The Case for Obscure Vocabulary

I work with lots of students on their articulation. Some have language needs as well, but many don’t (although, by in large, all my artic students need some explicit phonemic awareness support). Often our articulation materials contain pretty basic vocabulary–cow, key, cup–for initial /k/ targets, maybe rabbit, rocket and rat for prevocalic /r/. While it certainly makes sense for students to gain mastery over high frequency words, I’m beginning to feel there’s a strong case for obscure vocabulary as well.

  • There is research to suggest that articulation programs that focus on nonsense words to start can be more efficient because the child doesn’t have an ingrained error pattern in place for the sound. (You can see a review of SATPAC that I did several years ago and I’ll be sharing REST within the next few weeks.)
  • Tier 1 vocabulary, basic words used commonly in spoken language, doesn’t usually need to be explicitly taught (of course, this isn’t necessarily the case for our language delayed kiddos). Tier 2 vocabulary does need more explicit teaching or exposure. Why not get more bang for the buck with our therapy by giving our students additional opportunities for exposure?
  • Articulation drill can be monotonous and, at the risk of getting too “out there,” obscure vocabulary can encourage a mindfulness that common words don’t.

Mindful articulation?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this lately because I have a few students that will blurt out a label for a picture that doesn’t have our sound at all (I know this has happened to you too.) And if I stop and say, “Hmmmm…I don’t think that’s the word. How do we know that’s not it?” I’ll get blank stares. Even prompting with, “What sound are we working on?” doesn’t always clue them in to the problem.

For instance, the picture above is for “prickly” to target /pr/ rather than “porcupine.”

Some sounds force unusual word choices–there are only so many “j” words after all, and if you break /r/ down into vocalic variations like I do, you run up against all sorts of less familiar vocabulary. I say, “embrace it.” I’ve started to take time to have kiddos really think about what word could match a picture. Since they already know one of the sounds that must be in it, kind of like working on a crossword clue, we can start to narrow it down. I can even give two options, one with and one without their target to see if they are really focused on what it is I’m listening for and what they should be producing.

What are your thoughts–stick with high frequency words or add in less familiar vocabulary? Let me know in comments!


This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Nikki

    Less common vocabulary would definitely be a benefit to many of my students. Do you have suggestions of where to find resources for obscure vocabulary words with specific phoneme targets?

    1. admin

      Hi, Nikki! Unfortunately I don’t (though I’m changing some of my own products for this purpose). I’ll add links as I find them! Kim

  2. Joy

    I tend to make upgrades to our common vocabulary. Student, “I need to use the bathroom.” Well what is a more mature or sophisitcated way of saying that? Another student, “May I use the restroom?” Well there is another way have you ever heard anyone say, May I use the facilities? Then we survey other adults in the building for their take on the subject.

  3. Susan Berkowitz

    Using uncommon words is, I think, a good strategy. I’ve never done much articulation therapy – my kids are all about language and are often non-speaking. But vocabulary is such an important are, that I’d vote for adding in less common words.

  4. Shane Sellers

    I definitely try to incorporate as much vocabulary teaching into my articulation therapy as possible. Most of my students are considered low socio-economic status and their environments do not give them much exposure to higher level or obscure vocabulary. They are always so proud when they have mastered not only saying a word correctly, but also understanding its meaning AND use it appropriately outside of the therapy setting. I make a special effort to “arrange” situations where our principal or other visiting administrators will observe students using their new vocabulary and praise them.

  5. Tatiana

    My school does words of the week on mroning announcemnts. Typically tier 2 words like: habitat and temptation and thrill. I print and post all in my room and have kids find/practice their sound or if I can apply that term in a lang session…I feel like that is good steps in use of curricular materials

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The views expressed in this blog are my own and are intended to inspire other speech-language pathologists in their own practice. If you are a parent, teacher or other educator, these ideas are not intended to take the place of treatment by a certified clinician. Read full disclaimer here.