One of my readers asked about helping her students with words that they have not anticipated. The research tells us that retrieval improves for the words we work on. However, there is not generalization to other words. How frustrating! So how do we help with those other words?
This is why I think kids need STRATEGIES. They need to know how to help themselves when they are stuck. Different strategies work for different kids. I try to present to them a toolkit, and encourage them to use the tool that fits their own needs. This is also a teaching moment. What is a strategy? I remind them that their favorite sports heroes use strategies all the time. It’s a game plan, a way to win a game, a plan of action.
Visualizing is very powerful for many. Some kids need to be taught to picture things in their minds. Another strategy is to try a closure task (“The tool I use to turn a screw is a ….”, or “At gymnastics class, I walk on the narrow….” ). Some students help themselves by silently going through the alphabet and thinking of beginning sounds (NOT letters, but sounds). This may jump start the phonological connection to their target word. Is she a child who uses a lot of gestures? Great – encourage that. Anything that promotes communication is a positive step. Think of associated words. Can’t think of the name of those things you wear on your legs during a soccer game? Think of soccer, goal, forward, guard, jersey,….Oh, that’s it! Shinguards! Automatic associations can be helpful, and there are many resources that have lists and lists of associations (peanut butter and…., bread and…., hammer and….). Learning categories is another great way to promote connections among words.
Once he “finds” the word, have him repeat, repeat, repeat. Repeat the word aloud. Use it in a meaningful sentence. It’s empowering to know he can help himself in the moment.
Please remember that retrieval is affected by frequency of use and recency of use. Help a child plan ahead: what words will he need? Practice those words aloud! But there will always be words that trip him up unexpectedly. So have a game plan – a strategy – for those moments.