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    Themed Therapy: An Evidence-Based Vocabulary Strategy

    Themed Therapy: An Evidence-Based Vocabulary Strategy

    6 minute read

    Themed therapy has totally saved my sessions - and the great news is that it's an evidence-based vocabulary strategy!

    Vocabulary instruction can be overwhelming for SLPs. You might be thinking - "Where should I start? What words should I use? What strategies are evidence-based?" Then, there's all the planning...

    I've got your back!

    In this blog post, I'll share the research, describe how to integrate themed therapy into your sessions, and walk you through a sample session using my time saver, Themed Therapy Cheat Sheets.

    You're going to want to bookmark this one! 😊

    Themed Therapy Cheat Sheets

    The Research

    To learn a new vocabulary word, our students have to make a connection between the word and the concept, and build meaning around it. Learning a new word is a lot easier when they can fit it into a system or category that they already know.

    Hadley et al. (2018) identified four factors that help our students to build and deepen their vocabulary:

    multiple exposures to the new concept,

    explicit instruction of the vocabulary,

    - support to build categories using perceptual features, and

    - opportunities to connect words to themes.

    Factors that Support Vocabulary Knowledge

    Themes, such as Community Helpers or Zoo, help children to build their understanding of words and make connections with these new concepts. For example, a Farm theme can help support students to fast-map:

    core words, such as "open, close",

    tier 1 and 2 nouns, such as "goat, fence, produce",

    - and/or verbs, such as "hop, harvest".

    Themed Word Lists for Speech Therapy: Themed Therapy Cheat Sheets BUNDLE

    Hadley et al. (2018) stated in their research, "When children learn about concepts in thematic groups, they gain an understanding of semantic relations between words, such as causal or spatial relations."

    "When children learn about concepts in thematic groups, they gain an understanding of semantic relations between words, such as causal or spatial relations." Hadley et al., 2018

    So... how can SLPs integrate themed therapy into our sessions in an evidence-based way?

    Research supports a combination of read aloud and play to incorporate themed targets and words into instruction, "Pairing book reading and guided play show promise for fostering depth of knowledge, as combining these activity settings builds in repeated encounters with words and explicit semantic information about words." (Hadley et al., 2018)

    Combining read aloud and play targets those factors - multiple exposures, explicit instruction, building categories,and connecting to themes - that help students cultivate a deeper vocabulary.

    Yorke et al. (2018) noted, "Reading aloud isn't enough: we know that kids learn best when direct teaching elements (i.e., introducing the task, providing modeling, supported practice, and independent practice) are part of the process."

    SLPs can help students by combining illustrations within the story to picture cards depicting the illustration to support conceptual knowledge and solidify perceptual features. We can also incorporate child-friendly definitions, such as taxonomy membership (e.g. "Radishes are vegetables") or perceptual features (e.g. "Radishes are red on the outside and white on the inside. They taste a little spicy.").

    Child-Friendly Definitions - Themed Therapy

    Following the read aloud, research supports child-led play opportunities as a way of continuing to build semantic information. These opportunities might include play props (e.g. using a small chair to learn 'throne'; Glenberg et al., 2004) and/or learning through characters actions/feelings.

    To summarize:

    ✨ Themed therapy is an evidence-based approach for vocabulary instruction, and can be supported by combined read aloud and play. ✨

    Themed Therapy - Vocabulary Instruction

    Wondering how to pick a theme for themed therapy?

    Check out my blog post - How to Choose a Theme for Themed Therapy

    Sample Session Ideas

    My go-tos for themed therapy are my Themed Therapy Cheat Sheets - these resources are HUGE and include tons of therapy targets and ideas relating to specific themes. These Cheat Sheets are also invaluable because they minimize my prep time and they include combined read aloud/play activities for a variety of goals.  👏

     Themed Therapy Cheat Sheets - Bundle

    👉 These resources have got your mixed groups and students with multiple goals covered! There are themed articulation targets and social language prompts included!

    Vocabulary Instruction Session Plan - The Type B SLP

    For me, a challenging part of vocabulary instruction can be deciding on the new words/concepts to teach. The Cheat Sheets come with word lists, which makes this decision so much easier and less time consuming.

    With the new concepts identified, I can use the book recommendations to pick a read aloud, and toy recommendations to introduce and model our vocabulary terms - another serious time saver!

    Zoo - Themed Therapy Cheat Sheets

    From there, there's so many activities to choose from for guided vocabulary practice - real image flashcards, themed songs, wh- questions, compare/contrast activities, and more...

    There are tons of printable activities for continued supported and independent practice, making sure that our session is filled with our targets.

    Another little gem of these resources are the themed movement breaks... perfect for sensory integration and gross motor movement!

    Today in Speech - Themed Therapy

    At the end of the session, I like to use the "Today in Speech" page to promote carryover of the new concepts and provided opportunities for practice at home.

    I hope this post helps to make your vocabulary instruction more manageable and fun! If you use the Cheat Sheets, let me know which one is a hit with your students!


    Themed Therapy Cheat Sheets for Speech Therapy: GROWING BUNDLE ONE

    Themed Therapy Cheat Sheets for Speech Therapy: GROWING BUNDLE ONE

    $43.70 $64.00

    Evidenced based CHEAT SHEETS to use alongside ANY themed book, activity, or game related to themes in the bundle! Be sure to download the preview for a complete look at the product!! This HUGE resource will give you access to TONS of therapy targets and… read more

    👉 Check out my Amazon page (affiliate) for themed book/toy ideas!


    Glenberg, A.M., Gutierrez, T., Levin, J.R., Japuntich, S., & Kaschak, M.P. (2004). Activity and Imagined Activity Can Enhance Young Children's Reading Comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(3), 424-436.

    Hadley, E.B., Dickinson, D.K., Hirsch-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R.M. (2018). Building semantic networks: The impact of a vocabulary intervention on preschoolers' depth of word knowledge. Reading Research Quarterly. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1002/rrq.225

    Yorke, A.M., Light, J.C., Gosnell Caron, J., McNaughton, D.B., & Drager, K.D.R. (2018). The effects of explicit instruction in academic vocabulary during shared book reading on the receptive vocabulary of children with complex communication needs. Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/07434619.2018.1506823

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