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Early Language Intervention – Make Obvious what is Not Obvious

I had the pleasure of attending a workshop about BLADES language therapy and I LOVED it. BLADES is a framework for therapy based on the Bristol Language Study, which is a large study of typical language development in 2-5 year olds.

A big topic of discussion in the workshop was verbs and verb development. Most Speech-Language Therapists will agree that verbs are an important target for young kids who need support with language. However, verbs can be tricky to teach for a number of reasons. Some verbs occur for longer than others, and are therefore easier to teach e.g. sleep vs fall. It also makes sense that “long” verbs take the –ing endings first, and “short” verbs are more likely to take the –ed endings first. Different verbs can also carry meaning around intentionality e.g. to throw something requires intent, to drop something does not.

When learning to communicate, children tend to favour general all-purpose verbs (core), as these enable them to communicate in a variety of situations (e.g. go, put, do…) without putting too much demand on their vocabulary. As the child progresses, their knowledge of verbs increases, and so does their specificity. At around 3.5 years we can expect children to specify the verb (specifically describe the manner e.g. hop vs go) and the place/object, and by 4 years we can expect children to specify all three in one sentence e.g. “the Frisbee flew into the tree”.

For beginning communicators, it makes sense to focus on general all-purpose (GAP) verbs as these are highly functional for the child. The verbs described as GAP verbs in the workshop include: Come, go, put, got/get, want, need, look, see, like, make, open, that is a, work, do, and play.

The meanings of these are NOT obvious, so we must make these obvious to the child. While modelling language in the child’s routine is an essential ingredient for therapy, for some kids, this alone just doesn’t cut it. For these kids, we need to set up engaging activities to teach target words in a way that makes the meaning obvious to the child. When we do this, we LABEL the word at just the right time to teach the word. Then we change the activity and repeat (we don’t want John to think that the word “do” only applies to mixing cookie dough, right?).

The workshop covered many categories of verbs (it got quite linguistics heavy), too many of which to include in a blog post – and unfortunately too many for me to remember so to be helpful in my day to day! This is why I created my Early Verbs pack to use with my clients. Check it out here.

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