Writing informational text: Scaffolding our instruction

Do you work on writing with upper elementary students? If not writing, how about improving students’ abilities to describe, compare and contrast, or sequence information? Thought so. The authors of this study developed an intervention that addresses these skills that you need to write informational texta pretty complex task when you stop and think about it

Informational text writing requires students to read some sort of source material, connect the content with their background knowledge, organize their thoughts, and then write about it. What’s novel about the authors’ approach is bypassing the source material altogether. Struggling 4th and 5th grade writers (likely to also struggle with reading) read a condensed information set—called an “information frame”—rather than an entire excerpt or passage. For example, an information frame could look like this:

Copy of Structure_ SD (simple description) Topic_ Baseball Characteristics%2FFacts_ Sport played outside on a field Nicknamed “America’s Pasttime” Nine players play defense at a time One player bats at a time Players u.png

Next, students learned a set of strategies:

  • Pick your idea

  • Organize your notes

  • Write

  • Review

… which they applied when writing passages that were 1) descriptive, 2) compared and contrasted information, or 3) sequenced information. Students who received the intervention made gains in each of these informational writing areas at posttest—not bad for only 6 hours of intervention time. The appendices include a sample prompt and scoring rubric if you’d like to get a feel for the writing tasks. 

Although this particular intervention needs additional research, the ideas behind it make a lot of sense for writing instruction. Reducing the cognitive load (i.e., requiring that students read less material) allows space for focusing on writing, especially planning, organizing, reviewing, and revising. Since writing skills can be challenging for us to teach and for our students to learn, this article is worth a look for ideas on how to scaffold your instruction.


Hebert, M., Bohaty, J. J., Nelson, J. R., & Roehling, J. V. (2018). Writing Informational Text Using Provided Information and Text Structures: An Intervention for Upper Elementary Struggling Writers. Reading and Writing. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s11145-018-9831-x

Preschool peer-mediated video modeling

Much of the early childhood school day involves play or peer interactions. We’ve talked before about peer-mediated interventions for preschoolers with autism (e.g., here, here, and here). It’s no surprise to SLPs that there’s also a growing evidence base for using video modeling with this population. Since preschoolers with autism may need structured opportunities to learn and practice social skills, you could use video modeling or you could include a typically developing peer in intervention, or… you could use both (aka: joint video modeling)!

Including a peer is what makes joint video modeling different. Since we’re talking about preschoolers here, the authors needed to do some structured training with those peers. First, the preschool director and head teacher selected “play partners”—peers with age appropriate social skills and good interactions with classmates with autism. The authors showed the play partner a picture of the other child, explained the difficulties the child had during play, and read a book about understanding differences. Then, through role play and video modeling, the play partners learned how to initiate during play. 


Now on to the joint video modeling intervention: The four-year-old dyads jointly (sitting next to each other listening via split headphones) watched a 30-second video model twice on an iPad. Cool note about the video models: Although they showed adults’ hands manipulating toys, they were based on typically developing preschoolers’ play with those same toys. So if you need some inspiration, you may need to look no further than peers in the classroom! 

After intervention, the children with autism used more scripted verbalizations (from the videos) and unscripted verbalizations (even better!) during pretend play—and generalized the skills with other peers even after the videos were taken away. We still need more information on how the skills were maintained, and to help explain the individual differences within the participants’ performance, but joint video modeling is definitely showing promise.


Dueñas, A. D., Plavnick, J. B., & Bak, M. Y. S. (2018). Effects of Joint Video Modeling on Unscripted Play Behavior of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. doi:10.1007/s10803-018-3719-2

When do children acquire consonants? A review of 27 languages


We all use “age of acquisition” data in our daily practice—it helps us decide which errors are “typical” for a given age, which kids require further assessment, who requires intervention, and after that which sounds to treat and in which order. But should we be using the normative data we use for our English-speaking clients for kids who speak other languages? Not when we have data available for languages across the world—which we do!

This study provides a cross-linguistic review of children’s acquisition of consonants in 27 languages. The authors reviewed 64 studies from 31 countries to inform practicing SLPs’ expectations of children’s speech sound development across languages. They include: 

  • Average age of acquisition data on each pulmonic consonant (those that use air from our lungs and move outward; includes all sounds in English) and each nonpulmonic sound (clicks, implosives, and ejectives);

  • Average age of acquisition of consonant phonemes, organized by manner and place;

  • Percentage of consonants correct (PCC) across 12 languages;

  • Percentage of vowels correct (PVC) across 5 languages;

  • Percentage of phonemes correct (PPC) across 2 languages; and

  • Early-middle-late data for 4 languages

They found that kids acquire most of the world’s consonants by the time they’re 5, and that plosives, nasals, and nonpulmonic consonants are generally acquired before trills, flaps, fricatives, and affricates. 

Once the authors looked at the data as a whole, they also considered four languages specifically: English, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish. They found that the general patterns were the same across languages, however there was some variability in which consonants were not acquired by age 5 (see Figure 2 of the paper for a handy chart of consonant phonemes acquired from 2–6 years of age).

This study definitely deserves a look if you’re working with kids who speak a range of languages. It can serve as a resource not only for the languages included within the review, but also languages with no available data. SLPs can use this information and the overall patterns of speech sound development to decide what is “typical” across languages and to inform their clinical decisions. 


McLeod, S., & Crowe, K. (2018). Children's consonant acquisition in 27 languages: A cross-linguistic review. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1044/2018_AJSLP-17-0100

Want grammar skills to generalize? Load your therapy with “hard” verbs.

In this paper from ASHA’s special issue on Statistical Learning, Owen Van Horne et al. added additional data to an older study that helps us learn how to superpower our grammar interventions (specifically regular past-tense marking) by taking advantage of the statistical properties of language.


Kids tend to be most accurate with past tense -ed on verbs that they hear in the past tense a lot, that are easy to say, and that make a lot of sense in the past tense—words like played and jumped. Seems pretty obvious, yeah? We are good at stuff that is easy. And when your goal is early success for your clients, you follow a developmental model and pick the easiest targets to start with. But there’s another, less intuitive, school of thought that says: Hey, life is full of the easy verbs. To really learn how to mark tense, kids need to get the hard verbs too. Let therapy be the place where they hear the hard ones. (Think of the complexity approach for phonology; see here for a recent tutorial).

So here’s the gist of it—you want to concentrate on verbs that are more complicated in their past-tense-edness, in terms of:

  • Frequency: Kids hear them in the past tense less often;

  • Phonology: They take the more complex form of the past tense morpheme (–ɪd vs. –t/–d, as in “glided” vs. “hopped”); and/or

  • Semantics: They describe an action that’s ongoing or incomplete*

The authors tested this approach with 20 children (4–10 years old) with DLD and poor performance on regular past-tense probes. The children whose therapy targeted “hard” verbs first (all verbs came from the set analyzed in this paper) were more accurate with regular past tense in both structured probes (right after intervention) and in language samples (post-intervention and 6–8 weeks later).

How could this look in real life? You could take your go-to therapy tools (play sets, favorite books, etc.) and brainstorm some target words ahead of time to help you get started. Jot them down on a post-it and keep it right in the box. Always pulling out that farm set? Maybe the cow rested in the barn while the pigs wiggled in the mud.

*This part is the trickiest to wrap your brain around. It’s helpful to make a contrast with the kind of verbs we don’t want, the ones that have a clear endpoint implied. For example, “build.” Once you’ve built something, it’s done, you can’t keep doing it. Same with “eat” or “drop.” The linguistic term for this is telic (so verbs that are “endless,” like “breathe” and “feel” are atelic). That’s Greek, y’all. Again, you can refer to the source for this study’s word lists here for more examples.


Owen Van Horne, A. J., Curran, M., Larson, C., & Fey, M. E. (2018). Effects of a Complexity-Based Approach on Generalization of Past Tense –ed and Related Morphemes. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 49(3S), 681–693.

Throwback (2013): Improving expressive grammar skills in the real world

Carefully-controlled studies implemented by trained research assistants are great and all, but isn’t it awesome when researchers partner with practicing SLPs? Smith-Lock et al. did just that for this study testing an expressive grammar intervention.

The researchers recruited 5-year-old children with developmental language disorder (DLD) and average nonverbal intelligence and tested them on early-developing grammar forms (possessive –s, past tense –ed, pronouns “he” and “she”; examples in Appendix A). The study intervention was delivered for one hour each week in the classroom by real-life school-based SLPs, teachers, and teacher assistants. First, the SLP led a whole-class lesson on a grammar target (see example in Appendix B). Then, children split up into small groups of 3–6 (one grammar target per group). Each group completed three activities, rotating between the three professionals. Activities were all play-based and provided opportunities for children to hear and say the target. SLPs and teachers used these strategies:

  • Teaching the target directly

  • Modeling the target with emphasis

  • Prompting the child to use the target

  • Recasting the child’s errors on the target

  • Providing feedback on the child’s productions

After 8 weeks of this treatment, children were re-tested on all grammar forms. And the results were pretty great—children in the treatment group showed a stable baseline, then improved significantly after treatment compared to children in a control group. Children in the treatment group also showed more improvement on treated than untreated grammar targets. One caveat though—children were less likely to make progress when they had articulation errors that affected the sound or sound pattern needed to produce the targets (i.e., certain final clusters). 

This study tells us that group intervention in schools can work, and if we want to improve children’s use of a grammar form, we need to target it directly and make sure they can say it!


Smith-Lock, K. M., Leitao, S., Lambert, L. & Nickels, L. (2013). Effective intervention for expressive grammar in children with specific language impairment. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 48(3), 265–282.

Throwback (2013): Practice those inferences!

It’s no surprise that children need to be able to comprehend language to succeed in school. They need to understand both what is explicitly stated (referential comprehension) and what is implied (inferential comprehension). Those pesky inferences! They’re so important for boosting language comprehension, but the literature tells us more about assessment and treatment of expressive deficits than it does about comprehension in kids with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), so we don’t really know the best way to address them. This study helps tip that balance and gives an option for treatment.


Preschool-aged children (all diagnosed with DLD* and receiving weekly services from SLPs) were tested using an informal questionnaire and the Reasoning subtest from the PLAI (Preschool Language Assessment Instrument) both before and after a dialogic reading intervention. To increase the chances that this treatment and its results could be generalized to other settings, the students’ regular SLPs implemented the intervention! Here’s how they did it: they added 20 minutes of dialogic reading, using commercially available books and researcher-developed questions, to the beginning of each speech–language session. Some questions checked referential comprehension (e.g., “What color are Mrs. Dupre’s boots?”) and some questions were inferential (e.g., “What do you think John is going to do with his tools?”). Each book was presented for two consecutive sessions. For incorrectly answered questions, the SLPs scaffolded support using a “least-to-most” cueing hierarchy (e.g. rephrasing the question all the way up to phonemic cues to the answer).

After 10 weeks, the children seemed to infer better than before the intervention (and maintained the skill), but the authors hesitated to attribute the change only to the intervention because of the order they administered the informal questionnaires (see the results section for specifics). That detail aside, here’s a useful finding for clinicians: overall, the preschoolers improved the quality of their responses to questions. We’ve all worked with the kid who makes us think, “Well, he’s not wrong, but he didn’t exactly get it, either.” How do you even score that? In this case, the authors modeled their scoring scale after the PLAI Reasoning subtest. The following points were assigned per answers that were:

  • Correct/Adequate = 4 points

  • Acceptable = 3 points

  • Ambiguous = 2 points

  • Incorrect/Inadequate = 1 point  

A scoring scale like this is great because it can help us see the small changes a child makes over the course of intervention. The authors stated that “as intervention progressed, their responses, while not always completely correct, improved in quality.” That’s a trend in the right direction, and exactly what we want to see from progress report to progress report!

The takeaway: we still need more research on how to assess and treat inferential comprehension in young children, but dialogic reading intervention (including inferential questions) is a promising option for improving the quality of children’s answers to inferential questions.

Want to know more? See this study and a previous study by van Kleeck, Vander Woude, & Hammett (2006) for examples of questions and scripts for this intervention.

**Note: The children in this study were those with Specific Language Impairment (SLI), which is a child with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) and normal nonverbal intelligence. We use DLD throughout our website for consistency purposes (read more here).


Desmarais, C., Nadeau, L., Trudeau, N., Filiatrault-Veilleux, P., & Maxes-Fournier, C. (2013). Intervention for improving comprehension in 4-6 year old children with specific language impairment: Practicing inferencing is a good thing. Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, 27, 540–552.

Throwback (2014): Narrative intervention for ASD (and free stuff!)

SLPs see a lot of children who have difficulty with narrative tasks. While typically developing preschoolers are beginning to understand story grammar, children with autism and/or developmental language disorders often struggle well into elementary years, affecting them both academically and socially. Narrative comprehension and generation are also a focus of the Common Core standards, as the authors of this 2014 paper explain:

“[Per Common Core] kindergartners should be able to tell a story in time order; second graders should be able to give details of actions, thoughts, and feelings; and fourth graders should be able to effectively recount subtleties of narrative events. Students must be able to meet these rigorous expectations that are now guiding instruction and evaluation across the United States.”


Need narrative assessment and intervention resources to help your students jump this high bar? Petersen and colleagues have you covered. They have created the CUBED assessment for narrative language, which can be downloaded for free here, are currently norming the DYMOND (see their guest review on that), and tested a narrative intervention in this study here.

Three boys ages 6–8 with ASD were assessed using a previous version of the CUBED assessment and then participated in 12 intervention sessions to see if the treatment improved their story grammar and linguistic complexity in personal narratives. Story grammar (e.g., internal response, problem, action, consequence, etc.) and linguistic complexity targets (e.g., causality, temporal conjunctions, adverbs, subordinate clauses, etc.) were chosen for each boy based on his performance on the initial assessment.

The general framework of the intervention includes 8 steps (4 addressing narrative re-telling, 4 addressing narrative generation) completed in order.

  1. Clinician tells model story, providing story grammar icons for visual support

  2. Child re-tells the model story, with full support from clinician

  3. Child re-tells the model story, with fading support

  4. Child independently re-tells the model story

  5. Child generates a personal narrative related to model story while clinician sketches visual cues

  6. Child re-tells narrative with full support

  7. Child re-tells narrative with fading support

  8. Child independently re-tells narrative after brief “break” (clean-up)

That looks pretty reasonable, but did it work? After analyzing the students’ final narratives, the authors found that all three students increased the story grammar elements and linguistic complexity of their narratives immediately after intervention, but maintenance of these improvements was inconsistent. The authors suggested that “it is likely that greater numbers of individualized narrative intervention sessions are necessary to maintain global gains for children with autism.” So while this intervention is promising, it’s not a quick fix.

See the paper’s appendices for treatment steps, a scoring rubric, and model story examples. For more information on sketching visual supports from children’s narratives, see here.


Petersen, D. B., Brown, C., L, Ukrainetz, T. A., Wise, C., Spencer, T. D., & Zebre, J. (2014). Systematic individualized narrative language intervention on the personal narratives of children with autism. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 45(1), 67–86.

Throwback (2016): Speech sound disorder, language disorder, and family risk of dyslexia: A triple-whammy impact on literacy

The authors of this study found that speech sound disorder, language disorder, and family risk of dyslexia all have an impact on reading outcomes. When these risk factors are combined, however, literacy outcomes get worse.

The study tracked a large group of 3-year-olds up through age 8, some identified with speech sound disorder (SSD) and some with typical language development. Some of the children in the SSD group also had an identified language disorder (LD) and/or a family risk of dyslexia (FR).

The authors found that children who had speech difficulties at school entry tended to have poorer word reading and phoneme awareness at age 5, but caught up by age 8. The authors concluded that most children with SSD “recover from this early setback.” This wasn’t the case for the children with additional risk factors, however. Poorer reading outcomes were seen in the SSD + LD group, with the most significant impairments in the SSD + LD + FR group. The more risk factors, the more they accumulate, and the larger the impact on literacy outcomes.

So—if your little clients have SSD only, it appears that the impact on literacy is likely to be short-lived (another interesting point—the initial severity of the SSD did not impact literacy outcomes). However, if other risk factors are present (and how will we know if they are? By screening when we do the artic/phono assessment!), this is when we need to have our eyes and ears open. A language disorder or family history of dyslexia should alert SLPs to monitor the child’s early literacy development and to ensure that appropriate interventions are in place.

Hayiou-Thomas, M. E., Carroll, J. M., Leavett, R., Hulme, C., & Snowling, M. J. (2016). When does speech sound disorder matter for literacy? The role of disordered speech errors, co-occurring language impairment and family risk of dyslexia. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58, 197–205.

Perspectives & Tutorials

Statistical Learning—More fun than it sounds, we promise

“While hampered by a boring name, statistical learning is actually a highly relevant topic that should be of interest to clinicians.” (Alt, 2018).

Another month, another special issue from the ASHA Schools journal! This time the topic is Statistical Learning—a terrible name, admittedly, but a really important concept that could change the way you do therapy. It’s that automatic, unconscious learning that’s based on the patterns in our environment. For example—feel pretty sure that “Zblutn” couldn’t be a legit word in English, but not sure why you know? Thank your innate talent for statistical learning, which internalizes rules about the sound sequences you’ve heard (and haven’t) throughout your life.

Willing to commit a few minutes to learning more? We’d recommend pulling up Plante & Gomez’s overview on how statistical learning relates to our clinical work, as well as Mary Alt’s very readable final summary. (We are big fans of the super-straightforward article titles in this issue. Don’t you wish every academic publication wrapped up with a two-page paper literally called “Take Home Points”? That’s the way to be clinician-friendly, guys. Major props.)

If you’re ready for a deeper dive, there is *so* much here: tutorials for applying these principles to spelling and reading intervention, as well as how they apply to children with intellectual impairments; reviews of the research relating to children with cochlear implants and who are bilingual; and a few original research articles, one of which we’ve reviewed here.

Still not sure statistical learning matters for you? We’ll leave you with these words from the issue’s introduction. We’re convinced.

“If speech-language pathologists understand the mechanism for statistical learning, they can design interventions that capitalize on it. It has real advantages, including (a) relatively quick, efficient learning; (b) generalization of learning; and (c) a focus on input, which significantly reduces the behavioral demands on the learner.” (Alt, 2018, emphasis ours).


More Perspectives & Tutorials:

Examining the Orofacial Structures in Patients With Craniofacial Differences

A routine oral mech exam as part of an initial evaluation is one thing—but are you confident in your ability to assess a child with craniofacial differences? This user-friendly article takes you through the whole process, with pictures, diagrams, and a checklist you can follow. This is one to keep in your reference file (pile?).

Facilitating Preliteracy Development in Children With Hearing Loss When the Home Language Is Not English

Guiding Principles and Essential Practices of Listening and Spoken Language Intervention in the School-Age Years

Impact of Escalating Literacy Demands on English Learners With Hearing Loss

Potentially Reversible Social Deficits Among Transgender Youth

The Changing World of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC): Examining Three Realities Faced by Today’s AAC Provider

How can SLPs adapt our practice to address rising rate of bi-/multilingualism, growth of the direct-to-consumer AAC systems (think tablets and apps), and changing ideas about what AAC symbols and displays can/should look like? This article reviews the issues and offers some suggestions. 

Why is measuring communication difficult? A critical review of current speech pathology concepts and measures