One of the biggest challenges for speech language pathologists – especially for new graduates – is to figure out what goal areas to target, and what materials to use. After administering a standardized language test, there are definitely areas that you can see are weak, but it’s usually not practical to have ten or twelve different goals.
One area that I have found that seems to make a big difference in the long run is to target categories, especially for students with weak vocabulary or disorganized language processing skills.
My specific goals might include naming items in a given category, identifying one out of four items that doesn’t belong with the others, or naming the category when given three or four items that go together – all of these help build categorization skills.
But let’s take a step back for a moment – why is explicitly teaching categories so important and helpful?
In a recent article I read by Hadley, Dickinson, Hirsh-Pasek, & Golinkoff (2019), they talked about how to support vocabulary growth by focusing on vocabulary depth (how well a person understands words). To help increase the depth of one’s vocabulary, we need to focus on not only providing multiple exposures to new words and concepts, but also making multiple connections between already known words and concepts.
The authors found that relating words in a taxonomy (in categories) helped increase overall vocabulary depth more than just relating words thematically.
When I introduce categories for the first time, I try to start with things that are basic, visual, and very concrete. Typically, I focus on color, shape, and size. My favorite basic category sorting items* include:
- Attribute Apples by Learning Resources – sort by color (red/yellow/green) size (big/medium/small), stem/leaf
- Super Sorting Pie by Learning Resources – similar to the Attribute Apples, but adds more choices (5 colors instead of 3, 10 different fruits instead of just apples)
- Mini Fridge Sorting Snacks by Learning Resources – adds another layer of complexity with different types of foods
When my students have mastered the basics, I add in more complex categories. This might include location, parts, and functions.
- Surprise Party by Learning Resources – my younger students love these! They can match lids/boxes, and also start noticing more connections between the “gift” items inside the presents.
- Location visualization/mapping. This isn’t anything fancy, but I grab a piece of paper, and choose a location (for example, a kitchen, a classroom, a zoo, the beach, the park, etc.) that I know my student is familiar with. I roughly sketch it out, and have my student try to picture it in their head, and tell me things they might see in that location. If it fits, I go ahead and add it to the drawing, but if not, we discuss where it should go instead. I save the drawing, and in the next session, we do the same with a similar location (for example, a kitchen and a living room, or a zoo and the park). When we are finished with the second drawing, we compare to see if anything could go in both locations (for example, soap or a bench).
- Surprise Connections – this is a completely no prep “game” I play in therapy, where I pull two of any of my stimulus cards (often from one of my articulation decks, since I often have those close by), and try to find anything that is the same about them. Sometimes, it might be as broad as “We can find both of these on our planet,” but the more similarities we can find, the better! Sometimes I will keep track of “points” and see what our best connections are.
How do you target categories in your speech-language therapy sessions? What materials or activities do you like to use?
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