Can older children with language disorders improve vocabulary in just 30 minutes a week? (Yes!)


Targeting vocabulary skills with older children with language disorders seems like a no-brainer. However, according to Wright et al., “We know of no studies specifically aiming to improve receptive vocabulary in secondary-aged children with identified [developmental language disorder (DLD)].” Yikes. To address this evidence gap, the researchers set out to see whether 25 secondary age (i.e., 9- to 16-year-old) children with language disorders (18 with DLD, 7 with autism) could learn to understand and use new words.

Children received 7 weeks of one-on-one intervention, with one 30-minute session and one 5-minute review session each week. SLPs taught the children 10 nouns and 10 verbs (words like “customer” and “avoid”) through explicit instruction and games, and SLP assistants assessed them on their knowledge and use of the words using a variety of tasks, as well as children’s own ratings of how well they knew the words. The researchers provide a fabulous description of the treatment sessions in the methods and a list of words, scoring examples, and treatment tasks in the appendix.

Results showed that children improved their knowledge of taught words (measured by identifying whether the word is a word, answering multiple choice definition questions, using the word in a sentence, and giving the word’s definition) compared to untaught control words. Children also self-reported greater knowledge of the taught words. As expected, children showed better learning for nouns than verbs. Overall, children learned an average of 4 words out of 10 in a relatively short time. Best of all, the treatment was conducted by the participants’ usual SLPs under normal circumstances (absences and all), which suggests that it can be effectively implemented in everyday clinical practice.

**If this topic is up your alley, check out this review from 2017, too!


Wright, L., Pring, T., & Ebbels, S. (2017). Effectiveness of vocabulary intervention for older children with (developmental) language disorder. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1111/1460-6984.12361.