Brain Based Learning

Why Do You Teach Categorization in Speech-Language Therapy ?

Many children with language disorders struggle with understanding the skill of categorization. Pediatric speech-language pathologists frequently write objectives for children to improve their ability to name items in categories, name categories when given items in the group, and identify what items do not belong in a category. SLPs select these objectives in therapy often because a child did not demonstrate mastery of this skill on an assessment.

Do you really think about why this is such an important language concept for your client with communication disorder to master? As speech-language pathologists, we need to be able to readily explain to parents, special education teachers, and administrators, the reason we are targeting categorization in speech-language therapy as well as the skilled therapy techniques we use to improve this area.

Children need to learn categorization because it is a critical language processing skill. Semantic or vocabulary processing is a large part of how children understand language and effectively retrieve words. After young children learn to label basic nouns and express their functions (e.g. verbs) during their daily routines, they naturally progress to learn word associations. Categorization is typically the next skill in this developmental hierarchy.

Children need to learn categorization because when they do, it helps them effectively store new words and information in their brain. In doing so, they connect a new vocabulary word or concept to their schema or pattern of knowledge that they already know. For example, when a child learns the subcategory of desserts his or her brain makes an association because he or she already knows that is a type of food. When an older child learns about the water cycle, he or she can make meaning based on previous knowledge about weather, types of precipitation (rain, sleet, snow, etc.), and/or sequence of events.

Preschool children and children in grades K-2 with language disorders need to learn various categorization tasks with Tier I vocabulary words. They need to practice divergent naming task or expressing items in categories such as food, clothes, transportation, and shapes. They need to practice convergent naming tasks that require them to say the category name when told examples of items in that category. Similarly, they need to be able to distinguish what item does not match the group during an elicited task.

Children in grades 3-5 can further their development of categorization by practicing divergent and convergent naming tasks with Tier III academic vocabulary. Since many speech-language pathologists support teaching the language underpinnings of the common core state standards, they can teach their students how to categorize English/Language Arts vocabulary. For example, students can sort parts of speech vocabulary, types of nouns, types of literature terms, or figurative language vocabulary into groups. They can name Tier III words when given a category and state the category when given examples in this group.

So, what materials do you use to take data, instruct children, and provide language practice opportunities for categorization objectives? I have several items in my TPT store to work on these goals. Some of these include:

1) Categories Data Check- 8 forms to quickly assess Tier I vocab
* If you own my Vocabulary Progress Monitoring Tool, it will be updated with this
expanded category data check. Email me if you have questions at [email protected]
2) My Speech Language Category Book- sorting Tier III E/LA 
3) E/LA Comprehensive Categorization Bundle- Tier I & III vocab
4) E/LA Vocabulary Memory Concentration Activity

So the next time someone asks you why you teach categorization in speech therapy? You can remind them that you also provide language therapy and then effectively explain your rationale.

Thanks for reading my blog today!

Until next time,

Tamara Anderson


Guess What? SLP Lingo & Test Prep Vocabulary

My speech-language therapy students are quite accustomed to me pulling out all sorts of vocabulary activities during their weekly sessions. I wanted a new way to help them practice saying the meanings of their key speech-language therapy and English/Language Arts words. So many of my students with language based learning disabilities struggle with verbally defining their curriculum vocabulary and many of them have memory deficits as well. After all, true mastery of a concept is when they can understand and explain the concept.


This was my motivation behind creating my Guess What? Frequently Used SLP Lingo & Test Prep Vocabulary Game. This is the 4th in this series. I wanted a fun way for my speech language kiddos to practice their curriculum vocabulary skills. This was an instant hit in my sessions!!!

To play this curriculum game, I select one semantic map from the set to focus on during a 30 minute session.



Research shows that the use of semantic or vocabulary maps is an excellent memory and learning strategy because it helps children successfully organize and retrieve information from their brains. Score! You can read more about that here as I did research on that as well when I completed my Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degree.

Then I have each student in a group choose a mystery word and tell them to make sure they don’t let the others see it!





Then I put the question prompts page on the table and a word bank.


I love the variety of visuals available in this game because it allows you to differentiate instruction without your kids even knowing it.
For example, some kids may just need the semantic map when it’s their turn to ask a question while others will read directly from the question prompts page or another student will just need the word bank page to formulate his/her question.

Students will take turns asking their opponents a question to try to guess or figure out their mystery word. If someone guesses their word, they pick another word from the deck. The game continues until all the vocabulary from the selected semantic map are guessed.

My speech-language 4th and 5th graders absolutely LOVE this game and they get SUPER competitive too which I don’t mind because they’re practicing their learning objectives. This game will work well for middle school students too! There are 5 semantic maps with 40 Frequently Used SLP Lingo and 5 semantic maps with 40 Test Prep Vocabulary. Your students will have several weeks of language intervention to practice 80 words with this curriculum game!

You may purchase this product in my online TPT store here:

I have three other Guess What? Curriculum Games in this series that are also favorites with my speech kiddos. They are available in my TPS store as well.

1) Guess What? Types of Literature, Story Elements, & Text Features

2) Guess What? Types of Sentences, Parts of Sentences, & Parts of

3) Guess What? Figurative Language, Prefixes, & Suffixes

Thanks for reading the blog today!

Tamara Anderson

I love Semantic Maps! {Evidence-Based Strategy}

I love any reason to use markers in speech-language therapy sessions with my students. When I demonstrate how to make semantic maps, I naturally use markers to make the terms more appealing. Who doesn’t like colorful work samples anyhow? Plus, it is a great memory aid as well.

Semantic maps are visual representations of key vocabulary words that are accompanied by definitions, pictures, and/or acronyms to help individuals learn academic content.

I provide speech-language therapy to kindergarten-fifth grade students. Typically, I use this evidence based strategy with my 5th grade students with science and social studies content. However, it is beneficial with younger kids as well.

Last year I implemented a single subject research design study for my Ed.S. degree program in curriculum & instruction. I compared 5th grade students’ receptive social studies vocabulary knowledge after instruction using semantic maps with World War I and World War II terms vs. the intervention method of flash card drill & repetition. Making semantic or metacognitive maps were a part of Dr. Caroline Leaf ‘s, The Switch On Your Brain 5-Step Learning Process system that I implemented during this research. She is a neuroscientist and speech-language pathologist. How cool is that! I met her in person two years at a conference and she is a phenomenal speaker!

Ok, back to semantic maps. My research findings revealed that the use of the semantic map strategy increased the receptive vocabulary knowledge of 5th grade speech-language impaired students at a greater rate than vocabulary instruction using the flash cards method. On average, my students made a 35 % gain from pretest to posttest with WW I terms and a 50 % gain with WW II terms using semantic maps as a vocabulary learning strategy. When they used the flash card method during the non-treatment phase they demonstrated a  11% increase with WWI terms and a 15 % increase with WWII terms.

This year, I have reviewed key ideas about the Civil War, reconstruction, westward expansion, animal cells, and plant cells using semantic maps with my students who have language disorders and co-occurring language based learning disabilities.


Thanks for reading my blog today!

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Tamara Anderson

Learning Styles Myth or Fact: Right Brain vs. Left Brain

chatting with a friend recently, she asked me if I had recommendations for
learning strategies to help her god daughter in school because she is a “right
brain learner.” She explained that she tends to do well when she uses visual
aids and wanted to know if I had any video resources that I could send them. I told
her that I would be happy to share some information with them.

It is true that specific parts of the brain have specific functions such as Wernicke’s Area in the Left hemisphere controls language comprehension (receptive language) and Broca’s Area controls expressive language. However, research in fact confirms that both hemispheres work together to process and learn new information. See Jensen (2000) and Leaf (2007) for references at the bottom of this entry. The interactive processing or comprehension of information is more related to the various styles of learning or multiple intelligences that can assist a student to comprehend academic content and not just understanding if  they are a left brain vs. right brain learner.

This is supported by the theory of multiple intelligences that explains that
people have different cognitive strengths and contrasting cognitive styles. This theory proposed that there are seven types of intelligences that are of equal importance and include: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.

As a speech-language pathologist, I have experienced working with students who perform best when they are allowed to practice specific skills through oral language practice (interpersonal/intrapersonal intelligence), using visual cues/organizers (spatial intelligence), and with hands on activities (kinesthetic intelligence).  Because the students I work with have language based learning disabilities, their linguistic intelligence (e.g. reading/writing) is often their weakest skills. Therefore, these students have to use their other strengths or intelligences to learn new skills.

Many students who identify with being “right-brain learners” may benefit from the use of pictures, integrating singing academic lyrics, playing background music, or participating in kinesthetic/hands on activities to learn a particular skill.

The bottom line is that students often learn best when they are exposed to more than one learning style to encode the information into their brain. When this is done, they effectively transfer the information into short term memory and then long term memory. Although people may have their own preferences for learning, both sides of the brain work together to effectively process and learn new information.

I will provide additional resources on this blog about learning styles, brain-based learning, and specific resources that can help all students learn.

Tamara Anderson, Ed.S., CCC-SLP

Speech-Language Pathologist


Jensen, E. (2000).
Brain-based learning. The new science of teaching & training. San Diego,
CA: The Brain Store Publishing.
Leaf, C. (2009). The
switch on your brain 5 step learning process. Dallas, TX: Switch On Your Brain USA.