Category Archives: Reviews

Teaching Vocabulary in the Early Years: Word Aware 2 – Book Review

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Speechmark asked me if I’d like to have a look at the new Word Aware vocabulary resource, by Stephen Parsons and Anna Branagan. I was keen to check it out and said I’d write about it here, on the blog, if it was something I thought I’d use, and it is. So thanks Speechmark, for the complimentary copy.

The blurb on the back of the book says it’s: “a practical comprehensive resource designed to support…effective vocabulary development in pre-school children of all abilities.” The core audience is Early Years practioners, but it would also be useful for SLTs and parents. The approach is described clearly, with multiple examples and suggestions for how to implement it in the classroom. If a practioner was able to set aside the time needed to read the book, I think they’d be able to get started. However, if you wanted more support and ideas, Stephen and Anna regularly run workshops on how to set up and run the program.

This resource comes with access to a website, where you can print out supporting materials, which I much prefer to CD-ROMs.

An inclusive, whole class approach

The book starts with a detailed, interesting and clearly referenced introduction, which would be very useful for teaching staff and is a great refresher for SLTs. I like the fact that the approach is designed for the whole class, so it’s inclusive and that there is a strong emphasis on the importance of Adult Child Interaction. The reader is directed to Keena Cummins’ work for more information about this.  While reading the intro, I noted down the phrase: “enthralled rather than overwhelmed” (by new words) what a lovely reminder.

The book describes four strands to the teaching approach:

  • Make words count
  • Teach vocabulary
  • Fun with words
  • Word detective

Practioners are encouraged to provide an enriched word learning environment, teach vocabulary using the STAR method (see below), enjoy, celebrate and reinforce vocabulary, and finally teach children how to learn new words.

The STAR process teaches words in a structured and specific way, it is adapted from Blachowicz and Fisher, 2010. STAR stands for:

  • Select – the most useful vocabulary
  • Teach – the selected vocabulary in a meaningful way
  • Activate – the meaning by using the words in context
  • Review – the taught words to ensure they are retained.

The resource contains detailed directions with comprehensive examples for how to select vocabulary. In terms of how many words to teach, the authors suggest one topic word, one text based word (from a book), and one concept, per week. And just one word, per teaching session.

How do I teach a new word?

The book describes a teaching sequence, so adults can teach new words in the same (effective) way each time. The 6 step sequence includes selecting a picture or symbol to represent the word, and singing the Word Aware song!

To activate the word the child needs to hear it used in different ways, by different people, over a period of time. The book provides lots of suggestions for this stage, for example, treasure hunts are a great way to “activate” adjectives. Finally, we need to review words. This can be done with word bags, and there are several word bag activities described in the book.

Extra resources included in the book

The teaching concepts chapter includes plans for introducing and teaching over 80 concepts. These describe specific activities for each concept, and are a great time saver when planning.

The book also includes chapters about supporting children with higher needs, developing word learning strategies and involving families.

Ways of using the book

I plan to use the STAR process in my individual therapy sessions with children who are working on their vocabulary. I found the guidance about how to select target words, and the ideas for activating and reviewing them useful. I will share the practical activities with parents and teaching staff. I’ll definitely use the concept plans, I don’t think they’d need much adapting to use in a one to one session with a child. And I’ll also recommend this resource, and way of working, to Nursery and Reception class teachers.

This is quite a hefty book, there are 250 pages, and I think to get the most out of it, and the approach, people would need to set aside the time to read it through. Although you could skip over some of the concept plans, you’d still need 2 or 3 hours, if you’re new to the approach, as I was.

I’m excited to try these concrete ideas for teaching vocabulary, in my therapy sessions. Perhaps I can write a follow up blog post when I’ve had a go!

Hanen eSeminars: Choosing initial vocabulary targets and a competition for Autism Awareness month

"Cake"

I took my first Hanen eSeminar a couple of months ago, and I’ve been able to apply what I learnt, straight away. I think this is the first eSeminar or online training, that I’ve paid for. It was easy to log in and I could watch the 2 hour video whenever I wanted with 30 days of unlimited access. There was also a handout to download. Continue reading

The Hanen Preschool Language and Literacy Calendar

2016-calendar-cover

I’ve been meaning to write about the 2016 Hanen Preschool Language and Literacy Calendar for several months, but the days and weeks fly by in a blur and it’s almost the end of the year. If you want to help your child (clients or pupils) to develop creative solutions to problems but your days are already full, and it’s hard to find the time, this resource might help. Continue reading

Speech and Language Therapy and Professional Identity

Cover of J Stokes book

In the conclusion to their book, Jane Stokes and Marian McCormick wrote that they hope it makes you think “Hmmm…” – it certainly does.

As Jane and Marion designed the curriculum for a new postgraduate course in speech and language therapy they collected stories, and then wrote this book to add to the conversation about issues that underlie the SLT profession. The book has 10 chapters, 5 written by Jane and Marian, and 5 contributed by other people. It raises challenging questions and explicitly invites the reader to examine their professional beliefs. Continue reading

Little Bee Speech’s Articulation Test Center

Little Bee

The team at Little Bee Speech kindly gave me their new Articulation Test Center to try out and review. I haven’t used an app to assess a child before, so I was intrigued to see how it would go. 

I used the Test Center with a 4 and a half year old girl, who I know well. I watched the comprehensive video tutorial of how the app works before I began. Read this post on the Little Bee Speech Blog for a detailed description of how to use the app and all its features. Continue reading

I’m Ready – How to Prepare Your Child for Reading Success

I'm ready photo

The folks at The Hanen Centre kindly sent me a copy of I’m Ready – How to Prepare Your Child for Reading Success and asked me what I thought. Here in the UK advice about how to support literacy skills seems to change frequently, so I was interested to see what Janice Greenberg and Elaine Weitzman suggest.

The book has 6 chapters: Early Literacy, Conversation, Vocabulary, Story Comprehension, Print Knowledge and Sound Awareness. It’s visually appealing; the text is broken up by photographs and drawings. I read it over several days and found it easy to pick up where I’d left off. There’s a comprehensive list of recommended children’s books, coded in terms of how they can be used to support literacy. I think the ‘Try it out!’ checklists and reflection questions look useful. Continue reading

Online Picture Resources for making Therapy Visual

Making a Visual TimetableWhen I started my independent practice I needed the equipment to make visual resources (picture cards for speech sound work, verb pictures for posting and fishing, and colouring sheets to target comprehension.) I researched the symbol writing software I’d used in the NHS; I found it wouldn’t work on my Apple iMac and it cost £100. It was time to look at the alternatives. Continue reading

Teach Me With Pictures: pictures scripts for children on the Autism Spectrum

Teach Me With Pictures

A friend has published a practical resource for developing play and communication skills in children on the Autism Spectrum. Ruth Harris, along with two colleagues, has written Teach Me with Pictures. It’s a book of picture scripts that are ready to use – you can photocopy them or print them from a CD-ROM. Ruth has been working on the book for a while; she spoke about it at the initial Therapy Ideas Live event back in July 2011. Congratulations Ruth, Simone and Linda, it’s wonderful!

The book begins with an introductory chapter, explaining what picture scripts are, their benefits and how to use them. Continue reading

Speech and Language Therapy App Review: Colourful Semantics for iPad

I’ve been using my iPad in therapy for the last couple of years. I tend to use apps which aren’t specifically for speech and language therapy (like the fabulous ones from Toca Boca) as motivators and to work on language and social skills through play.

When the team at London Speech Therapy tweeted a request for bloggers to review their Colourful Semantics app I volunteered. I was given a complimentary copy of the app in order to review it.

The principle of Colourful Semantics appeals to me, as I’m a fan of clear structure, but the hundreds of small pieces of coloured paper always put me off! Watch Helen Blatchford explain how Colourful Semantics works.

This app removes the need for lots of printing, cutting and laminating, it’s all there ready to go. The app is loaded with a set of photos and the corresponding sentences. You can work at various levels: who, what doing, what, where and describe – which are all colour coded. When you start the game, a photo is presented and the child is asked a set of questions, for example: “who is in the picture?” The child responds by selecting the correct symbol from a choice of four and is given feedback as well as an opportunity to practise saying the sentence after the model.

What I like about the app

  • It can collect data about a child’s performance, the app tracks how a child is doing – what a time saver.
  • The app is visually motivating for children, and I think they’d find it fun and engaging.
  • There is a clear structure, so children would quickly learn what they’re expected to do.
  • The voice that says each sentence is a lovely clear British accent!
  • The app is customisable; you can turn the music off (I’m easily distracted,) turn the praise off (see my view on praise here) and mute the rather directive: “your turn to say it.”

Things I think could be improved

  • It seems to present the pictures in the same order each time you play, which becomes repetitive.
  • The app presents the whole sentence (the cat is eating food outside) when you’re on the simplest level and the child is practising ‘who’ – which is confusing.
  • It’s wonderful that you can add your own photos to the app, however the procedure is currently time consuming and some of the options (e.g. symbols) I required when I tried to add a picture of myself eating a bowl of soup weren’t available.

Mirla Gaz uses this helpful heuristic when reviewing apps:

“In order for me to recommend a therapy app, I need to feel that it can simplify the life of the therapist and will be a fun learning experience for children.”

This app will be a fun learning experience for children. When I compare this version of colourful semantics to the paper based one, it absolutely simplifies life for the SLT. However, in its current form, adding your own photos is not yet simple enough for me to justify the £27.99 price tag.