How to Support High School Speech Students in ELA

Do your high school speech students struggle with ELA? For students who already have language difficulties, the demands of high school ELA can be overwhelming! Fortunately, there are ways that we as SLPs can help to support our speech students in ELA. Let’s break it down. 

Finding a Theme and Other Related Skills 

Finding the theme of a passage is one skill that high school students are asked to do frequently. Unfortunately, this is one of the hardest skills to master! Finding the theme of a selection requires the student to know how to summarize, how to identify plot elements and character traits, how to infer, and have the background knowledge and vocabulary to make text-to-self, text-to-world, or text-to-text connections. 

Since the ability to find a theme is dependent on so many other skills, you can work on each of these things individually. Some strategies for doing so include:

  • Using the SWBST (Somebody Wanted But So Then) strategy for summarizing a text. This can be done with a graphic organizer, or by writing out parts of the statements for the student. For example, if you write out ___________ wanted to __________, the student could fill in the blanks with the “somebody” and what they wanted to do. 
  • Using a plot diagram to dissect the plot of a story and show elements like falling and rising action, conflict, and resolution. 
  • Giving suggestions on real-world situations and other texts that the student has read to help make connections. Ask questions like “Do you remember when we read _____? How is ______ like this story?” 
  • Previewing vocabulary and making anchor charts or a word wall with the word, the definition, and a picture to match. 
  • Using graphic organizers to help identify and keep track of character traits. 

Points of View, Genres, and Event Order 

Identifying points of view is also a big part of the high school ELA curriculum. Sometimes, books can be written from multiple points of view. This can make it difficult for the student to know who is talking or who the plot is focused on! Work with the student to mark the point of view on a sticky note for each section of text. 

Students also need to identify the genre of a selection regularly. You can support the student with visuals! You and/or the student can make a reference sheet with the name of a genre, several adjectives to describe that genre, and a picture to go along with it. The student can use this visual to help identify the genre. 

As students get into reading more complex texts, things like flashbacks and parallel plots can be confusing. You can help your students keep story elements like this straight with appropriate graphic organizers, as well as discussions about these story elements. If the student doesn’t know what flashbacks or parallel plots are, or why an author would use them, they won’t understand why these things are part of the story. 

Writing Narratives and Nonfiction

Writing, especially longer papers that require the student the cite evidence, is a big part of high school ELA. Writing is a task that can be daunting for a lot of our students. Fortunately, we can help to break it down with them! 

  • When the student is presented with a large writing assignment, chunk it! Take the syllabus or rubric that has been provided for the student, and work with them on breaking it up into small parts, each with a specific check-in date for you and the student to review their progress. 
  • Build vocabulary. Discuss vocabulary that the student might use in their writing and be sure that the student has a clear understanding of how to use the words. 
  • Provide the student with appropriate graphic organizers for the pre-writing process and work with the student to make sure they know how to use each kind of organizer. 
  • Work with the student on how to cite text evidence. Provide the student with copies of the text that can be written on or highlighted so the student can identify the text evidence that they want to cite. 
  • Assist your student with the editing process prior to peer edits or edits from the ELA teacher. Read their rough draft aloud and see if it makes sense to them so that they can help to identify edits that need to be made. 
  • Celebrate with your student when they are done with their writing! 


If you need even more low-prep ways to support your older speech students, then be sure to check out my monthly membership for even more ideas!