Teach Vocabulary Effectively!

We all know that vocabulary is essential to daily life, and we all know that many speech therapy clients have difficulty learning vocabulary, especially children with developmental language disorders (DLD). 

However, guidance on how to teach vocabulary seems to be lacking, not to mention the lack of high-quality vocabulary materials. So, I dove into the research to see what I could do to help!

To find out what I learned and to grab some free materials, keep reading!

I am always looking to improve my therapy techniques and materials. To accomplish this for my vocabulary therapy,

  • First, I headed over to The Informed SLP. I read through 3 years of research reviews on vocabulary and picked out the articles that applied to my clients.
  • Next, I created a new treatment protocol.
  • Last, I made some "no print," effortless materials to match my new protocol.

Vocabulary Lists - First Things First!

I am sad to say that I would often grab or even make (insert cringe) vocabulary materials based on images that I could find instead of researched-based/academically relevant words. This is NOT ACCEPTABLE! Time is precious and I don't want to waste my client's time and energy.

To fix this, I found an awesome website, Flocabulary, which has tier 2 word lists for grades K-8th. I chose words from these lists to create effective, relevant materials. 

Tier 2 words are high-frequency academic words that can used across subjects/settings. I feel you get more "bang for your buck" with them!

Explicit Teaching VS Implicit Teaching

Should we drill vocabulary (explicit teaching) or target vocabulary naturally (implicit teaching)? That is what I wondered about. 

According to What Works in Therapy: Further Thoughts on Improving Clinical Practice for Children With Language Disorders and Retrieval-Based Word Learning in Young Typically Developing Children and Children With Developmental Language Disorder I: The Benefits of Repeated Retrieval, a combination is best!

What I applied from these articles is that,

  • drill (explicit) practice is crucial for short-term gains, the client has to learn the word
  • implicit (literacy based) is crucial for long-term gains/generalization
  • review (spaced retrieval) is crucial for long-term recall

HOW To Teach A Vocabulary Word

What is best practice for teaching a vocabulary word? Do we just drill definitions? Do we just run through EET? Do we teach new words each week? 

After reading Building Semantic Networks: The Impact of a Vocabulary Intervention on Preschoolers’ Depth of Word Knowledge and Teaching receptive vocabulary to children with specific language impairment: a curriculum-based approach, a combination approach is best! 

These articles discuss the importance of vocabulary depth (how well you understand a word) rather than KINDA knowing a lot of words (vocab breadth)! This is something I talk a lot about here. Some techniques for teaching vocabulary depth are to focus on:

  • background knowledge
  • explicit teaching
  • phonological awareness (spell it/rhyme it)
  • relating words together (group, function, synonyms, opposites)
  • varied contexts/review

Materials With New Protocol

Now, it is time to have materials that accomplish this new protocol. I created Google Slides decks for each grade in Speech Therapy Talk Membership's site that follows the following protocol:

Stimuli

  • Tier 2 words (from Flocabulary)

Drill Materials (explicit teaching that is no-print)

  • definition 
  • phonological awareness
  • images
  • background knowledge
  • relate it
  • apply it

Natural Learning (implicit materials)

  • practice new words during literacy/reading challenges

Review (spaced retrieval)

  • Review deck the following week


Free Vocabulary Learning Materials

I have been busy making teletherapy materials that can be used for both remote and in-person learning. 

Google slides seem to do the trick.

  • I can share slides remotely. Obviously!
  • For in person, I have been using an extra screen. I place the screen on the table and control it from my computer. The client and I talk about the slides. This way I save lots of trees!

For a free sample click the link below,

For members, you can access the following materials by clicking the link below

To become a member (it is easy and affordable, click the link below



Bridget is an ASHA certified, practicing speech-language pathologist. She is passionate about providing parents with information on child speech and language development as well as provide functional, easy activities to do at home! Parents have the power to make a real difference. Follow Bridget at Facebook and Pinterest for more fun!

Author of  child language development eBook series



  1. Home
  2.  ›
  3. Learning Vocabulary
  4.  ›
  5. Teach Vocabulary