BrainSTARS: Word Retrieval

Jeanne E. Dise-Lewis, PhD, Margaret Lohr Calvery, PhD, and Hal C. Lewis, PhD, BrainSTARS
BrainSTARS: Word Retrieval

Help your child communicate his thoughts and ideas and mend "break downs" in conversation by providing words for him. Encourage conversation and discussion with as much assistance as necessary.

Use everyday settings and activities

  1. To increase word usage and vocabulary, play word games such as "I Spy," "Twenty Questions," Scattegories™, Outburst Junior™, Scrabble™, and crossword puzzles.
  2. Use everyday conversation to assist your child in using specific everyday vocabulary.
  3. Allow ample time for your child to search his memory for the right word.
  4. If your child cannot retrieve a specific word, encourage and prompt him with a description of the item (e.g., the letter it begins with, what it is used for, looks like, or its association). Accept the use of a gesture instead of the word.
  5. If you know the word your child is seeking, provide it for him. Example:
    • Child: "In history, we are studying about when workers…."
    • Adult: "You are studying about the Industrial Revolution"
  6. Be familiar with the topics of your child’s classes (abolition of slavery, photosynthesis, amphibians) so that you can provide vocabulary words for him as needed during discussion and homework.

Change the environment:

  1. Provide a list of relevant vocabulary words for assignments, tests, and in-class discussions.
  2. For written work, provide the list of "key" words to be included in completed assignments
  3. Provide tests that include a list of possible answers from which to choose. For example use multiple choice, true/false, or matching tests rather than essay exams.
  4. When assessing mastery, oral presentation may be more representative than written work as it allows the student to "talk around" words by describing them item in detail.
  5. Give choices rather than asking open-ended questions.

Teach new skills:

  1. When your child gets “stuck” on a word, first teach him to think of the bigger category and then describe its specific attributes. Example:
    • Child: "This weekend we went to the mountains to look at the…."
    • Adult: "What kind of thing are you thinking of?"
    • Child: "It’s a tree."
    • Adult: "Describe the tree to me."
    • Child: "It's the one that has heart-shaped leaves, and changes in the fall near Vail."
    • Adult: "Sounds like an aspen tree."
    • Child: "Yes, it is an aspen."
  2. To build word usage, use vocabulary in regular and routine environments. Use relevant and specific vocabulary frequently, assisting retrieval by using pictures and examples.

See other BrainSTARS articles.

Posted on BrainLine September 9, 2011.

From BrainSTARS, Brain Injury: Strategies for Teams And Re-education for Students, © 2002 Jeanne Dise-Lewis, PhD. Used with permission. The manual is available in English and Spanish. For more information or to order copies, call 720.777.5470 or A short video on how to use the BrainSTARS manual is available at