Speech Therapy: Adding to One-Word Answers

I'm getting ready to do a little bit of speech therapy tomorrow. The students I'm working with are mostly very limited with oral communication and have diagnoses of more than speech therapy. But it makes me think about my students who struggle to learn language but still have oral communication. Don't we often think that if these students can say more than they are? They're not non-verbal, after all. Are we expecting too much to make them talk more? Not expecting enough and letting them slide with simple sentences and answers? Maybe we need to be somewhere in the middle.

I had two kindergarten groups this year that were very opposite. One had several students working mostly on speech sounds. Believe me, they had great oral language besides that! If I had asked them to retell me the story of the "The Three Little Pigs", this is probably what I would have gotten:

Student #1: The first pig built a house of straw and the wolf came and huffed and puffed.
Student #2: Yeah, and then the second pig used sticks, but the wolf blew that down.
Student #3: The third little pig used bricks and kept everyone safe.

Yes, they probably would have been difficult to understand, what with saying "pid" for "pig" and "taw" for "straw", but they would have connected to the previous sentence and been able to sequence with mostly correct grammar.

Contrast that with my kindergarten group working mostly on language. "Tell me about The Three Little Pigs" might have led to this answer: PIGS

Ever gotten that? I mean, it's a familiar story. Shouldn't the student tell us more? And a one-word utterance in response to "tell me" is not appropriate for a kindergartener. There could be a lot of things going on. But since I'm an SLP and this is my example, we're going to go with a language-disordered student.

Our natural next response is to think, "I've got to get this kid on the RtI Committee agenda!" Ok, maybe it's not, although you should definitely visit with your SLP. Usually, our next response is to quiz the student and offer a sentence: How many pigs? What did they do? Who blew the houses down? That's right, the three little pigs built houses and the wolf came.

And guess what? We have changed the original request to answering WH- questions instead of "tell me". Our poor little student who gave us one word for an answer and maybe one-word answers to the questions. How much language did we just throw at a student who can't process that much? Lots of questions and a whole sentence. That's overwhelming for a student talking in short utterances. That's where I usually get the glassy-eyed look.

Here is an alternative - add ONE word to the student's answer. It won't be where you want them to be, but it's a stepping stone. Here's an example:

Me: Tell me about "The Three Little Pigs".
Student: Pigs
Me: Three pigs
Student: Three pigs.
Me: Now, tell me about "The Three Little Pigs".
Student: Three pigs.

The general rule is that a student should use utterances equal to age. For example, a 1-year-old says one word: doggie. A two-year-old adds to that: doggie run. A kindergarten student should be at 5-6 words.

I'm not saying you shouldn't ask questions. I love WH- questions. It's a good way to assess if a student can answer questions about story elements. But if our goal is to extend what the student is saying, adding one word at a time is a good way to go.

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