I love a good literacy-based therapy approach. And we'll touch a little bit on the embedding ideas today, but we'll talk more about that when we dive into more of the specific plans in future weeks.

And then the last quote here, and then we'll get into a juicy little framework. This is also from Eisenberg in 2007, she says, "Authenticity is crucial. Students must have a reason for doing the things that lead them to learn and use grammar so that they can read, write and speak better." When we're designing our intervention, we want it to be authentic and grammar intervention might not be the most exhilarating type of interventions for students and for therapists, potentially.

It has the rap for being a little bit more repetitive and potentially boring and that can definitely happen if we're just drilling and getting frustrated because we keep messing up our pronouns, and if we're just confused with how it works. It's definitely not super clear and simple, and there can be some frustration involved, but we really want to make sure that if the students know why they're working on this, how it's going to help them and why it matters.

They're going to be much more willing to participate, and they'll understand the why behind it, and they'll be willing to work through some of the more challenging components. And we get to meet our students where they are and figure out what will make it meaningful to them. I feel like, personally, in my therapy practice, it's pretty easy to keep the little kiddos motivated, the younger students, but with older students, they need a little bit more. They need a little bit more support, typically, because they're just that much ...

They've been doing it for a long time. They've likely been receiving services for several years, and there's a lot going on. And so one example that's been super helpful and that has come up a lot of times is that I asked my students what they want to be when they grow up and a lot of the students, in recent years, have said that they want to be YouTubers. I love it when they say that because it's so incredibly relevant. They have to have good grammar to be understood by their audience.

And if their grammar isn't clear and people can't understand them, then that will impact their message and their ability to be understood and grow that audience and be successful on YouTube. And so we talk about the why behind that and they can get behind that. We do have to put it in their words and work through it in their way, but that's super helpful. If I know that that is what their goal is, when we're doing those embedded activities, you bet we're going to be making some videos.

We won't be posting them on YouTube, but we look at it as practice towards that goal and in getting ready for that goal. So that's been incredibly helpful. It works very effectively. And then with younger students, they're not always as clear on maybe what they want to do when they grow up, but there's definitely areas ... They know where they struggle at school or we can help them identify where they might want to use the correct grammar target so that they can be understood. That's a huge takeaway for me.

Just to recap the three quotes that we talked about, we really want to think about what the student needs in order to be successful in the classroom, to communicate with peers, to have conversations and then we want to be thinking about how we can embed these skills in a meaningful way. And then also thinking about how to make this meaningful for our students. So we get that buy-in, so they're willing to do that work and so they're not just phoning it in. They're really trying to work on these skills. There we have it, the recap of the three super helpful quotes that I pulled as I was getting this figured out myself.

And so now we've set the stage and we have an idea of where we're going. We can start working towards our framework. I love a good framework. This framework for grammar intervention has five steps. We start with assessment, then teaching, but we don't stop with the teaching. We do some focused stimulation, we do some structured practice and then we jump into ... The fifth step is that embedded practice. Throughout this presentation, we're going to be diving into those five steps of the framework.

First step is assessment. The first thing that or I think the most helpful assessment tool is a language sample. You can also grab some writing samples from the classroom. If your students are older, that can be a very interesting comparison and it's really helpful. I think that's the most helpful because I find that ... I've given a lot of standardized assessments and a lot of times the results on those tests though ... I can think of countless times where, and this is definitely an indicator of something else going on and something I want to look into, but it wasn't helpful when it came to writing grammar goals.

If I looked at a subtest on the self or whichever other assessments you're using, because they always have those close procedure tasks, and if a student wasn't able to use a pronoun or a regular past tense or whatever it may be in that activity, that doesn't necessarily mean that they don't understand that concept and that they're not using it in conversation. Because if they're using it in conversation and they're using those pronouns in a regular past tense verbs in their writing, then I don't know if it really matters if they miss that one question on the subtest.

So we want to be really careful about writing goals based on those subtests. So, typically, and sometimes it's super interesting. Sometimes I'll see the reverse. They'll get a perfect score on that subtest or a really high score and then they'll have so many grammar errors in their conversation. It's like the most fascinating thing, but that's why this embedded context is so incredibly important because then we can see what students are actually doing.

I find that I'm able to write the best schools when I have a set of language and writing samples, if that makes sense, across several contexts. So I'll have the student retell a story. I will have the student generate their own story. I'll analyze what they say in conversation. I can do a picture description. I can observe them in the classroom and see and ideally it'd be an activity where they're actually talking and communicating with peers conversing what they're doing in that context as well.

I definitely don't often have time to do all of those unless I have a super-specific question and I really want to dive into some differential assessment, I suppose. I just wanted to list those so that you have some ideas. And there are a lot of different options there. I actually am doing a whole presentation on narratives and we talk about language samples and some different ideas in there, in terms of visuals and different contexts we can use. I'll link to that in the show notes. If you're interested in more of the details in terms of like, "How do I collect the samples?" And, "What does that include?" And all of that.

We definitely want to stay mostly on track related to grammar here, but one of my favorite hacks, because you might be thinking I have a caseload in the triple digits, I don't. I'm swamped with paperwork, and billing, and all sorts of things, like how in the world am I supposed to collect the samples? And it really doesn't have to take a ton of time. We're doing assessment anyways. It takes a couple minutes to gather these types of language samples and the procedure or the process that I typically use is I pull out a recorder on my phone or my tablet, and I record the samples that I can go back to it if I need to.

And then I will just pull up a Google Sheet and start typing out what the student says. And it'll depend on the student, I love to be able to do, like to at least get a rough transcription live. For some students, that won't work and I'll just have to type it up later, but that's okay. And then, yeah, so I just type that up super quickly. You get really fast after doing a couple of these and then the spreadsheet that I use automatically calculates MLU for me, and you have to decide how you want to split up the utterances.

You can calculate different types of things depending on how you set it up, but I use it to calculate the mean length of utterance, and it just automatically counts that up. It has space for notes. So I can note the grammatical errors that I'm seeing, which is super, super helpful. And then it's so interesting to compare those notes and metrics across the different samples, and that can give us some really interesting routes that we can go in terms of goal-writing and all of that.

I will link to the language sample, like spreadsheet calculator, that I'd love to use in the show notes. Again, those are at, and you can check those out there, but I think that's my biggest tip. But we definitely don't want to stop there. We don't want just a language sample. Once we have that language samples, some things will start to show up. We can start to probe specific skills based on what we're seeing. If we're seeing a lot of errors with past tense verbs, maybe we will pull out that close procedure for task where, "Today I run. Yesterday I ..." and then see what the student can fill in.

And sometimes we have some of that data based on the assessment, but the assessment doesn't look super closely at any one skill. So I'd like to pair those and just dive a little bit deeper. Just figure out what the pattern is and to see, "Why are they struggling with those past tense verbs?" Or, "Why are they struggling with those pronouns?" And then I'll just go through. And then if I write a goal for any of those skills, then I'll have some good data to go off of, that'll be my baseline and then I'll also have a really nice inventory of how they're doing.

We can obviously include different assessment data as well. We can pull those standardized tests. We can do those classroom observations, teacher report, parent report. We can use pass therapy data. We can look at classroom data, just different. Like sometimes they'll have little grammar assessments and pulling work samples and all of that. So lots of different data that we can be pulling from and using that data to figure out which patterns we see and which skills we might want to work on.

And then once I go through those, I am able to make a list of the grammar concepts that I see the students struggling with, and this makes it possible for me to be systematic. So I can look at the pattern an see how they're doing across the different skills and come up with a plan based on that. And based on the literature, they recommend not targeting more than three new or emerging targets within any given activity. And when we're starting out, I personally like to narrow it down and just start with one because that makes it easy for me to teach it.

And some of the different activities that we'll be talking about, it just makes it easier to really hone in on one specific category versus targeting multiple skills. If we have a list of 10 skills and like, "Oh my goodness, how are we supposed to pick which one?" We can look at the classroom samples and get feedback from the teacher in terms of what seems to be impacting the student the most and what would make it easier for the student to be understood and all of those pieces.

Some examples of skills that we might pull are like past tense verbs, or regular past tense verbs, or regular plural nouns, relative clauses, pronouns, complex sentences, complement clauses. There's so many different things that we could pull. And then some other things that I often see are that students omit direct objects. They might say, like, "I told already," but we don't know who they told. So like, "I told the teacher already," and they leave off that direct object.

And they might also have a hard time with the comprehension of those more complex causes. So if we're doing a comprehension assessment, that might be an interesting thing to look at, like, "Are they missing the questions that have more complex syntax?" And if so, we can take a closer look at that. So that's what we've got for assessment.

Now, let's dive into step two, which is the teaching. I have a little bit soapbox here, again, because it's incredibly important that the students know the why behind targeting these skills. That's the most important first step in teaching because if they don't understand the why, then they're not going to get the full benefit of working with us and really giving us room to make that impact. I'd love to start talk to my students about why they might care about grammar because it's definitely not the most glamorous treatment target.

And some of the reasons that I've come up with or that my students and I have come up with is that it helps them be understood by their friends. And they're pretty motivated to be understood by their friends and have relationships with their friends and being able to communicate. Especially when they're telling stories, this is where it can get incredibly confusing. Like if they keep switching verb tenses or if they're not using pronouns correctly, it can be incredibly confusing for them to understand.

And so sometimes maybe I'll give an example of a story and like, "Oh," and helping them understand how that impacts their ability to be understood. And then a lot of times, this is more relevant for the older students, but sometimes the young students know exactly what they want to be when they grow up. But it's incredibly important if they have any goal towards a writing or a speaking career, if they want to be a sports announcer, if they want to be a singer, they want to be a teacher, a YouTuber or an author, all sorts of different components there. That's another one that I often rely on.

And another example is miscommunication. I might Google some grammar jokes because that'll make it a little bit more entertaining and fun. And we can get some funny examples, but then we can talk about how that might actually show up. Like if a student is making plans to meet someone and they mess up the syntax of the sentence or they don't properly understand the syntax of what the student says, they might go to the completely wrong place at the mall or wherever they're meeting. And so that can give a little extra motivation.

They want to be understood by their peers, and they want to understand, and they want to be able to go to these cool places and meetups and all of that. And the most important thing, though, hopefully that sparked your imagination a little bit, and hopefully that can help you start navigating that conversation with your students, but encourage them to think of their own reasons. It can be incredibly surprising how intuitive they are and how much insight they have. And if they come up with their own personal examples, it'll give them that much more oomph when working towards that. So, yeah.

It's also amazing if they can be involved in the process of selecting those goals. So if we can go through the results and talk about, "Okay, these are the things I saw. This is how I think it's impacting you. What are you seeing?" And we can have that conversation and go back and forth there. So if you can involve them, like go back to step one with assessment and involve them from that point, that can be incredibly powerful.

In terms of getting started, I love doing some mini-lessons. I do like a five to 10-minute ... This ends up being a five to 10-minute lesson. I typically do this prior to the activity, and I highlight the grammatical forms that we're going to be using in the activity. And I really love to help students learn by doing, so I'll have a verbal introduction. I'll pair that with a visual. I'll demonstrate it and then I'll have them do it with me with support.

And I actually have a video of explaining a mini-lesson. I will post a link to this on the blog, but I'll also, if you're here for the live course, I'll play that video at the end so you can just see it right away and you don't have to go anywhere. And then I always talk about this, but visuals are incredibly important because I could do a verbal explanation and totally map this out for the student using my words, but I think visuals are helpful because we don't have to use quite as many words when we do that. And the visual can follow the student or the student can use the visual without us there.

They don't have to be dependent on us. I can share the visual with the next therapist, or I can share it with the teacher and she can use it in the classroom and then it allows the student to take ownership too. I can leave the visual on the table and then they can choose whether to use it or not, and they can have a little bit more ownership over it versus if I'm just using my words to explain something, then they have to rely on me and they don't have ownership of when I use my words.

They can definitely ask for help an explanation, but the visual just puts that more in their court and gives them control. And it's so incredibly powerful. I've shared visuals with teachers based on goals that my students were working on, but there were also other students in the classroom who struggled with those skills and the teachers actually started using them to support other students. It can be incredibly powerful. Sharing a simple visual can help our students embed those targets which we're jumping ahead a little bit.

But it'll help our students and it can also help other students and just give the teachers another tool to use. So that's incredibly helpful. And it just helps with that consistency because I might explain to the teacher how I explain it to the student, but I think if we have a visual, even if we have a slightly different approach to introducing our concept, the visual will be consistent and that can help the student. That's what we've got for teaching.

Then the third step is focused stimulation. This is what I do in the early stages of my literacy-based therapy units. This is mapping out, just what we would do if we're only thinking about grammar. But in the schools, we have mixed groups, we have multiple students in the group as well. We're targeting a lot of different goals and we need a little bit of glue to put those things together. What we're talking about today is just the queen steps if we're only focusing on grammar, and then next week, we'll talk about how to embed these different steps of the framework in something that we would more likely be doing in therapy.

Just to allude to that a little bit, the focus stimulation is what I would do in the first couple steps of the literacy-based therapy framework. When we're in focus stimulation is one we provide frequent models and recasts in a variety of activities. You can start focused stimulation as soon as you pick up your student. If you go pick up your students on the way to the speech room, you can be doing focused stimulation. You can model the target, so you can highlight the features naturally in conversation or you can recast them so you can correct what the child says or modify the modality.

For example, if we're working on formulating questions, you can turn a statement into a question. You can do this as you're setting up the session. You can do focus stimulation as you're doing the pre-story knowledge activation step in the literacy-based therapy framework. You can do this as you are working on other goals. You can have this you're checking in with a student and talking about their day. The opportunities are endless. Where there's any communication, there's opportunities for modeling and recasting.

Even if we're not doing a specific activity, we can still be ... Even if we don't have a beautiful grammar activity prepped and ready to go, we can be therapeutic by thinking about this focus stimulation and it's super interesting too. There's some different ... This came from one study by Fey, Cleave, and Long in 1997, describes this treatment approach and a preschool classroom. And so in a preschool classroom, we're doing like playtime, snack time, lots of different activities.

But in the Fey, Cleave, and Long 1997 article, they selected several grammar targets and cycled through the target. So they just did a few targets each week and they use focus stimulation. And then also one other strategy that we'll talk about in the next step. And then the focus stimulation included frequent models and recast in a variety of activities like what I just said. And they showed some really great results. I'll link to the article if you want to take a closer look. But I really like this article because it gave me an idea of how this could come together and it doesn't have to ...

It's pretty easy to train teachers and parents to provide this focus stimulation for our students too. If we can partner with the teacher, especially in the early ages because they're doing activities. They're awfully smaller ratio of teacher to student, or student to teacher. And if they can just embed some of this throughout the school day, and parents especially, if they can embed some of it when they're having dinner or when they're just hanging out with their kid, then that can be incredibly helpful.

And that will set up the students for step four, which is more of that structured practice. But I think this is really helpful to know because we need our students to have exposures to these concepts and see them and I think it really helps to see them and hear them in a variety of context before we dive into that structured practice and really have them practice these concepts. They need to start wrapping head around it first and it just makes it a lot less painful because sometimes it is complex and it can be kind of confusing.

It's not the easiest thing to teach. Some of our students really struggle to understand pronouns and all of those different past tense verbs and compound sentences. So if we can give them lots and lots of examples of it, we're like priming the pump and making it easier to get into that structured practice, which is what we're talking about now, step number four.

Just a quick note, I'm going to be sharing a lot of different ideas here and a lot of different things that we can do for structured practice, but some students may not need a ton of that traditional drill practice. A lot of times, I think, and maybe it was just my approach, but I felt like I needed a ton of drill practice before embedding it. But it was kind of surprising to see, like I was kind of testing it because the research kept saying, "Don't stick too long in traditional drill. Don't do structured too long."

And so it was just really, you'll get a feel for it over time, but it's really interesting to see how much of that structured practices student needs. And some students definitely need more than others and we just want to try. We want to keep trying to push that envelope and try and move towards that embedded practice. I'll hop back and forth and see, "We did a bunch of drill, are we ready for embedded?" And sometimes we are and sometimes we just have to hop back because it's too much.

And so it's just finding that flow and just making sure we don't spend too much time in this step. And then, so in terms of drills supported in the literature, we have modeling combined with production and the Fey and Proctor-Williams article from 2012 does a nice job if this. The second one is imitating contrastive sentences, and I've got a citation from Connell 1982, if you want to look into that more. And then the third one is combining sentences. These two citations I have for that one are Strong 1986 and Weaver 1996.

And then again, these are all in the show notes, Just look through the list of citations to find the one that you are most interested in, or whichever one you're going to tackle next. And then a note from Eisenberg 2007, "Grammar analysis, I.e. teaching labels for grammar concepts, dissecting sentences, and detecting errors for isolated sentences do not seem to be beneficial." I know a lot of our workbooks have those types of activities in them and so we want to ...

We get to use our clinical judgment, of course, but consider trying some of the approaches that we're talking about today. And we'll go through each of the three that I mentioned and I'll also have some videos to share with you so you can see them a little bit of a demo, but just keep that in mind. Number one is modeling combined with production. This is a step up from the focus stimulation that we were talking about first step three.

Modeling with or without student imitation has been shown to help students produce new targets, but students produce more untrained exemplars when they do have the opportunity to imitate the model and that could potentially lead to more generalization, which is definitely what we want. What I'd like to do is, like when we're first starting out and we're doing kind of more of those initial activities in the literacy-based therapy unit, I don't necessarily start requiring the student to imitate or produce the target.

I want to give them some exposure to it, but once I feel like, "Okay, I've given them a handful of exposures here," we can start stepping up the ante. And sometimes students, like a lot of my students automatically start repeating it. They just do it on their own. I love it when that just automatically happens and sometimes we need to provide a little bit more support for the student to be able to imitate the model or the recast. We can talk about that a little bit more as well.

And if the students are struggling to imitate, maybe it is too much of the cognitive load, so we can simplify the sentences. But if they are holding on to the words and the sentence, but they just keep messing up that pronoun, for example, that's when I'll pull in some visuals. I have a sentence pack that I really like that helps me. I have visuals for all of the different components in the sentence, like I have visuals for the pronouns and past tense verbs and all of that.

And so I will use that and I will point to the visuals as I'm producing the sentence. And sometimes if we need to break it down a little bit, I might just have them say the pronoun and we can ... It's kind of, I don't know. This isn't based on a specific research study, but it's like backward chaining in a way like we would do with speech. We might have them say, like, "Her bag," and then it's like, "Her bag. Her bag," and then, "This is her bag" or whatever. We can expand on the sentence and start with a small chunk of the visuals and then expand it until they can say the whole sentence. That's one option. Number one on the menu is modeling combined with production.

Number two is imitating contrasting sentences. This is when the time imitates both the target and a contrasting form that is semantically and/or grammatically related to the target. And I'll repeat that one time and then I'll give some examples because I know that the syntax there's a little confusing too. The child imitates both the target and a contrasting form that is semantically and/or grammatically related to the target. This is what we do when we're imitating contrasting sentences.

For pronouns, this can be very simple. We can do, "The boy is walking," and contrast that with, "He is walking" because it's grammatically, or it's like the boy is the same as he essentially but by contrasting that, they can see that he can replace the boy. For past tense verbs, I like to have photos that show the present progressive and then what it looked like, then what happened in the past because I do think it's helpful to have visuals here. We could do, "He is eating," and, "He ate." We'll talk about those pictures, and, "He is eating. He ate."

And then the same thing for the pronouns, we could have a picture of a girl walking and a boy walking, and then, "She is walking. He is walking," and we can contrast them that way. The same way for auxiliary verbs, we can say, "He will eat." We can have a picture of a boy who's about to eat, like say, "He ate," or, "He is eating," and we can contrast whichever targets we want. We could even double whammy if it makes sense for if one student is working on one target and another student is working on another target, if the combination makes sense. We can work on both at the same time, which is pretty cool.

The Connell 1982 article includes a step-by-step training procedure. If you're wanting to implement this, this article is amazing. And so this was super interesting and I really ... This procedure, it can be a little bit overwhelming to start approaching but I think once you have that step-by-step training procedure, and once you have a couple ideas for different visuals to use, then you're pretty good to go. It's just a matter of following that and it becomes really automatic over time.

And one thing that was super interesting, Connell 1982 and Connell 1986, their studies found that just having students imitate production actually doesn't help generalization, but contrast of imitation does. That was interesting because I talked about when we were doing the modeling combined with production, that students are able to produce more untrained exemplars when they do have the opportunity to imitate, but if we're looking towards generalization, we might want to skip or we want to include that imitating contrasting sentence piece because they're still imitating, but they're imitating that contrast, which apparently helps with generalization. So that's super interesting.

Some students might not be ready to imitate those contrasting sentences right away and so I think there's definitely a time in the place for the model and the imitation, and then we can build on to imitating those contrasting sentences. Lots of tools in our tool belt here. I have a video example that walks through a demo of this. I'll play that at the end of the live course or you can attend to to check that out.

And then it's super interesting too in terms of the timing. This came from the Eisenberg 2007 article, that, "The most effective timing of the imitation drill is immediately prior to an activity that involves contextual use of the same structure." This is jumping ahead a little bit to the next step, but if we can do that imitation drill prior to the embedded practice, we're like kind of priming the pump a little bit more. We've done that modeling and recasting and they're imitating the sentences. And so that progression, I think really leads them to being able to participate in those embedded activities with success. I think that's a nice flow to think about.

And then the third strategy is combining sentences. The Strong 1986 article gives a nice overview of how we can do this, but what it is, is that we provide students with two or more sentences and prompt them to create a single longer sentence. There's two types: there's cued and open combining. So with cued combining, we underline the components to be combined and we give the student a conjunction. And I will put an example of this in the show notes, but definitely check out the Strong 1986 article if you want a lot of examples. I just don't think it will make sense if I read it out, it'll be painful for our ears.

And then with open combining, this is when we don't give specific instructions. We just give the student two or more sentences and allow them to creatively combine them. We can say, "I like to eat cereal. I watch TV. Combine those sentences for me." And you can do this with their writing. You can do this with anything that you're reading. Like if you're reading an article and like, "Oh, here's two sentences, can you put them together?" And so like for the, "I like to eat cereal, I watch TV," example, we can say, "I like to eat cereal while I watch TV." Or, "I like to eat cereal before I watch TV." And they get to choose the conjunction and they get to determine the meaning based on that.

That is super interesting and like I said, check out the Strong article for a look at how that works. And then I have a bonus one here. Sentence expansion. We can also prompt our students to expand sentences and there's more information about this approach in the Gould 2011 citation, so G-O-U-L-D. And this is when the student gives or the therapist gives the student a simple sentence to start, and has the student build the sentence by increasing the length and complexity.

This could be a good one if we're working on different clauses, and just expanding MLU. If we started with a sentence, "I saw a monkey." We could expand that into, "I saw silly monkey eating bananas at the zoo." And you can just keep going, and going, and going and work on different clauses and different sentence structures. That's another good tool to stick away in the toolbox.

I have a lot of different ideas on how to keep things fun and engaging within the context of this, especially when it comes to imitating contrasting sentences and the recasts and imitation. I have a blog post that I will also link to in the show notes that has different ideas and some different pictures and links to activities that I like to use. And when I'm doing the drill, I do like to use repetitive activities that, and I can select a couple of targets and just really work through them.

One of my favorites is an app called Cookie Doodle, and so it lets you bake a cookie and you get to ... You put the ingredients in the bowl. This is great if you're working on pronouns and verbs. I think those are my favorite targets for that one, but you can get creative depending on ... I'm sure you could target more. You could do clauses and stuff with that game too, but you put the ingredients in the bowl, you mix it, you decorate the cookie. There's so much repetition there and the kids are really excited and motivated to do the next steps, and so that is a really fun activity.

And then I also have my favorite ... I don't use a ton of games in therapy, but I will pull them out if we're doing this kind of drill-based practice. And so, Pop the Pirate is one that I really like. There's a barbecue game that I like and so check out the blog post for some specific links if you're looking for ideas to make this a little more fun and we'll definitely share some more ideas for this next week and the week after.

Another fun way to work on these skills is using YouTube videos. I really love the Pixar Shorts. They don't have words and are ... I don't know, sometimes I just turn off the volume. I don't even know if they have narration to it. I don't think they do, but we usually just listen to it or watch it without the sound. Then we can do more talking and we're more motivated to make our own sentences, and so we can make compound sentences, for example, or we can practice our pronouns and our past tense verbs and all of the different things based on what's happening.

And then that's a beautiful movement if we're working on those contrast of sentences like, "He is going to fly. He flew." And so we get to see that movement instead of using concrete pictures, and we can pause it to show he is going to and after he's done flying, but that's super fun and engaging for students, and it's just a way to switch that.

Step five is embedded practice. And another quote from Eisenberg, this one's 2014, "Different activity types might best be used in a complementary way within our therapy sessions, using high-structure drills to highlight and prime linguistic features and then immediately incorporating those features into embedded activities." This is what I've been talking about all along, but Eisenberg, she said it perfectly. We're using this drill to highlight and prime those features and then we're moving into embedded as quickly as possible.

And so we will talk a lot more about specific strategies on how to make this work within your literacy-based therapy unit or whatever type of therapy you're using, but we can manipulate the context to get the most out of it. And I love using picture books, reading passages, books that's students' generated. I think those are incredibly helpful and just meaningful. They give us lots of opportunities, but like I said, we'll dive into that a lot more next week and then we get to put it all together.

As I talked about throughout the presentation, these steps aren't linear. Like we might start with some modeling and recasting, and then we might have the students imitate. And maybe they're really struggling with that, maybe we'll pull out some visuals, maybe we'll go back to just modeling, maybe we will quickly jump. They're rocking it, we're going to jump to that structured practice, and they're rocking that. But then we go to embedded practice and then we need to go back to the more structured.

We move back and forth. It's very dynamic, but we do want to remember that we don't want students to imitate sentences until they've heard several examples. And then Eisenhower also recommends doing the quick drill before you jump into that embedded practice. We're going to wrap it up here just in the interest of time, definitely head to If you want to see the videos and if you're here live, we'll switch to doing those videos right now. Thank you, guys, so much for tuning in, and we'll see you next time.



Hi there! I'm Marisha. I am a school-based SLP who is all about working smarter, not harder. I created the SLP Now Membership and love sharing tips and tricks to help you save time so you can focus on what matters most--your students AND yourself.

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  1. If you guys ever move to selling prepped materials, I would 100% pay like $50 not to have to prep that sentence pack myself. To get sturdy lamination and binding, I would totally buy that from you! It has been on my to do list. For 2 years. Thanks for listening!

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