Tag Archives: Stephen Parsons

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


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!

Therapy Ideas Live: “Enlighten us, but make it quick!”

Although there’s plenty of formal education for Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs), we need more opportunities to share ideas, learn from each other, and develop our skills in an informal environment. I had a blast at Ignite London last year, and it inspired me to organise a similar event for SLTs. Meet Therapy Ideas Live.

With some friends and colleagues I’m trying something new: an evening of informal and informative lightning-style talks presented by ten SLTs from a range of backgrounds. Broaden your perspective, learn from others, share your own experiences, and socialise over a glass of wine—it’s a more inspiring version of CPD!

The first Therapy Ideas Live is happening on the evening of 5th July 2011, hosted at the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists in London. Ten amazing speakers–including Gina Davies, Marie Gascoigne, and Stephen Parsons–will each present for 5 minutes, with slides that advance automatically. Find out more on the event page.

Amazingly, all 50 free tickets for this event sold out within 24 hours, and we closed the waiting list when 50 more people had signed up. Thanks for your support! We plan to film the presentations and share them on this website.

We’re also planning another event at City University in the autumn. Register your interest and be the first to hear when tickets are released. And if you fancy sharing your experience, perspective, case study, or challenge, send us your talk idea using this form. You don’t need experience of public speaking: anyone can give a lightning talk (read this post for some handy tips), and we’ll give you plenty of help.

You can follow the event live on twitter, using the hashtag #therapyideas.

See you there!

Bercow Review: children’s centres, training and money

I have a great way of keeping up to date with SLT issues in the media: my Grandma calls me whenever she spots relevant stories in the newspaper! She pointed out the article in the Independent which features an interview with John Bercow (an MP), and quotes Beth Junor and Stephen Parsons — both friends from Hackney.

The article prompted me to read the executive summary of The Bercow Report: Services for Children and Young People with Speech, Language and Communication Needs, and the government’s response. Lots of the recommendations in the report seem sensible; a few particularly jumped out at me.

I’m encouraged that some of the recommendations are already common practice; in some areas where Children’s Centres have successfully been implemented, I’ve observed that speech, language and communication is being made a priority (recommendation 11).

Having come across teachers who anxiously refer children with lisps to me, but seem unaware of the those with severe language delay, I think developing teachers’ understanding of speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) is vital (recommendations 21 and 22). Training teachers will aid early identification and allow SLTs to use their time more effectively.

Recommendation 14 talks about issuing guidance to schools on the use of funding, in order to meet the needs of all children with SLCN. I’ve often suggested to schools that pupils would benefit from various inexpensive resources, only to be told, “there is no budget left this year, talk to me again next year!” So a reminder of the requirement to meet all children’s needs may mean that staff on the ground, working with the children on the SLT caseload, have adequate resources.

In their response to the report, the government announced a £40 million programme called “Every Child A Talker.” The programme is supposed to ensure that early years staff can support children’s speaking and listening. It sounds great; I’ve seen how effective joint working with early years staff can be. Bring on the £40 million!

The Bercow Review has got speech and language into the news this week: for example, this article from the BBC. Just raising awareness is helpful. I’ve only read the summary, but how exciting that the Government might have too! Anyone delved into the actual report? Which recommendations do you think the Government will actually implement? It would be interesting to hear what other people make of it.