Review: STASS Semantic Links

sidebyside : 20th November 2016 20:36 : resources, review, therapy materials

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.



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ASD Workstation Colourful Semantics Activity – Free Download

sidebyside : 24th May 2016 13:42 : ASD, resources, therapy approaches, therapy materials

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.


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.


You can download the activity here.

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Free Download – “Meaning to Rhyme” activity

sidebyside : 30th March 2016 07:50 : blog, resources, therapy materials


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.


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

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Free Download: Colourful Semantics Resource

sidebyside : 25th March 2016 07:15 : blog, resources, therapy materials


This pack of pictures makes the Black Sheep Verbs pack (reviewed on Monday this week) infinitely more useful. Included are individual, colour-coded pictures of all of the subjects, verbs, direct objects and locations in the example pictures, as well as some sentence frames for arranging the pictures into. I’ve used clip art from a range of sources on the internet for this (copyright free material as far as I could ascertain).


By having the individual pictures to break down the sentences into their component parts, we can:

  • Support children who miss out grammatical words and morphemes such as ‘the’, ‘is’ and ‘-ing’.
  • Put the focus on the verb for children who have limited verb knowledge.
  • Show children how to systematically think about ‘who’,’ doing what’ and ‘what to’ as they go about describing an event.
  • Give children forced alternatives when they are stuck and unable to name an object or action.


The resource comes in two parts:

  • A 20 page pdf file with the subject, verb, direct object and location pictures.
  • single page pdf file to be printed on A3 paper which has sentence frames that you can use with the pictures.



Minecraft and Minion Progress Charts

sidebyside : 18th March 2016 07:24 : blog, resources, therapy materials

I was listening to Carrie’s Clark’s most recent Storm of the Brains podcast (about unresponsive children with ASD) this week. Carrie mentioned using Minecraft characters in a simple progress chart to be used to motivate a child to do something (request bubbles or follow an instruction, for example) more than once. This reminded me that I’d been meaning to make something like this for a little while, so I’ve put some together, featuring Minion Stuart and Steve from Minecraft. Obviously I don’t own any rights over Stuart and Steve, but it’s for the kids, right! You can download a pdf here for free.



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Pretend play guide – Bath time

sidebyside : 22nd August 2012 23:20 : pretend play, resources

Before I get going with the next dose of imaginary silliness, I present the rainbow of play – seven simple rules that will make imaginary play mean more for your child:

  1. Pick a quiet time when you are unlikely to be distracted.
  2. Put away your phone, and turn off the TV and music to help you both pay attention.
  3. Lots of short play sessions are better than one long one.
  4. Watch and enjoy. Relax! Smile! Give him praise for his ideas.
  5. Copy and join in with the things he does. Try not to take over.
  6. Talk about what is happening, using very short sentences.
  7. Only ask questions if you really don’t know the answers.

It seems so very rude to make all these orders. I apologise. Well then. On with the show!

Collect: soft toys, a bath (e.g. a dry washing up bowl, or a cardboard box with taps drawn on), sponge or flannel, soap, a small towel, brush, toothbrush

  • Tell the toys that it’s bath time. They might be very dirty.
  • Run the bath using pretend taps. Check the water isn’t too hot.
  • Toys could get undressed before they go in – take off pretend clothes if they don’t have any clothes on.
  • Wash one bit of the toys at a time. Try to do this by making a suggestion (e.g. ‘his nose looks dirty’, ‘he’s still got dirty feet!’, ‘we forgot to wash her hair!’).
  • Naughty toys will probably stand up and stamp their feet or slosh the water around.
  • When they get out, the toys might shiver and complain.
  • Dry the toys and tell them if they’ve been good or if they have been naughty.
  • The toys will need to brush their teeth if they’re going to bed.
  • Help them get dressed with their real or pretend clothes.

 Model language: ‘is it too hot?’, ‘where’s the soap?’, ‘teddy’s very dirty’, ‘don’t do that’, ‘there’s water everywhere now’, ‘did you like your bath?’

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Pretend play guide – Teddy’s picnic

sidebyside : 2nd August 2012 16:06 : pretend play, resources

The way we approach play with children makes a huge difference as to whether they want to get involved or not. Get it right, and you can enrich the child’s world with language and meaning. Get it wrong (e.g. by constantly asking pointless questions) and the child will prefer to play alone. We can really do something to improve our play and interaction styles as well. Here are some pointers that relate to imaginative play in general, before I get into describing the picnic set up:

  • Talk to the toys. Ask the toys what they want to do. If the child doesn’t seem too comfortable getting involved, do not look at her – look at the toys. You are modelling imaginative play for her, and to do this, you need to relate to the toys.
  • Don’t take over. Provide plenty of time and space for the child to come up with her own ideas. Copy and repeat her ideas. Add a commentary, and gently dramatise the goings-on. Add meaning, and gently develop her ideas. Show her how much her ideas mean to you.
  • Don’t ask questions if you already know the answer. This is not how communication works.
  • Make the play meaningful for the child. In terms of mealtimes, this might mean that the toys might not want to eat their food, they might get it all over themselves, or spill drinks everywhere. Do not be afraid to repeat sequences over and over again!
  • Sequence ideas together to create a bigger story. For example, if she has mastered feeding a toy some carrot with a spoon, next time give her a knife to cut it up first. Next time give her a shopping bag with carrot in to unpack first. Next time go ‘shopping’ first.
  • Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense. Fill your teapot up with imaginary water from an imaginary tap. Who cares that the carrots don’t actually get cut up when you use a pretend knife on them? Your child will be bewitched by the way reality need not apply during imaginative play.
  • If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.

Collect: soft toys, plastic plates, toy food, spoon and knife. Use boxes, books, etc to act as tables and chairs for the toys.

  • Put the toy food in a basket or a box so that it can all be seen at once.
  • Food might need to be prepared (e.g. toast can be cut, or have butter spread on it). The toys could need help to eat with a spoon.
  • Toys might really enjoy the food, or they might push it away or even spit it out. How will she respond to a fussy toy?
  • Enjoy making ludicrous combinations of foods. Disgusting food is much more amusing than tasty food.
  • Make the toys say if they want more, or if they have had enough.
  • Toys might steal each other’s food, hide food from one another, drop their food or start to play with their food. Naughty toys need to be told off.
  • The toys will probably need to have their faces cleaned with a cloth.
  • Think about other things we do before and after we eat – shopping, cooking, cleaning, washing up and cleaning our teeth. Pick your moment and try to build the story together.

Model language: ‘who wants some apple?’, ‘do you want butter?’, ‘it needs cutting’, ‘you’re messy now’, ‘stop doing that!’

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Pretend play guide – Teddy's tea party

sidebyside : 20th June 2012 16:19 : pretend play, resources

Children learn language by talking about what they see happening in front of them. You can help them by making their play world simple and relatively repetitive, and by describing what they are doing in short, simple sentences. Here is the first in a series of pretend play guides – today’s is teddy’s tea party.

Collect: soft toys (use favourite toys), toy cups, toy teapot, toy milk jug

  • Get the toys to sit somewhere comfortable. Ask the toys if they’re thirsty.
  • See if he will pour drinks and help the toys drink. Is it hot enough? Too hot?
  • Try filling up the teapot with pretend water from a pretend tap.
  • Make a sound when he pours and when he helps the toys drink.
  • Flavour the tea (e.g. with a plastic strawberry to make a fruit tea; something to make it disgusting – like a sock). Will the toys enjoy it?
  • The toys might knock over the cups or the teapot if they’re clumsy. He might clean up if you provide a cloth.
  • Make the toys ask for more, until they say they have had enough.

 Model language: ‘oh what a mess!’, ‘drink it up teddy’, ‘that one’s yours’, ‘teddy’s drinking’, ‘is it nice?’


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