I recently wrote about the first couple steps in the language processing hierarchy, labeling or naming objects and ideas and functions. If you’ve forgotten, the language processing hierarchy looks something like this:

and is directly related to our Common Core State Standards within Anchor Standard ELA.L.5 for word relationships. As we previously discussed, the first step to vocabulary is understanding an object or idea’s name followed by being able to attach functional meaning to it.

As we move forward in our knowledge and understanding of words, we begin to understand different characteristics of them. For example, not only do we know that a bed is called a bed and that it is used for sleeping, we also begin to understand that beds are rectangular, soft, covered in blankets and pillows, and are part of a room. Similarly, just as we understand that a banana is a food and that we eat it, we learn that it is long, somewhat cylindrical, yellow, and grows on a tree. Beginning to add to our basic functional definitions of words allows us form the foundation for categorizing and differentiating between similar objects. We can use known characteristics of, say, a banana and an apple to understand these objects even more clearly, even after knowing that both are things we eat. The more we know in association with particular words, the more in depth our vocabulary becomes.

Here are a few ideas and materials for targeting this third rung on the ladder that is language processing:

1 | Use a variety of stimuli.

As we truly explore the depths of vocabulary words, it will be helpful to present stimuli in a variety of ways. For example, there is much to be determined from holding and looking at a banana versus simply looking at a photo. Additionally, exploring words within written contexts, such as stories or informational texts, can provide even more opportunity for developing depth of knowledge.

2 | Engage all of the senses.

It is too easy for us focus only on appearance when thinking about characteristics of an object. Shape, size, and colors are important and often form our initial knowledge. However, thinking about smell, sound, feel, and taste will offer even further depth and build even more future comparisons and contrasts.

3 | Play word association games.

At the most basic, no-prep level, stating an attribute (“square”) and having students search the room/area for something that fits that characteristic will challenge students to think in both concrete and more abstract ways.

4 | Use familiar characters, movies, games, & more.

Using stimuli that resonates with children at the level of their own unique interests can both encourage participation and garner more nuanced responses. A student keenly interested in Harry Potter may very well be able to identify or generate creative associations for characters, such as Hermione (smart, frizzy, teeth) or items such as the Snitch (tiny, fast, important).

When you’re ready to go, explore these fun activities!

1 | I love using Go Together Matching Puzzles for both my students at school and my patients in the skilled nursing facility. Most puzzles encourage matches using a variety of comparisons, such as function, parts, shapes, etc… These puzzles can be used as both an early, introductory lesson to teaching associations, as well as a later developing activity for explaining why certain pictures/words go together.

2 | My Following Directions with Word Associations activity targets word associations receptively and expressively and allows for therapy at a higher treatment level by combining both word associations and comprehension/memory.

3 | Code Names, which I wrote about recently in another blog post, is a word association game at its heart. There are many different versions of this game, from the classic, written word version, abstract pictures, and even themed, such as Harry Potter, Marvel, and Disney.

4 | These simple task cards target word associations receptively and expressively, allowing students to both choose associated pictures and explain why two pictures are associated with one another. They are simply designed, with clear clipart images that are easy to read and use.

5 | My Word Associations Unit functions the same as my other vocabulary units, providing sorts, a variety of worksheets, a story-based activity, and task cards at a level developed for older, reading children.