Language & Literacy Intervention Tips: Metalinguistics, Visualization, Memory Strategies

Children and adolescents can learn strategies to improve their language & literacy skills. They can make gains in academic and linguistic abilities when they practice their strategies during speech/language therapy sessions, the classroom, and at home. Speech/language pathologists, teachers, and parents can guide them through applying metalinguistic, visualization, and memory strategies to succeed across school curriculum areas such as language arts, science, social studies, and math.

Metalinguistics is an individual’s ability to actively think about, talk about, and analyze language. These skills are essential for higher-order language or critical thinking. This is an essential component in language learning and involves someone thinking about oral and written language. Children who have good metalinguistic awareness have a solid understanding of phonological awareness, morphological awareness, syntactic awareness, semantic awareness, and pragmatic language or social skills.

For instance, students with excellent phonological awareness are good at identifying and manipulating speech sounds in words, a meta-awareness skill. Children with excellent language or metalinguistic skills can actively think about their learning and new language or academic concepts. These individuals have a good understanding of word structure, sentence structure, vocabulary, and social language use. They are strong thinkers and readers who can make inferences, predictions, draw conclusions, understand multiple meanings, and comprehend non-literal or figurative language. They are able to think about science concepts, social studies topics, and learn and explain math concepts. They are able to answer verbal reasoning questions and math word problems. Effective language comprehension skills are the foundation for academic success in all subjects or classes.

To visualize means to create a mental image, or to imagine. Visualization strategies help a reader develop a mental image of what is being described in a story or text. The artwork in picture books can be used with children of all ages, not just younger children, to help them see how words and images connect.  With visualization, the first step is to explain to the child what visualization means and that by picturing what the text describes will help them remember what they read. It is like making a movie in their head about what they read or about information that is read aloud.

A pre-story task can be conducted where the child is asked to examine a scene in the story they are reading. Then the scene is removed, and the child is asked to visualize it on their own. Finally, the clinician reads a sentence to the child and describes what she “sees.” The clinician then chooses sections from the text and asks the student to practice visualizing and discussing what they see. These visualization techniques are designed to help students make references so that it is easier for them to recall and understand information.

The visualization technique provides an opportunity for children and adolescents to use mental imagery by making a picture in their mind of a vocabulary word or information they are learning at school. Visualization is an excellent language strategy to build comprehension and oral language skills. During speech/language therapy, the speech/language pathologist can ask students several probing questions to help them describe familiar or personal objects with key attributes. Children can practice describing tier 1 vocabulary or objects that are not directly in front of them (e.g., food, item at house, a pet, a piece of jewelry, etc.). Once children can accurately describe familiar or personal objects, they learn to create mental images of simple sentences, paragraphs, and eventually the whole text to improve their listening and reading comprehension skills.

The speech language pathologist can guide a child or adolescent, to process language visually, express what they visualize, orally define vocabulary, and answer literal and inferential questions from information read aloud or presented in text.

Additionally, there are various memory strategies that may be utilized in speech/language therapy, the classroom, and at home to build essential skills. These include:

1. Mnemonics and Acronyms:

A mnemonic is a learning method that involves using a phrase or pattern of letters to remember information.  Using an acronym or  abbreviation from the initial letters of words can improve memory. Let children create their own mnemonics to assist them in memorizing important curriculum facts, the elements of a process, list, definition, etc.

2. Visual Lists:

Write down an agenda throughout speech therapy next to your workspace. Children will visualize and recall the items that must be done in the therapy session. Children can practice remembering key items from a grocery list when with their family.

3. Games and Puzzles:

Use games such as checkers or chess as a preferred activity to strategize with each child. Puzzles are a great exercise for the brain to build cognitive or thinking skills.

4. Categorizing and Making Connections:

Let children create a hierarchy and classification of categories to enhance archiving and memory skills. They can learn key language arts, science, social studies, and math vocabulary by organizing and listing words according to topics or categories.

5. Drawing and/or Tracing:

Another activity can be performed by allowing children to draw or trace new vocabulary actions and objects to help visualize and ingrain the word within their minds.

6. Color Coordination:

Children can use different color highlighters, colored pencils or markers to emphasize key vocabulary or color-coordinate study guides/class notes.

7. Repetition:

This is a simple and important strategy, repetition. It can significantly improve memory and performance for a child. Mental repetition is crucial.

8. Multisensory:

Children can utilize different modalities to transfer information from short term to long term memory. For example, when studying for a test, they can say the information from a study guide aloud, rewrite notes, use highlighters, draw diagrams, or move their body (e.g. clap hands, jumping jacks)  to practice vocabulary or math facts such as multiplication tables.