Tag Archives: vocabulary

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!

My favourite therapy prop: a 20 year old toy dog

dressing up dog

Last week was Speech Pathology Australia Week & talk on twitter turned to favourite toys for therapy. I love toys that can be used to work on several different targets. Meet Dog, he’s one of my favourites because he’s so versatile, and the children love him! Wikipedia tells me that Pound Puppies were sold in the 1980s, I think I was given mine for Chanukah when I was 8 or 9 years old. Who knew he’d be starring in therapy sessions more than 20 years later!

I’ve recently been dressing up Dog to work on the verb: wearing. Here’s what a therapy session might look like.

When I teach a new word, I begin by modelling it a lot in different contexts. The child and I take turns choosing items for Dog to wear, and I comment: “wow, Dog is wearing glasses. I’m wearing glasses and Dog is wearing glasses.”

Accessorising ourselves

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Then we start putting on funny accessories ourselves and I keep modelling the target word: “You’re wearing goggles, you’re ready for a swim.” “I’m wearing a monkey hat, it’s warm!” Children learn by doing; in this activity they’re wearing different things, while I model the word. It’s also fun to take photos of the child wearing different accessories, and talk about what they’re wearing in each photo.

Dressing paper dolls

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Next we try a paper based activity, like this doll game. We dress the dolls (while I keep modelling the target word) and then I’ll try to cue the child in to using the word himself. I’ll say something like: “My doll is wearing a yellow dress and boots, your doll is…?”

There’s an app for that

DSC_9972I found this free iPad app, which is good to end on. The child selects clothes and shoes for the doll – it’s another fun opportunity for more modelling and perhaps the child will be ready to use the word himself.

Tip: children want to keep trying different clothes on the doll. So when it’s time to talk about what she is wearing, I take a photo of the outfit and switch to the photo app. Then the child can’t change the clothes anymore and can focus on describing what she’s wearing!

Practise at home

I give the parents the paper dolls to take home, encourage them to practise the other activities as well, and remind them to talk about what they’re wearing throughout the day.

If your child is struggling to learn new words and you’d like an assessment or advice, get in touch.