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Review: STASS Semantic Links

semantic_links_cd_largeSemantic Links, the STASS publication which helps children with word learning, word finding, categorisation skills, and semantic organisation in general, has been updated, and is now supplied with a CD so that individual pages can be printed off from the comfort of your computer chair. It’s the same price as it ever was – £80, including delivery.

yellow-coverI bought the book six months ago, when it still came in its gaudy yellow binder, without the very useful-sounding CD, so anyone buying it now is getting a relative bargain. As far as I can tell, none of the pictures have been updated. The resource sounds the same from the description, with 240 graded worksheets that enable the child to weigh the relative connectedness of a range of objects and action words, arranged as spokes around a central idea.

set1My copy is printed on lovely high-GSM paper and all of the punched holes are reinforced. I’m not sure how the new version has been bound. The pictures are fairly good – nice and simple, black and white images that just about do the job. There is some inconsistency, particularly around the action words, which appear to have been drawn by someone else entirely.

Some of the choice of vocab (‘knitting’, for example) may not match the experience of your average 21st century-born learner. There are enough examples that you can skip anything that you feel might baffle.

set8I bought it because I can see myself trying to make something similar in the future (possibly using Boardmaker, or maybe even passing the project onto someone who can build apps) and I wanted to see what a large corpus of child-friendly semantic links looked like. Since then I have made quite a lot of use of it during therapy.

I do categorisation-based work with children who have autism, word finding difficulties, and even speech difficulties (usually using the excellent Black Sheep Press Categories pack), and this resource backs that up in its depth, and also in its different angle of approach. Furthermore, it is a fantastic resource to pass onto TAs and parents – it’s simple enough that they can just pick it up and use it.

It’s a bit dry, but if you provide a few colouring pencils, I find that children engage very nicely with it. I always model for the child the nature of the connection – ‘apple and orange go together because they are both types of fruit’, ‘hammer and nail go together because you use a hammer to knock in a nail’. I want the child to be able to explicitly describe the nature of the connection. Unfortunately, there is nothing here in the material that scaffolds the child to achieve this.

To this end I went through the examples, broke them down into the different types of relationships, and boiled it all down to a few archetypes which I could then present in an analogous manner to prompt the child as they go about making their explanations.

I’ve written enough in my other posts about why I work on semantic knowledge. It’s the other side of the phonological awareness coin, it’s the z-dimension to the x and y dimensions of ‘input’ and ‘output’ phonological features. There is an interesting study from Tim Pring and many more in Child Language Teaching and Therapy which shows that a small amount of work on a specific category can improve retrieval of untreated items from that same category.

 

 

Donguri Wobbly Wooden Toy Review

Here’s disturbingly real video review of a delightful toy that I picked up on holiday in Tokyo. It’s called ‘Donguri’ and it’s made by Comaam. Anyone remember the Weebles? Well these are similar, but a lot cuter:

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As I state, in a fairly incoherent manner in the video, these sorts of toys are great for helping children who have attention difficulties to take turns in a small group, and children who have difficulties initiating interaction might  be encouraged to request them (verbally or through picture exchange).

ASD Workstation Colourful Semantics Activity – Free Download

The more verbal autistic children that I work with seem to develop independence and pride in their work when their school adopts a TEACCH / Workstation-type approach. However, many of the activities that are available to download of the internet aren’t, for want of a better word, very ‘language-y’. For an example, take a look at the wealth of ‘match the shape’ / ‘match the colour’ activities that are made by Twinkl.

In order to redress this a little, I have started to provide the children with my own workstation activities where I take the aspects of these activities that I like – the fact that they are self-contained, self-checking and fairly satisfying to complete, and added in a dash of language. Today it’s Colourful Semantics. Next I will make something that is designed to develop superordinate and sub-ordinate category knowledge.

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Once again this activity requires you to own the Black Sheep Press Verbs Pack. This costs £15 plus VAT and it’s a must-buy for anyone working beyond the single word level with children.

The specific prompt pictures that I have selected are as follows:

Subject – Verb: man running, baby waving, girl crying
Subject – Verb – Object: boy throwing ball, boy cutting cake, girl eating banana, man reading newspaper, bear pushing pig, girl kicking balloon, man brushing dog
Subject – Verb – Location: man sitting on chair, girl sleeping on sofa, cat jumping over snowman, boy falling off chair, girl hiding behind tree, dog hiding under bed, cat standing on table.

As these pictures are copyright Black Sheep Press, I haven’t included these pictures in the download version – you will have to cut your own ones out and stick them in.

Individual pictures are provided of the subjects, verbs, objects and locations. Each page has a frame which the child can use to arrange the pictures, as well as the answer. In my version I have placed the frame behind a sheet of plastic, which has velcro spots for the elements of the predicate, as well as a flap to cover / reveal the answer. You will need to limit the number of pictures that you provide to the child so that the choice is not overwhelming.

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You can download the activity here.

Developing language processing skills (3)

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I’ve written already about the tasks that I use to develop semantic skills and phonological skills. In these pieces I’ve gone on at great length about how I don’t think there is such a thing for us to target as ‘auditory memory’ per se. This is because it is my view that ‘limited auditory memory’ is just another way of saying ‘impoverished semantic and phonological knowledge’. There is however one further skill that I do develop to support children’s language processing though, and that is visualisation.

Using visual imagery to anchor interpretation isn’t the be-all and end-all of verbal comprehension, but it is a good place to start. Higher-order abilities depend on it. By higher-order abilities, I mean the ability to struggle on, and to draw some kind of interpretation, where the context is only vaguely understood, where nouns and verbs are not familiar to the child, and where possible interpretations are forced into a duel, to be scrubbed and absorbed into the growing proposition. A proposition which needs to embody stability and fuzziness in equal measures, and which is somehow able to snap into a new shape upon the turn of a word or the flicker of a grin.

Back at the most basic level though, some of the children I work with have not learned the art of combining ideas that they hear together into a coherent whole. Descriptions and instructions just become a salad of ideas to them. Language goes ‘in one ear and out the other’. Working on visualisation teaches them to build their interpretations on something concrete, not on sand.

I use elements of a very clever programme called Visualizing and Verbalizing for this work.

The Visualizing and Verbalizing® (V/V®) program develops concept imagery—the ability to create an imagined or imaged gestalt from language—as a basis for comprehension and higher order thinking.

This material is difficult to come by in the UK, and postage is prohibitively expensive. I came across one of the ‘stories’ books in a clinic I used to work in, and loved it. I recently got to buy my own copy of Visualizing and Verbalizing Stories 2, for £15 plus £11 delivery from Abebooks. Compared with what’s available at the moment, that was a bit of a bargain. It’s worth keeping an eye open though.

The book has an impressive 108 stories which range from stories of 4 short sentences designed for preschool children, up to stories composed of three fairly long paragraphs designed for children in year 8. Each story is followed by five questions which probe the child’s ability to extract detail, to give the main idea, to infer, to draw conclusions and to make predictions. The stories are rich in colour and movement, and this, along with the gradual progression in complexity through the book, helps the child develop a strategy for listening that is as effective as it is simple. The scenarios all have very well thought through intentions, consequences, humour and feelings for the child to mull over, alongside the literal comprehension element.

I can’t recommend V/V enough. Hopefully the publishers won’t mind me including an example of a story from the lowest level of complexity to give you an idea of how the stories and questions work:

The little yellow fish swam slowly in the water. Then he darted into a small cave. A big red fish swam by the cave. Soon the little fish swam  out.

  1. What colour did you picture the big fish?
  2. Why do you think the little fish darted into the small cave?
  3. How do you thik the little fish felt when he saw the big fish?
  4. What might the little fish do if the big fish comes back? 
  5. What is the main idea of all these images?

The ultimate speech therapy word list

man-29749_960_720Therapists have some rather specific requirements when choosing words for speech work. We’re not just looking for words that end with /k/, we want to contrast these with a sound, say /s/, in word final position – so everything else in the word must be the same. And we only want VC, CVC or CCVC words. Oh and let’s have the vowel as a back-ish vowel to facilitate the /k/. And the onset should be something within the child’s inventory. And of course, each word in the pair should be imageable, functional and known to the child.

Are there any pairs like this? Intuition can only get us so far. The answer to all questions of these sorts can be found in the rather user-unfriendly MRC Psycholinguistic Database. I use it quite a bit in my work – here are some tips for how to get the best out of it.

Let’s run the example from the first paragraph. You could use the box towards the bottom of the search page called ‘Rough Phonetic Transcription’ (RPT) to set the basic word shape that you require, e.g. by typing CVC. You would need, in our case, to run the search a second and third time, with CV, and then CCVC typed into this box. A better alternative, which I will use here, is just to set the number of syllables to 1 by typing in the final box ‘Stress Pattern’.

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Screenshot 2016-04-05 at 15.56.38All of the heavy lifting is going to be done in the box called ‘Precise Phonetic Transcription’ (PPT). Type *[ks] in there. This means ‘one or more phonemes, then either k or s’. Press the ‘Go’ button. We will be returned a list of one-syllable words which have /k/ or /s/ in word final position. 614 of them. We need to filter these to look for useful pairs.

Although there are fields for imageability / age of acquisition / concreteness, etc, they are of no real use, unfortunately. Try it – go to section 1 at the top of the search page, click on the ‘Concreteness’, ‘Imageability’ and ‘Age of Acquisition’ tick boxes, and run the search again. You will see that many of our 614 words have these ratings against them, but many don’t (all of the dashes represent missing data). A search with the age of acquisition set to be no higher than 300 would yield 34 very child-friendly words, but words with no rating, such as ‘bike’, ‘dice’, ‘hiss’, and ‘muck’ would not be included.

Back to our 614 word list then. We want only back-ish vowels, so this means that we can limit our output to words with the following vowels – /ɒ/, /ɑ/, /æ/, /ʌ/,  and /ɔ/, which are known as 0, A, &, V and O here.

You could add these as alternatives, using square brackets again just as you did with [ks], but the words will still be sorted alphabetically, so pairs, not necessarily orthographically related, would still be tricky to dig out*. A more elegant way to look for word-final pairs is to run a separate search for each vowel that you are interested in. Here then are the strings for the PPT field, and the possible pairs that are returned. I have filtered out the useless words manually:

  • *0[ks] – flock / floss; lock / loss; rock / Ross
  • *A[ks] – bark / baas; park / pass
  • *&[ks] – back / bass (the fish); pack / pass
  • *V[ks] – buck / bus; pluck / plus
  • *O[ks] – fork / force; hawk / horse

When you interpret the results, always be on the alert to words that you could use, that might be missing, such as real names, and words that have come into use only in the last few years. You will need to think of these yourself. You will also need to make allowances for how certain vowels are produced in your region (‘park’, ‘pack’, ‘puck’ etc).

There aren’t many great pairs here, but you can be pretty confident that this is about as good as it gets for /k/ versus /s/ WF one-syllable contrasting pairs of words which feature back vowels.

One problem with the approach I have detailed above is diphthongs. For example, a search for words which have /ə/ as their vowel will also show up words that feature /eə/ and /iə/. If you want to eradicate these, do it manually, or you could try specifying that the vowel should be a monophthong in the RPT, by typing in CMC (not forgetting that CCMC and MC, must be run on a separate search).

Anyway, here are some more example searches, off the top of my head, to show what can be done with the database:

Description of searchRough Phonetic TranscriptionPrecise Phonetic TranscriptionStress PatternOutput
/t/ initial CVC words, followed by facilitative /i/, /ɪ/, /aɪ/ and /eɪ/ vowels-t[iIsIaI]*-36 words, including take, tape, teach, team, tin, tip and type
VC wordsVC--101 largely useless words
CVCC words with /sp/, /st/ and /sk/ word finallyCVCC??s[ptk]-106 words, including gasp, nest and mosque
VC, CVC and CVC words that have a diphthong followed by a velar stop*DC*[gk9]-42 words, including ache, spike and 'yoick'. There are no examples of words which have a diphthong followed by a /g/ or an /ŋ/
Two syllable words with /t͡ʃ/ WM, surrounded by facillitative high vowels-*[iI]tS[iI]*??8 words, including itchy and kitchen
CVCVC words with /f/ word-medially, surrounded by vowelsCVCVC??f??-43 words, including barefoot, defeat, coffin, puffin, refill and roughage

* Tricky, but not impossible. If you’re looking for pairs, just go to the alternative which has the fewest examples, and then generate its counterpart in your head. If it’s a word, you have a pair. This is the only way to look for pairs that are contrasted at the initial sound.

Free Download – “Meaning to Rhyme” activity

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I have designed this monster resource (a 36 page pdf with 67 examples to work through and full instructions) to help children aged 5-10 who have phonological impairment and poor language processing skills. Click here to download (5MB).

I wrote about this task last week. Essentially it involves asking the child to do something such as ‘think of an animal that rhymes with house‘, while presenting the child with a few possible onsets to work through. As the child learns how to freely generate rhymes, with increasing independence, the task forces her to simultaneously consult her semantic store. This dual activation (essentially, top-down, and bottom-up) makes for deeper learning, about sounds and meaning, and supports language processing.

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I would absolutely love to hear any opinions from therapists, teachers or parents on how this activity is working out for their kids. All of the clipart is in the public domain, downloaded from the excellent openclipart.org.