Better Speech and Hearing Month · Vocabulary

We Love Words, We Love Spelling

Every speech pathologist has his or her own set of stories that come out of the speech room. Almost every time I have found it to be related to vocabulary. Last week was no exception. This month is the best reason to talk about spelling and vocabulary–thanks, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee! Before I talk about that interaction, I’m going to share some of my previous stories from the speech room.

One year, I had a student tell me “I put Green Bay on my macaroni and cheese because it tastes better.” After much debate on whether or not Green Bay is a city or seasoning (this was a real discussion in my speech room), he finally conceded that he meant Old Bay. This involved me finding images of Old Bay and pointing out his friend’s football jersey. Only for vocabulary’s sake will I debate a five-year-old.

Last year, a student asked me about “that show I’m always talking about.” Naturally, she was referring to Hamilton. She asked me what it was about, and followed with, “If he wasn’t a president, why is he on the ten dollar bill?” Yes, this was where it took everything for me not to start singing the opening number, but I explained to her he established our banking system. Once she agreed that this made sense, she says, “Oh so he was helping out when George Washington was our President in the 1600s.” This resulted in a history lesson, in which I was told I was wrong many times. Again, internet search to the rescue, because why believe me when there’s Google?

Last week, I was working on conversation building when a student asked me what my favorite geometry was. Confused by the question, I answered honestly and said that I didn’t like geometry, that it was too hard for me, and that I didn’t have a favorite. This was asked of me about five more times and I caved and said, “I guess triangles weren’t too difficult in geometry.” The other two students at the table responded with other mathematical answers. I, still finding the question odd, asked the student his own question. The answer I got? “I really like U.S. Geometry and how the country was formed from colonies to states.”

Like the other interactions, I wanted to laugh. The student isn’t old enough to have had explicit lessons on geography yet, but is very curious. He can tell you why Pluto is no longer a planet, teach you how to code like it’s as easy as naming shapes, and I fully expected a response like, “I really enjoy solving proofs.” Instead, I used this as a teachable moment, which I shared on Twitter. I picked up a white board and wrote:

Geometry = math
Geography = places/maps

The student listened as I explained this, and said, “Oh, I meant geography. That’s the word for talk about the globe and other countries. Whoops!” At this point, I told him my favorite piece of geographical information to research is human geography, and how people settled into different areas of the world.

For those of you wondering why my role is important in a student’s education, I am helping them to access the curriculum being taught in class. Through me they are better equipped and able to use the vocabulary taught during instruction appropriately, apply background knowledge, and use a variety of strategies for comprehension of academic material. I also taught the student that there is an exception to every rule, since the default was to lean on the prefixes of these vocabulary words. Mnemonic devices have always helped me, and I’m a visual learner, so this strategy came naturally to me in the moment. Let me know in the comments section what your go-to strategies are for teaching vocabulary.

This week’s challenge is to listen for teachable moments. If you are giving the lesson, think of encouraging ways it can be delivered and best understood by the listener. If you’re receiving the lesson, think outside the box about how to apply this lesson in other aspects of your life.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

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