Do you struggle with where to start when it comes to working on vocabulary with your speech and language students?
Today I want to share with you how to use nonsense words to build the skill of using context clues. So first of all let's take about why I prefer to work on context clues instead of working on things like synonyms and antonyms? I find that it helps my older speech students so much more, especially those who have been receiving speech and working on all these different vocabulary skills and goals for so many years but it's not sticking. We can't teach them every single word out there so instead I like to take a step back and think how can I help them when I’m not around? How can I give them compensatory strategies so that they can be successful whenever they are listening to conversational speech or a lecture in class or reading something at home for homework?That said, we have to explicitly teach them this strategy of using context clues. We can’t just say “hey, look for the clues.” They don’t know what the clues are and the clues aren’t always so clear, so I like to start with nonsense words because it teaches my students that they can be successful and that there are words around the unknown word to help them.
One way I like to start out using nonsense words is with something like this free Context Clues Using Nonsense Words Boom Deck that can be found in my TPT store.
In this example, it says “The boy sharpened his BLAH and then finished writing down his homework. What does BLAH mean?” Most times my students will just jump and say well the answer is a pencil. I will ask them how do you know? And they will say I don’t know, but I just know that’s the answer. Then I take the opportunity to model for my students how they know. You know it’s a pencil because you heard the words homework, writing, and sharpened which were clues that helped you figure it out. You know that to finish writing homework you need something to write with (a marker, crayon, pen, pencil) but you also know which one of these things needs to be sharpened so you know it's a pencil. Sometimes you will get to a word that you don’t already know and you will have to use the words around it to help you figure it out. I like to model my thinking about my thinking to help my students figure the answer out so whenever I do activities like this, I like to do the I do, we do, you do model, and have found it to be very helpful! I want my students to be able to verbally express how they know what they know so that they are able to use this strategy when I am not around. I also like to use a scaffolded approach so maybe we start with choices, then we go to no choices, then we go from basic tier 1 vocabulary, to something a little trickier like emotions to make it a little bit more challenging.
I always go from very basic to show them what the clues are and get them into the habit of verbally expressing what clues can help them and then slowly progress to more and more difficult. I like to use tier 2 vocabulary words such as those words that are found across all subject areas like predict, compare, consume, duplicate, journey, and increase. Words that are not specific to one content area. We want to teach them strategies that they can apply to a variety of different texts that they may be reading so that when they come to a word they don’t know, they can apply the strategy instead of doing what they normally do and skip over it or give up and shut down. We want to show them that they can be successful, they can do it, that learning can be fun, and we are here to help them get there.
I hope you found this helpful and that you can apply this strategy with ease and confidence. If you want to learn more, you can check out the video below and the resources I mentioned for engaging, no-prep, and low-prep activities to use with your students this week!