Language Therapy Semantics

Language Therapy Semantics: This webpage will outline, in detail, a typical language intervention session with a 10 year old child with language impairment. The selected language therapy target is semantic word knowledge.

The goal of the language therapy webpages is to demonstrate real, authentic language intervention and provide you with enough strategies and examples so that you can begin this type of therapy almost immediately.

The language intervention method chosen is based on communicative reading strategies (Norris,1991) as outlined and expanded in Kathryn DeKemel's book, Intervention in Language Arts

To read more information about this method please access the shared reading page and links, which will give a you a good grounding in the theory of communicative reading strategies.

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Let's begin...

Background Information: Daniel (name and situation changed) is a 10 year old boy who was referred by his class teacher for language assessment due to concerns that his oral and written language skills were well below average. His teacher reported that Daniel had difficulty understanding classroom based text, even though his decoding was adequate.

Daniel also had to have instructions repeated several times before he understood what he was required to do. His written language was made up of short sentences with poor grammar. Daniel's spelling was also below average.

Daniel's CELF-4 (Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals, 2006, Semel, Wiig, Secord) results indicated that he had considerable difficulty with the Formulated Sentences and Word Classes sub-tests. His scores for both sub-tests were in the moderately below average range. Daniel's results indicated that his semantic word knowledge (vocabulary knowledge) and syntactical awareness were well below average.

Semantic Word Knowledge Language Goals

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Objective: Daniel will identify, outline and use new, targeted vocabulary and semantic concepts, and will learn 10-15 new words and associated themes from target storybook.

Learning Approach: Communicative reading strategies and scaffolded language stimulation techniques.

Materials: Storybook, reference books (dictionary, thesaurus,) semantic maps and worksheets.

Rating System: Semantic Word Knowledge - Scoring Chart

Free Resource Download

Therapy Goals Worksheet
Right-click to download this PDF file here.

Book Selection

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A quick word about book selection. It's critical that the book chosen for therapy is at the right level of complexity for the student. If the book's too difficult the child will flounder; if it's too easy, the student will learn little.

The Fry readability graph is a useful tool for selecting books based on grade level. But the most important method is to have your student read to you from a chosen book and note the number of miscues, and question to determine if he/she has understood the story.

Selected Book

The Big Little Book of Happy Sadness, by Colin Thompson, 2008.

The Big Little Book of Happy Sadness Author/Illustrator: Colin Thompson Published: 23 March, 2008 Publisher: Random House ISBN 9781741662566

Fry Readability Graph rating: Year 5 level text.

A reading miscue analysis indicated that Daniel was able to read the text at an adequate level, but had difficulty with a number of words.

Subsequent questioning revealed that some of the themes and details of the story were a little difficult for Daniel to understand. For these reasons and others, including the suitability of the book's language, the story was selected as the primary language teaching tool.

Other Therapy Materials

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Dictionary and Thesaurus: New or difficult words and their meaning are looked up, by the student in the dictionary. Other related words (synonyms) are further explored in a thesaurus.

Encyclopedia: Some words or themes can be further explored in an encyclopedia, in this instance themes such as pet ownership.

Reference books about dogs.

Internet information: Excellent information about lost dogs on a lost dogs information website.

Graphic Organizers: key information expanding worksheets. The worksheets pictured here are all available as adobe downloads on this page.

The worksheets are designed to facilitate your students' ability to learn and remember new words and themes found in the story's text.

Shared Reading Techniques

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Below are adobe downloads that feature information about communicative reading strategies.

I have found the graphic organizers in particular to be a very important reference notes when sitting opposite a student. I still use them to orient me and to stay on target when performing language therapy.

Please download and read the following files. It's best to acquaint yourself with the techniques before reading the upcoming therapy session.

Free Resource Download

Shared Reading Technique 1
Right-click to download this PDF file here.

Shared Reading Technique 2
Right-click to download this PDF file here.

Recommended Sequence
Right-click to download this PDF file here.

Language Intervention Session

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For this particular language therapy session I decided to target a passage near the beginning of the book.

Daniel had difficulty decoding some of the words in this particular section. He revealed that he didn't understand what the words meant, though he had seen the words before in other texts. This was the second time we had read the story together.

The words that Daniel had difficulty with are in bold.

Passage from Text

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'The dog, like George, was scruffy and sad. Yet even at the end of the line, he was quietly dignified and seemed to accept his fate. Here was a dog George could really identify with.'

Excerpt from, The Little Big Book of Happy Sadness, 2008, by Colin Thompson.

As we can see from the excerpt there are 5 words to target for therapy from this passage. If Daniel can learn 3- 4 of these words today, plus some synonyms, then that would add up to a productive session.

Clinician:'Ok, some of those words were a bit tricky for you. Let's start with this word here.'

Small, Portable Whiteboard - A Great Tool

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The clinician writes the word onto a small, portable whiteboard. The word is 'scruffy.' Clinician: 'Try reading the word again Daniel.' Daniel has trouble and miscues the word as, 'scuffy.'

The clinician rubs the word 'scruffy' out and writes the first three letters of the word, each separated by a space. The goal here is for Daniel to recognise that the first three letters are all consonant sounds, are close together, and that he has missed the /r/ sound.

Clinician: 'We have three sounds here at the start of the word, sss c rrrr, ssscrrr. You try it Daniel.'

Daniel: 'ssscrrr, Scruffy!'

Clinician: 'Well done, you've got it. The word is 'scruffy.' What does it mean when the author says the dog is scruffy?'

Daniel: 'It means the dog's dirty and messy.'

Clinician: 'Yes, I agree.' Daniel has supplied the meaning of the word so we don't refer to the dictionary this time. It's important to keep the session moving.

Clinician: 'Daniel, let's look at this word. The word is 'dignified' 'It's a great word, and sums up Jeremy's character.' Daniel frowns, he doesn't know this word at all. The word is written onto the whiteboard and separated into syllables, dig/ni/fied.

Syllable Separation

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Separating a longer word into syllables is a great way of unlocking the code for words that are perceived by the student to be too difficult. When the word 'dignified' is separated, clearly, into 3 syllables, Daniel is able to break the word down and read it with minimal assistance from the clinician.

Clinician: 'Whoa, way to go Daniel. See, you can do it. Now, what does the word dignified mean?'

Daniel: 'I don't know.'

Clinician: Let's look 'dignified' up in the dictionary.'

Dictionary Guide

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Resource Download

Dictionary Alphabet Guide
Right-click to download this PDF file here.

Daniel has had minimal experience with a dictionary. The clinician guides Daniel and explains the alphabetical system and the use of guide words (at the top of each page)in the dictionary. With assistance from the clinician and the Dictionary Alphabet Guide Daniel is able to find the word 'dignified'.

The dictionary states, to have dignity. Daniel frowns. This brief definition doesn't help his understanding. Dignified is the adjectival form of the noun, dignity. Several words on in the dictionary we find the word dignity.

Daniel reads the section, again with guidance from the clinician. The dictionary states, dignity: 'proud and self-respecting character or manner.'

Clinician: 'The story says that Jeremy the dog was quietly dignified. So we could say that Jeremy has a quiet dignity. (Paraphrase) I think it means that even though Jeremy had come to this sad end he is still very proud and has a lot of self respect. (Extension)

Clinician: 'This may also explain why George likes Jeremy, even though he doesn't know the dog. He can see that Jeremy is brave and quiet. He likes that, because George is a bit that way himself I suppose.'

Daniel: 'I think that the dog is brave. He looks brave. He must hate being locked in there.'

Clinician: 'Daniel, have you ever been to a dog shelter, or a lost dog's home?'

Daniel: 'No, but my Dad has.'

Clinician: 'Well, first I'd like you to write down the definition for dignity on this sheet, then I'd like to show you some info I found about a dog shelter, in Melbourne. It's very interesting.' (Generalization Activity)

Generalization Activity - Lost Dog's Home

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A generalization activity links words and themes found in the text to real events, such as a student's own experiences, or, in this example, a real life story about a dog put up for adoption at a lost dog's home.

Lost Dog's Link

The clinician reads from a previously printed page from the lost dog's website, and links the story about Jeremy with the real life story of the stray dog, which has many similarities to Colin Thompson's book.

A generalization activity is an exercise that you can spend an entire session on, if you choose. But it's important to reflect - is the activity consistent with the original session goals?

The clinician's goal here is simply to link the fictional Jeremy's circumstances with a real life event of a dog in similar circumstances. For this reason the clinician spends only a few minutes on the lost dog's story.

It is important to keep the session moving and stay within the bounds of the original goals of the session, which was to learn the meaning of several new words, including 'dignified.'

Vocabulary Worksheets

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Resource Download

Vocabulary Worksheet
Right-click to download this PDF file here.

Vocabulary Worksheet (Example):
Right-click to download this PDF file here.

When you look at the vocabulary worksheet you'll notice that on the left there are two boxes. The top box states: Target Passage from Text.

The clinician writes the target passage in the box, i.e. 'The dog, like George, was scruffy and sad. Yet even at the end of the line, he was quietly dignified...'

In the box marked word the student is instructed to write the word 'dignity.' In the box directly below the student also writes a brief dictionary definition of 'dignity.'

Clinician: 'Daniel, you'll notice that the box here states Synonyms. Do you know what a synonym is?'

Daniel: 'No.'

Clinician: 'A synonym is a word that has a similar meaning to another word. The word dignity has synonyms which mean almost the same thing. Go to the dictionary and find the word dignity again please.'

Daniel looks the word up in the dictionary. The clinician uses a combined Collins Dictionary and Thesaurus, which lists synonyms for each word on the same page. Daniel finds three synonyms for the word dignity. The words are self-respect, self-esteem and pride.

Clinician: 'If we look at the definition for the word dignity we can see that it means to be calm, and to have a lot of self-respect. To have pride and to have self-esteem, which are synonyms of dignity, means pretty much the same thing. Jeremy is proud, but also very quiet'

The clinician pauses at this point and waits for Daniel to respond. Sometimes a pause allows a student to fill in the silence without explicitly pressuring them to do so.

Daniel: 'I think it means the same too. I think Jeremy is proud.'

Vocabulary Worksheets - Rewrite the Passage

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Daniel is instructed to write the three synonyms for dignity in the three circular boxes. Daniel doesn't look up the dictionary definitions at this time.

The clinician asks Jeremy to rewrite the passage on to the worksheet, he was quietly dignified into he was quiet and proud. The point of this exercise is to demonstrate to the student how to use and manipulate language in real time. It's a typical metalinguistic task. This point is reinforced by the clinician.

Clinician: 'If we look at the way the author constructed this sentence we can see that he chose 'quietly dignified'to describe Jeremy.

He also could just as easily have written, 'Jeremy was quiet and proud.'By knowing the synonyms for different words gives a writer a lot more options when writing stories.'

Vocabulary Map - Adjectives

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Free Resource Download

Vocabulary Map - Adjective Worksheet
Right-click to download this PDF file here.

Vocabulary Map - Adjective Worksheet (Example)
Right-click to download this PDF file here.

Vocabulary Map - Noun Worksheet
Right-click to download this PDF file here.

Vocabulary Map - Noun Worksheet (Example)
Right-click to download this PDF file here.

The vocabulary maps - (adjective) and (noun) - are graphic organizers that are useful for expanding the meaning of particular words. The adjective and noun maps can expand a student's understanding of a target word and its relationship to other similar words.

They are effective for concrete nouns such as 'dog' or adjectives such as 'empty', but less useful for abstract words like 'fate.' The clinician decided not to use the vocabulary maps for the Colin Thompson passage.

The vocabulary worksheet is a more appropriate graphic organizer for the selected passage and its more abstract language.

Language Intervention - Summarization

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In this particular therapy session, time doesn't permit the clinician to continue with language intervention. The clinician therefore finishes the session by summarizing the key points and reviewing the words that were learnt by Daniel during the session.

Clinician: 'We learnt several things today Daniel. We learnt that Jeremy is a dog that, despite appearances, is quite proud and very calm. We know this because you looked up the word dignity, wrote out its meaning and learnt its synonyms, and you also now know what synonyms are. The synonyms for dignity were self-respect, self-esteem and pride. You also got to rewrite part of the story, and used the synonym proud instead of dignity.

Also we spent a bit of time on the word scruffy and how to spell it. We worked out that the word scruffy has the /r/ sound in it and the letter r, even though it was difficult to locate.

Remember to try to sound out all sounds on difficult words. Some words don't allow you to do that, but many do. Next session we'll look at the passage again, and work on some of the other words that gave you some trouble. Read that first sentence one more time please Daniel.'

Daniel reads the first sentence from the target passage. He is more fluent on the second reading. No miscue this time on the scruffy and he paused briefly on the word dignified, but read it successfully.

Language Intervention - Conclusion and Scoring Chart

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Free Resource Download

Semantic Word Knowledge - Scoring Chart
Right-click to download this PDF file here.

The above language intervention session is a fairly accurate portrayal of a typical text-based language therapy session. The exchange between the clinician and Daniel went for 30 minutes. In that time Daniel was required to perform a number of language and literacy tasks, many of which were unfamiliar to him - such as using a dictionary and thesaurus.

Daniel learnt two words for the session, scruffy and dignified, and the noun form, dignity. Daniel also briefly learnt about words such as pride/proud, self esteem and self-respect and how they applied to the character, Jeremy.

The words scruffy and dignity are entered on to the scoring chart.

The clinician scored Daniel's knowledge of the two words as a 1, in that he had a reasonable grasp of the words but was not yet using the words in context.


Collins Essential Dictionary and Thesaurus (2007) Harper Collind Publishers

DeKemel, K.P. (2003) Intervention in Language Arts: A Practical Guide for Speech-Language Pathologists. Butterworth-Heinemann.

Kaderavek, J & Justice, L.M. (2002) Shared Storybook Reading as an Intervention Context: Practices and Potential Pitfalls. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, Vol 11. 395-406.

Norris, J.A. (1991) From Frog to Prince: Using Written Language as a Context for Language Learning, Topics in Language Disorders. Vol 12, 66-81

Paul, R. (2001) Language Disoders form Infancy through Adolescence. Assessment and Intervention. Mosby

Thompson, C. (2008) The Little Big Book of Happy Sadness. Random House

Wallach, G.P. (2008) Language Intervention for School-Age Students: Setting Goals for Academic Success. Mosby Elsevier

Wagner, R.K. Muse, A.E. & Tannenbaum, K.R. (2007) Vocabulary Acquisition: Implications for Reading Comprehension. The Guilford Press

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