#130: Strategies You Can Use: Vocabulary

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This Week’s Episode: Evidence-based Strategies for Vocabulary Goals

We are continuing with our new podcast series, Strategies You Can Use! I’ve been sharing different evidence-based strategies to help target specific skills.

Today I’ll discuss different strategies on how to target vocabulary goals!

Let’s dive into the strategies we can use to target vocabulary growth.

3 Strategies to Target Vocabulary Goals (growth)

Hadley, E. B., Dickinson, D. K., Hirsch-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2018). Building semantic networks: The impact of a vocabulary intervention on preschoolers’ depth of word knowledge. Reading Research Quarterly. 

This study used shared book reading and guided play methods to teach words in conceptually linked categories (taxonomy or themes)

🍎 8 days of intervention
📚 10 minutes of reading
▶️ 10 minutes of book-related, adult-guided play

1. Multiple exposures to words.

Teach words in multiple activities.
✓ shared book reading
✓ play-based activities

2. Explicit instruction about the meaning of words.

✓ Ask the student to repeat words
✓Give a definition of the word and ask the student to provide the word

3. Relating words in a taxonomy.

Children showed more growth when taught taxonomies vs. themes

✓ Taxonomy names
✓ Taxonomy memberships

Pinkham, Kaefer, and Neuman (2014) compared two conditions: (1) children who heard target words as part of a researcher-created storybook in which the text provides support for the words’ taxonomic category (e.g., “a faroe [type of bird] lays eggs because it is a bird”; p. 3) and (2) children who heard the same target words as part of a traditional, researcher-created storybook  in which the text introduces target words as part of a thematic grouping (e.g., “a faroe has a sofa and lives in a house”; p. 4). Children in the taxonomic storybook condition knew significantly more words at posttest than those in the traditional storybook condition.

“The preschoolers in this study showed large gains in word knowledge from relatively short daily periods of instruction.”

Need Vocabulary goal ideas?

🎯  Check out SLP Now Goal-bank for some inspiration

Additional Links

SLP Now Planting a Rainbow therapy materials are included int he SLP Now Membership

Hadley, E. B., Dickinson, D. K., Hirsch-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2018). Building semantic networks: The impact of a vocabulary intervention on preschoolers’ depth of word knowledge. Reading Research Quarterly.

Pinkham, Kaefer, and Neuman (2014)

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Next Up in this Pod Series

7/5/22 Strategies You Can Use: Following Directions
7/12/22 Strategies You Can Use: Grammar
7/19/22 Strategies You Can Use: Syntax
8/2/22 Strategies You Can Use: Basic Concepts
8/9/22 Strategies You Can Use: Basic Concepts
8/16/22 Strategies You Can Use: Affixes
8/23/22 Strategies You Can Use: Narratives
8/30/22 Strategies You Can Use: Summarizing

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Marisha Mets: Hello there and welcome to The SLP Now Podcast, where we share practical therapy tips and ideas for busy speech language pathologists, grab your favorite beverage and sit back as we dive into this week's episode. Hey, there it's Marisha and welcome to The SLP Now Podcast. This summer, we are doing a series called strategies you can use, and we picked different goal areas and we're going to do a blitz of three evidence back strategies that you can use when targeting those specific skills. So these are mostly strategies that have come from the literature, and we're just pulling out the ones that are most practical that might help you if you're feeling stuck or just wanting to try some new strategies when targeting some of our most common goals. So without further ado, let's dive right in

Marisha Mets: This week, we are diving into strategies for vocabulary growth. As always, I have three strategies for you. And this episode is inspired by an article by Hadley Hall. It was published in 2018, and it's all about building semantic networks. This article has lots of gems and resources in it. So if you want to check it out, I will include the citation as well as a link in the show notes. And you can access those at slpnow.com/130. So slpnow.com/130. So the reason that I picked this article, because like I said, it's got some gems in it, but it includes an intervention that we could absolutely implement in the schools. And it gives us a lot of really great inspiration and tips and activity ideas that we can use to structure our own therapy. So it's a good one, but what they did in this article was they structured a vocabulary intervention and it was used with preschoolers, but I think we can apply it especially to early elementary students and maybe even beyond that, but what they did was they used shared book reading and guided play methods to teach words in conceptually linked categories.

Marisha Mets: So they looked at taxonomies,, as well as themes. And the cool thing is they did eight days of intervention. They provided 10 minutes of reading in each session, as well as 10 minutes of book-related adult guided play. So 20 minutes for eight days, each was pretty doable and pretty replicable in the school setting. So that's exciting. So, like I said, I have three strategies that I pulled from this article and the first two are strategies that I've seen across a lot of vocabulary research. So these can definitely be applied across the age ranges and all of that, and just include good general strategies. And then the third one is one that is a little bit newer to me, and that I'm personally experimenting with a little bit more. So I'm excited to dive into that too. But the first strategy is to provide multiple exposures to words.

Marisha Mets: So pretty much any presentation that you attend on vocabulary will probably share research about how many exposures it takes for different students to learn a word. And these numbers are all over the board. It depends on a number of factors, but the common theme is that it takes a lot more exposures than we might think or than we might guess. And that is one of the key components that we want to think about when we are doing vocabulary intervention. So we might be doing thematic units where we teach vocabulary using a book. If we read the book and wrap it up in one session and give the students maybe two exposures to the five words that we selected, like that's not enough for them to learn that word. And I like that the authors of this article gave an example. So they used two books across the intervention and they detailed exactly how they gave multiple exposures and what that looked like.

Marisha Mets: They gave tons of suggestions and ideas. I won't go into all of the details here, but really cool stuff in that article. But they had multiple sessions using the same book. And I think it was helpful that they alternated between the book reading and then the related play for the book. So one of the books was about flowers and it was called Planting A Rainbow by Lois Alert. And they had play-based activities where the students got to pretend to plant flowers. And I love it too, because they had a little bit of sabotage in the play to add some drama to it. So a storm came in and blew out all the seeds or whatever kind of drama we can include in that. So I really like that. Because you might be thinking we can't use the same book for four sessions they'll get bored.

Marisha Mets: But it seems like they kept up the pace by alternating the activities, which is really cool. So the second tip is to provide explicit instruction about the meaning of words. I really like how the article describes how they did this. So they picked a book and they picked eight words for each book. So they strategically were like, okay, we're going to target these eight words very strategically. So for example, for the flower book, they selected the taxonomy name or the category. So for the flower book, that would be flowers. And then they selected five words for taxonomy members. And don't worry, we're going to talk about theme versus taxonomy and all of this stuff in the next section. But just to summarize the first, they selected the taxonomy name flowers, then five words for taxonomy membership. So the names of all the different flowers like Tiger Lily, and then they also selected two theme words that were thematically, but not taxonomically related.

Marisha Mets: So they had five different types of flowers, so those are all in the taxonomy and then the thematically related, but not taxonomy related words were like peddles. So peddles are related to the theme of flowers, but they're not part of the flower taxonomy. And then they had two of those and then they also selected general... So they had a flower unit and a vegetable unit and there were five additional words that they targeted across both books so that students could compare and contrast and like start to build that relationship because flowers and vegetables, which was the other theme are both related, but the larger taxonomy for flowers and vegetables is living things. And under that related vocabulary was like roots and stems and seeds. So those words were related to both taxonomies or like both books. And so they included five additional words there.

Marisha Mets: I just thought that was interesting. Like I'm working on analyzing my books to decide which words I want to target and thinking about all of that. But in terms of how they provided definitions, there were a number of ways that they did that. So they pointed to pictures in the book. So identifying the different flowers, like, oh, here's the Tiger Lily and pointing out the different examples. Here's a Tiger Lily in a vase. Here's a Tiger Lily growing in the ground. They also provided definition information, which is what we're talking about now in terms of the explicit instruction. So they talked about taxonomy membership. So a Tiger Lily is a flower or taxonomy non-membership. So a Tiger Lily is not a vegetable or we don't eat Tiger Lily's so they're not a food or they're not a vegetable. And then another example could be how the word relates to the larger themes.

Marisha Mets: So we can talk about something about related to flowers. The example that they give for radishes was that some vegetables grow on vines. So just giving additional information and then also talking about the perceptual features. So like this flower is yellow on the inside and white on the outside. And then another thing could be to give conceptual information, talking about how the seeds grow into a flower. And then another example is object function. So what we use flowers for? We can get flowers as a gift, we can smell flowers, that's what they did. And then in terms of that instruction, they also encouraged children to repeat the word, to reinforce the phonological representation. So we can do that by saying, can you say Tiger Lily? And then in later readings, they were given a definition. So like what's the vegetable that grows underground and is right on the outside and white on the inside?

Marisha Mets: And so then they should be able to say radish. So they had different types of activities to make sure that the students were practicing and engaged with the words and building that phonological representation. And then in the play activity, they strategically use the words throughout the activity. And so that's another way to, again, going back to 0.1, providing multiple exposures, but then they also embedded some of that explicit instruction within the play activity as well. So the third tip, which is a little bit newer for me is relating words in a taxonomy. Most books are structured to talk about themes. That's how we plan our instruction. We work around a theme and our books are very theme-based and the authors don't advocate for completely getting rid of that theme based approach. I think it's still very relevant and helpful in a way to build that vocabulary, but they also encourage us to consider relating words in a taxonomy as we're teaching too.

Marisha Mets: So with the example of flowers, they taught flower as the main taxonomy and then all the five different types of flowers as that taxonomy membership. And so it's basically working in categories and a more colloquial way to say it. And considering with the next book that you read, if you want to implement this as a strategy, you can still teach the theme based words. Like if you're reading a book about spring, you can talk about like the rain and the umbrella and all of that, but maybe pick one category to focus on. So if we're doing spring, there's a lot of clothing changes that happen there. So maybe our taxonomy could be clothing and we could talk about the coat and pants and shirt and all of those different taxonomy members that belong to clothing. So just strategically selecting our words.

Marisha Mets: The reason we want to do this is that students learned both types of words, but they just had more depth of understanding and just made larger growth with the taxonomy-related words versus the theme-based words. So it can just be a strategy that we use to help students really deepen their knowledge of vocabulary and to help them acquire more of those words. So those are the main takeaways here, but using these strategies showed large gains in word knowledge from pretty short periods of instruction. So these strategies can be very helpful and there's lots of little things that we can incorporate. So you don't have to revamp your whole instruction and throw away everything that you've been using. If you're looking to step things up, some things that we can do. So just to recap, so one, we talked about multiple exposures to words.

Marisha Mets: So maybe pick the six words that you want to target throughout the book unit, use a book over multiple sessions as something you could do, and then brainstorm some ways like, okay, what's the taxonomy? What are some perceptual features I can highlight? Challenge yourself to give as many exposures to that word as possible. So that is number one. So number two is that explicit instruction, which links really nicely with step one is just giving that explicit instruction, including some of those questions. So in the first and second reading, we can ask the student to repeat the word, and then in later readings, like in the article they did this in readings three and four, you can give a definition of the word and then ask the student to provide the word and that just helps to build that chronological representation and also build that vocabulary knowledge.

Marisha Mets: Then the third tip was relating words in a taxonomy. So identifying a category, whether it's vegetable, bird, fruit, flower, clothing, whatever the category is, we can identify that and some taxonomy members and address those words throughout the reading. We can still throw in our theme-based words, that's still beneficial. But yeah, so those are the main takeaways and some quick strategies that you can incorporate in your session. I'd love to hear how this goes for you. We do some recap posts and stuff on Instagram. So if you want to check that out and then just share what you've tried or how it's going, we'd love to hear from you. Next week we're diving into some more advanced vocabulary strategies all about ethics which I absolutely love. And we're going to nerd out about this. We'll see you next week. Have a good one. Thanks for listening to The SLP Now Podcast, if you enjoyed this episode, please share with your SLP friends and don't forget to subscribe to the podcast to get the latest episode sent directly to you. 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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