Writing and talking to master expository text

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We all access written expository language. Whether it’s a news article, an assessment manual, or this research review, we look to expository text to learn information. For our students with language disorders, though, expository text can be intimidating. Taking high-quality notes and sharing back what they’ve read can improve students’ learning and retention, but many of our students need help with both of these skills!

In this study, fourth through sixth graders* were taught to “write to learn” and “talk to learn” using a procedure called Sketch and Speak, and were then compared to children not receiving the treatment. The intervention directly addressed those pesky note-taking struggles—directly copying text, not organizing it well, or including too much or too little detail. After just six sessions, there were noticeable differences in the students’ oral reports, like more full sentences and opening/closing statements from texts that were not used in treatment. In addition, the school SLPs who treated the students reported increased student confidence, oral fluency, and recall of the texts used in treatment.

Here’s how Sketch and Speak works. Each text was the focus of two, 30-minute therapy sessions, one-on-one or in pairs:

Session 1 (sketched notes → oral sentences → oral report): The SLP read a science article, stopping to let the child sketch important details with “quick and easy, just enough to remember” pictography. The student generated a full sentence in his or her own words for each sketch, then said the sentence again to remember it. Last, the student gave a full oral report based on their note sheet and practiced sentences.

Session 2 (oral report → oral sentences → bulleted notes → oral sentences → oral report): Students gave the same oral report again based on sketched notes. They then took each oral sentence and pared it down to “quick and easy, just enough to remember” phrases, which they wrote in bulleted form before expressing them back as a full oral sentence. Finally, the student gave the report one last time, referencing their bulleted notes and practiced sentences. 

If you’re trying to picture what the student products might look like for each of these steps, check out the supplemental material for examples of student work.

This approach has two pretty exciting things going for it:

  • Room to use our clinical judgment in pacing and scaffolding—because we know our kids and how best to support them! SLPs had the flexibility to use models, feedback, and support based on the student’s need in the moment rather than following a strict protocol. 

  • Manipulating information in a variety of wayswithout ever actually asking the child to write in full sentences—helps students learn useful tools without making the experience dreadful for all involved. Going through so many steps allowed the students supported practice using multiple strategies—in hopes that that they could more successfully access expository text outside of therapy as well. 

*Note that the students in the study had a variety of educational diagnoses: severe learning disability, speech–language impairment, and/or other health impairment (ADHD). Table 2 reports the special education services they received at school.

Ukrainetz, T. A (2018). Sketch and speak: An expository intervention using note-taking and oral practice for children with language-related learning disabilities. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in the Schools. doi:10.1044/2018_LSHSS-18-0047