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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

One of These Things is Not Like the Others - or is it?

One of the pivotal language skills that speech-language pathologists work on is categorization of vocabulary.  We spend a lot of time working on how children understand word relationships, and increasing their word knowledge.  Being able to sort things into categorical groups helps children to organize their thoughts, and serves as a basis for more complex vocabulary skills.
One of the ways we manage our vast vocabulary organization - usually without even thinking about it - is by categorizing.  Where does that word belong? What does it go with?  What other words is it similar to, or different from?  Some research says that younger children more often use more narrow categories; such as breakfast foods.  By second grade they more often demonstrate use of broader categories; such as foods
When we teach children new vocabulary, what category it belongs to is one of the first features of the word we cover.  Category and function, closely linked, are often where we begin our instruction.  In speech-language intervention, we often find children sorting items into groups - clothing, food, animals - and into more narrow categories; farm animals, zoo animals, ocean animals or fruits, meats, dairy.
When we are teaching children to use augmentative communication systems, this notion of categorizing becomes critical as children learn where to find the words they need to use.  If you want to ask for an apple, you need to find the food group, then the fruit group.  If you’re telling someone about what you did last weekend, you need to know that “zoo” is in the category of “places.”
While most of us don’t even think about where a word is located in our internal storage banks before we use it, children who use AAC need to very consciously think about the organization of their vocabulary storage systems - their AAC systems.  The students who have the most difficulty with language skills are those who need to think hardest about language.
When I worked with preschool and kindergarten children I did a lot of work with categories.  Some days I really relied upon lists of categories that could be found in SLP resource books ( this was way before the internet made such lists so easy to access).   Working with categories can be done a couple of ways; sorting item into various category groups or being given category names and listing  items within them.  
And, at the hardest level, is exclusion from categories.  Think of the old Sesame Street song, "One of these things is not like the others…”  Knowing not only which item doesn’t belong but also why is important in understanding word relationships.
One of the things I used to keep in my therapy bag was a collection of small, plastic figures.  Having 2 kids of my own, I usually had quite a collection of them.  Students then  sorted them depending on the categories we were focusing on.  Fortunately, these plastic figures are inexpensive and easy to find.  Dinosaurs, zoo and farm animals, ocean creatures, boys and girls, cars and trucks, fruits and veggies; there are lots to choose from.  
Use the sorting mats below for some simple categorizing activities.

If you’re looking for some categorizing resources to purchase, try these from my TPT store: Category Catch All, Categorize by Descriptor, and One of These Things is Not Like the Others.

Keep on talking.

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