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Speech and Language in the Classroom

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Friday, 27 June 2014

Miss, what does that word mean?

My colleague often recalls this anecdote she heard from a teacher… A teacher is teaching her class about Henry 8th. She introduces the well-known rhyme…

Teacher: Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.

Child 1: Miss, what does ‘divorced’ mean?

Teacher: Good question, ‘divorced’ is when two people who are married end their marriage, they get a divorce, they are ‘divorced’.

Child 2: Miss, what does ‘married’ mean?

This story highlights to us the importance of checking understanding of vocabulary as we go along. There are words which we just expect children in our class to have picked up, and understand. Therefore when teaching new words, they can build upon their understanding and word knowledge. But what if the foundations aren’t there? In this case, the word ‘married’ isn’t understood, therefore the new word ‘divorced’ has nothing to ‘attach’ itself to.

We have talked about vocabulary skills in a previous post (read it here). When catching up on the TES this week, I came across a lovely article in which a HLTA presented her unique way of introducing new vocabulary. I wanted to share this idea here, plus give you a few other ideas for developing secure vocabulary in the classroom.

Word detectives

Pupils arrive in class to find official badges and clipboards, they are to be ‘word scene investigators’. They form teams and each team is given a set of words (unfamiliar to the class). The pupils were then given clues! Clue 1 asked the teams to use their phonic knowledge to sound out the word. Clue 2 provided information about prefixes and suffixes to help in their investigation. Clue 3 was a picture or image representing each word. Finally clue 4, the word was given in a sentence. The teams evaluated their ‘evidence’ to work out the meaning of the new words. The HLTA reports that the pupils were amazed how close they came to the words true meanings on their own, without rushing to the dictionary! This is a perfect example of introducing strategies for word learning, and the best part is it’s fun! Thank you Abigail for sharing your fantastic idea! TES, 6 June 2014, pp42-43 (Article by Abigail Joachim, HLTA, Suffolk).

Word Interviews

In teams of 2-4 pupils, ask one pupil to become the word, and the rest of the team ask the ‘word’ questions. You could provide some examples to cover all areas, for example “What do you look like?” “What do you sound like?” “What category do you go in?” “What do you go with?” “Where would I find you?” You could make up a pack of question cards for the pupils to take turns asking questions to the ‘word’. As a consolidation exercise, ask one team to perform their interview in front of the class. Don’t tell the class the word, let them try to guess from the answers given by the ‘word’. In this task, pupils are learning about the characteristics of words, and rehearsing word learning strategies to use in other lessons.

(It’s also a nice ‘talk’ activity, as teams can discuss the questions and answers, agree and disagree with each other, and explain their reasoning – if you have ever played ‘headbanz’ or ’20 questions’ you will know what I mean! There are always ‘discussions’ about people’s answers!! E.g. Am I a comedian? No you are not. Yes he is! No he’s an actor, he was an actor first, then he became a comedian!)

Odd one out

Give the pupils sets of words, and ask them to find the odd one out. For example, book, newspaper, phone, magazine. Ask them to explain why it’s the odd one out, how it is different. Talk about similarities and differences between the words, and put the words into categories. For example, book, newspaper & magazine are all made of paper and have words. Phone is similar because it can have words (in text messages or emails) but it is not made of paper. You could list the words in groups of four, or write the words on cards. Being aware of and discussing similarities and differences in words helps us to learn new words, it strengthens the memory of the word and allows us to recall it more readily when we need it (either when listening or reading, or when we are talking or writing).

You will know which words are new to the pupils in your class that will need explaining and rehearsing. However be aware that it is often words which we think are familiar to everyone, those everyday words that we take for granted, that some children will not be familiar with causing holes in their learning.

Sarah Wall, Speech & Language Therapist @ Speech Link

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Friday, 20 June 2014

Elephant in the room!

Here at Speech Link we have been busy writing articles for the next issue of our magazine which will come out in September/October (hence the lack of blogpost last week!)

Today I wanted to write a bit about idioms, phrases that we use in our daily language so much that we might not even realise we are using them! Yet they can easily confuse pupils, and it’s not hard to see why!

Many children, especially those with language difficulties, such as difficulty understanding key language concepts, multiple meaning words, or social use of language, will struggle to follow what we mean when we use idioms.

What is an idiom?

“An idiom is a combination of words that have a figurative meaning owing to its common usage. An idiom's figurative meaning is separate from the literal meaning.” (Wikipedia) Idioms are also referred to as ‘figurative language’.


Two heads are better than one -- Zip your lip -- All ears -- Couch potato -- Sleep like a log -- A little bird told me -- Wake up and smell the coffee -- A close call -- Spill the beans

What idioms do you find yourself using a lot?

Tips for the classroom

> Be aware – we can use many idioms without even realising! For example, throw it in the corner, off you go, grab a chair, up the wall, keeping an eye on you, give me a hand….. we just know what we mean!

> Explain as you go along

> Pupils may need extra help to work them out, we mustn’t assume they have been grasped through hearing them alone

> Discuss times when idioms might be used, and how they can be used

Using a resource like the one in Junior Language Link, you can talk around the phrase, looking at all the possible meanings, and help the pupil decide the true meaning.

Here’s some idioms related to the human body! (found on pinterest, but ref at bottom of pic)

Youtube is a great source of funny videos for introducing and discussing idioms in the classroom!

Sarah Wall, Speech & Language Therapist @ Speech Link

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Friday, 6 June 2014

Speech & language cupcake!

Here’s a metaphor that’s used a lot by us in speech and language therapy…. A yummy cupcake! This cupcake shows us the steps which make up language development. A child needs all these in place to become a successful communicator.

Once all of these stages are in place a child has all the necessary skills for effective communication. Speech is the icing on the cake. It's the natural medium for expressing language… but once a child has mastered these skills there's another huge language development step that they have to take. They have to put the cherry on the top! What is that cherry?… that next huge language development step?

Literacy. Speech is the natural medium that we use to express the language that we have. Writing is an invented medium through which to express that language. In order to be able to read a child has to be able to make the connection between language and a series of squiggles and marks on a page, and to write they have to form their ideas and then represent them as marks on a page. It’s just another way to represent language.

If a child is having difficulty with language in the natural verbal medium they will not be equipped to take that next huge step in their language development into literacy.

More importantly if their speech and language skills are not GOOD ENOUGH, they will not achieve GOOD ENOUGH levels of literacy. This is something we stress time and time again to schools, teachers, teaching assistants, anyone working with children who are learning to read and write. Without these key skills in place, a child is going to struggle with literacy learning, highlighting the importance of making sure children have all the ingredients in their cupcake early on.

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