Word Finding Difficulties & Associated Strategies for Children with Language Disorders

Word finding difficulties occur when a person knows and understands a particular word, but has difficulty retrieving it and using it in his or her verbal communication.

Children might retrieve a word that sounds similar to the one they want, or they might say nonsense words or neologisms. In school, children with a word finding problem may have difficulty expressing their knowledge. They may appear not to know the answers when asked questions that need retrieval of specific facts. This may correlate with their memory function or in extreme cases neurodegenerative conditions.

For instance, children may have difficulty remembering a character or people’s names, locations, dates, or other specific facts from curriculum content or age level conversational topics. Their conversation may be brief or include word repetitions, substitutions, empty words, time fillers, and delays.

A child with an acquired brain injury will also have severe problems with finding the right word.

Children with developmental language disorder (DLD) and adults with language disorders are frequently found to have word retrieval difficulties.

Some strategies that children of all ages can use include the following:

  1. Practice reading – Use books that contain rhymes for younger children. This will help target similar words and differentiate the meaning of similar words for the children through visuals and written words. Providing a rhyming word may help children recall other target words for verbal communication.
  2. Associations – Start with a tier 1 word and the child must provide a word that is associated with that word. E.g. hamburger-fries-ketchup or plane – car – motorbike – bicycle etc. Ask the child to explain the reason for the association to further increase his or her semantic processing skills.
  3. Antonyms – Use a series of pictures and instead of naming the picture, get the child to quickly name an opposite. You may time the child and encourage him or her to improve his or her speed of vocabulary recall. 
  4. Synonyms – Build synonym word lists with your child. This can be done in a little book. Encourage your child to draw a picture to represent each word. When doing home language practice sentences orally and/or in writing, refer to the synonym book to encourage expansion and use of new vocabulary. Have your child practice vocabulary/word relationships games online or through apps.
  5. Categorizations – Use pictures or objects and get the child to sort them into the correct tier 1 vocabulary category or group. Cutting up pictures from grocery store advertisements or magazines can work well. Kids can practice naming items when given the category name (e.g. breakfast foods, desserts, drinks).
  6. Riddles – Playing riddle games that require children to describe the features or attributes (e.g. category, function/verb, size, location, adjective) of words. Parents or SLPs may also tell children different noun attributes and then have them name the target vocabulary word. This will help build the child’s ability to store and retrieve new vocabulary effectively.
  7. Phonemic Cues- Giving the beginning sound of the word often helps to retrieve the word. This is an excellent strategy when working on building recall and verbal expression of tier 1 and tier 2 vocabulary.
  8. Sentence Context – Children learn best when key vocabulary is presented in sentence or paragraph context. When a parent or speech/language pathologist provides children with a cloze or fill in the blank sentence, this language strategy often prompts them to retrieve or recall the correct word.  If it is not a frequently occurring word in their spoken vocabulary, children can use context clues to figure out the meaning of the unknown word.

Speech/language pathologists and parents may provide children in grades 3rd-6th this activity below to practice language categorization and organization. This can assist children with improving their vocabulary recall in various semantic (word) categories or groups. Click here for direct access.