For kids that have emerging verbal skills, we want to get them talking as much as possible and help build that vocabulary. And that can’t be done only through requesting. If your student is going to use all of their great expressive language skills only for asking for things they want – his vocabulary will be pretty limited. You want to make sure to include exposure and instruction on a wide range of concepts and terms throughout the child’s day. Keep in mind these are the words that they will soon learn to read. But they have to know the name of the item first before they can learn the word that goes with it!
Use incidental teaching to teach new vocabulary during play based activities. This is a great way to teach vocabulary that is functionally relevant to the child’s world and capitalize on their current motivation. Take this beyond, “what toy is that?” or “what do you want to play with?” Those are likely going to be the child’s reinforcers and possibly words they already know. Target features of the toys, target actions the toys do, target play partners, target the location the toy is, etc. Provide immediate positive feedback when the child correct labels, names, answers a question, or comments. Acknowledge all communication efforts. This is how you get more communication going. Model for the child the language you want them to use. Expand on the phrases they say by adding detail, length, or context. Even if you work with older students, you can work on vocabulary in a play based setting. With older students, engage in this process while reading comic books or magazines together, while playing on the iPad, doing puzzles, or build lego towers.
Many students also benefit from direct instruction on specific vocabulary. Remember – they have to know how to say all these words and identify the items before they can associate the word to the item. It’s worth while to spend some time here developing and building a student’s expressive vocabulary before trying to rush ahead to sight words. You can use Discrete Trial Training and Fluency Instruction to help directly teach your students new words.
Select several targets to work on at once. This can be a list of common objects, colors, prepositions, actions, food items, etc. I always recommend using more than 2 targets at time. If you working on learning apple and banana – your student will have a 50% chance of getting it right. Consider using between 4 – 8 targets depending on the student. Work on that set until mastery. Check out the posts on DTT and Fluency instruction linked above for more info on how to continue this program.
Here are my other tips on creating a successful direct instruction program for new vocabulary: