Throwback (2015): How you correct students’ grammatical errors matters

It seems like SLPs generally know what to treat—you treat what’s missing from a child’s speech–language inventory, right? (Well, mostly. Kind of.) However, knowing how to treat is much more challenging. In fact, maybe you haven't even thought of this much yet! This study considers just that, in the context of grammatical intervention for children with developmental language disorder (DLD).

Specifically: How does our response to (or correction of) grammatical errors impact learning?

The researchers tested two options for feedback following a child's grammatical error:

  1. recasting, where the instructor repeats that corrected version (e.g. child says “Mommy coat”; adult responds “Mommy’s coat”)
  2. cueing hierarchy, where the instructor gradually increases the level of support until the child correctly produces the target (e.g. child says “Mommy coat”; adult asks for clarification, then repeats the child’s incorrect response as a question, then contrasts the correct from incorrect production, then models the correct production and asks the child to say it… there are some really clear examples of this within the study appendix, here and here.)

Each of these two feedback options were provided by trained SLPs and/or teachers, to five-year-olds with DLD, within a small group setting. After 8 weeks of therapy the winner was……… cueing!


Now, this lends some support to using cueing. But, does it mean we shouldn’t be using recasting? No. We can’t conclude that recasting is ineffective, because other studies have shown that it works within some treatment protocols. Based on the differences between this and other studies’ treatment design, the authors predict, “… recasting treatment may be effective over longer treatment periods.”

So what about cueing made it effective? It provided the student with clearer distinctions between the correct and incorrect form, more attention to correction of these errors, and required production of the correct form. And any or all of these features may contribute to the positive effect.

Smith-Lock, K.M., Leitão, S., Prior, P., Nickels, L. (2015). The Effectiveness of Two Grammar Treatment Procedures for Children With SLI: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 46, 312–324.


*Recall that we put out “Throwback Pubs” in months where there isn’t enough new, clinically-relevant research to review.