Words, words, words…


In a previous post, we talked about layers of vocabulary including core vocabulary and tier 2 terms.

From linguistic concepts or the ability to describe to using context clues and affixes to determine the meaning of unknown words, vocabulary skills are overwhelmingly evident in preschool early learning standards and common core state standards. This is just one of the foundational language areas that is addressed in our book IEP Goal Writing for SLPs: Utilizing State Standards.

And we know that vocabulary skills are commonly addressed by SLPs for students with language disorders.


What is vitally important is that we, as SLPs, approach vocabulary instruction differently than that of a classroom teacher. The students on our caseloads who are struggling with vocabulary as part of their language disorder are already at a disadvantage – their foundation of semantics is lacking which makes it even more difficult to learn terms at the pace of classroom instruction. And they don’t pick up new words on their own through reading, instruction, or conversation. Their vocabulary deficits on top of additional language deficits and other co-morbid conditions also impact their background knowledge – which is correlated with vocabulary.

We talked in a previous post about Tier 3 words – those words that are content- and discipline-specific – and how that may not be the best place to focus our efforts. Does drilling students on definitions of words they need to know for a social studies unit separate you from a teacher or tutor?

What about teaching specific linguistic concepts?

How do you differentiate yourself from the teacher in the way you approach context clues, root words and affixes?

To better justify the SLP’s role in vocabulary instruction, maybe we should talk a little about the prerequisite skills for mastering the vocabulary skills required to access state and curriculum standards. All standards have prerequisite skills; all skills have prerequisite skills; all language skills have prerequisite skills.

Think about a typically-developing baby’s first 12-18 months and the vocabulary skills they develop. They typically identify and label nouns, then verbs, with a pronoun or two stuck in there (mine, mine, mine!). They start picking up on adjectives (colors, sizes, shapes) and adverbs. They continue to grow from there and expand their semantic skills – there is definitely overlap but there is a general developmental hierarchy.

We learn to match and sort before we develop specific spatial or temporal concepts. You need to have knowledge of quantitative and qualitative concepts before you can use comparatives and superlatives. All of these skills, as well as those adjectives and adverbs, help us categorize and describe leading us to the ability to compare and contrast. We increase our vocabulary of antonyms and synonyms, become more proficient in using context and word parts to learn new words and have a greater understanding that some words have multiple meanings.

Whew! That’s a lot of skills! That doesn’t even take into account the various levels and steps to master each of those prerequisite skills.

What do you consider your role in vocabulary as a school-based SLP?

Stay tuned for tips on goal-writing for a variety of these vocabulary skills.


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