Here is a question from Coleen, an SLP in Canada:
I have a few students whom I think fit the Error Level 3 patterns. Many of them also make frequent syntactical errors at the sentence level. For instance, they often omit the ‘small’ words such as auxiliary verbs or -ing word endings. They do this in running conversation in addition to tasks which involve sentence repetition AND in oral reading tasks.
She goes on to explain what she is doing currently: What I have done is chosen particular goals in a particular sentence structure (such as using ‘is’ or ‘am’, with a way to transition to the contracted form. I have provided visual cues, such as sentence shape cues (kind of like the boxes you use for syllables, but different shapes for different parts of the sentence), and then we practice in a drill-like format using picture description. I know this is inadequate. Even with the visual cues faded, they are able to include these words when practicing, but they still don’t use them consistently in conversational speech, in repetition tasks in other settings, and in oral reading. I suspect that I need to do more of the rehearsal in conversational speech, but I’m not sure how to bridge that, AND I wondered if you had any suggestions, such as mnemonic cues for inconsistent use of syntax endings?
It’s difficult to determine whether errors are based on incomplete syntactical knowledge or on word finding difficulties. The inconsistency that Coleen described suggests to me that word finding difficulties may be the culprit. I like to try mnemonics; if the strategy is successful, then you are likely dealing with a retrieval-based problem.
After teaching that present progressive forms need an ing ending, practice the mnemonic ting a ling, jing a ling. I like to use a little tune as added input (how about Jingle Bells?). Use Diane German’s technique: Link the cue to the evasive syllable, repeat aloud 3 times (I prefer 5 times), then use the word in a meaningful sentence.
Similarly, teach that the –ed past tense ending may sound like /d/ or /t/ . Link crushed it or pumped it up for the /t/ sound, and blasted to remember the /d/ sound. You can read a more complete description of Dr. German’s process here: http://www.wordfindingforkids.com/an-endorsement-from-the-word-finding-guru/
Auxiliary verbs is and are may also benefit from mnemonic cues. Try a buzzing zzzz sound for is, and a pirate arrrrrgh for are.
I like Coleen’s use of the visual sentence shapes. The more modalities involved, the better! Carryover is always a challenge. As a stepping stone to conversational speech, I like to have the kids practice dialogs using the target syntactic forms. If your setting allows it, ask classmates to visit your speech session so they can practice with their peers. Push into the classroom and collaborate with the classroom teacher to ask questions that will require the morphological endings or auxiliary verbs in the answers.
Does anyone have other suggestions to add? Please continue the conversation!