Facts, Figures, and Research

speech pathology research

This post is a continuous list of facts, figures, research, and practical solutions for SLPs treating students with language disorders. I’ll be adding to it over time, and you’ll be able to come back periodically and see what’s been added.

Zipke, M. (2012). First graders receive instruction in homonym detection and meaning articulation: The effect of explicit metalinguistic awareness practice on beginning readers. Reading Psychology, 32, 349-371 doi: 10.1080/02702711.2010.495312

Feeling like you have a million skills to teach, but no time to do it? Looking for something efficient that gets you the biggest bang for your buck?

If so, I’ve got something for you! Zipke (2012) found that metalinguistic awareness strategy instruction is not only effective, but is also correlated with listening comprehension, expressive and receptive vocabulary, and sentence structure.

The specific strategies she used in this study were: teaching students to explain homonym definitions, explaining meanings of words in ambiguous sentences, and matching homonyms to word meanings.

Conclusions of the study: these three metalinguistic training tasks were correlated with improved language skills, and effectively improved metalinguistic awareness skills.

Implications for clinicians: Try teaching your students to explain and define homonyms, AND see if they can explain meanings of words in sentences with contexts that are ambiguous.



Chalk, J.C., Hagan-Burke, S., & Burke, M.D. (2005). The effects of self-regulated strategy development on the writing process of high school students with learning disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 28, 75-87.

Do you remember those silly songs and chants, or silly words we learned when we were in school?  Like, “Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally” (for math, and it stands for “parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction”), or “Every good boy deserves fudge?” (for music, and it stands for the following notes on a scale” E, G, B, D, F)?

Do you know why we had to remember these goofy mnemonic devices? Because they work!

And there’s research to prove that they are effective, even for students with disabilities (like our students with language impairments).

Chalk et al., (2005) found that using a technique called “Self-regulated strategies development” was an effective means for improving the persuasive essays for a group of 10th graders with learning disabilities. When doing SRSD, you are teaching students to self-monitor by following a set of steps to complete the writing process; and you do this by using a mnemonic device. The steps Chalk et al. used were: “Develop topic sentence, Add supporting details, Reject arguments from the other side, End with a conclusion”, or “DARE” for short.

Thinks these steps are terribly obvious? Think again! Many things that are obvious to us are amazing to others.

Conclusion: Mnemonics are an effective means of improving organization and cohesion of written language.

Implications for clinicians: Teach your students the steps for writing. No matter how obvious it seems, they might not know how to do it. I “DARE” you to try it (hehe…see what I did there?)

chalk et al2005


Cain, K. (2007). Deriving word meanings from context: Does explanation facilitate contextual analysis? Journal of Research in Reading, 30, 347-359. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9817.2007.00336.x

We can’t teach students every word they need to know, which means that students need to be able to successfully teach themselves new words. One of the most effective ways to do this is by reading.

Text language is more sophisticated that conversational language, so students who aren’t reading a lot miss out on the opportunity to learn new words. On top of that, students with language impairments and other learning problems don’t always know how to infer meanings of unfamiliar words in texts…which leaves them even more confused.

Conclusion: Although students with disabilities need to work a little harder to get things done, they can learn how to infer word meanings effectively IF WE TEACH THEM HOW.

What makes direct strategy instruction even MORE effective: have your students explain the steps in the strategy out loud. This will make them more likely to use it when you aren’t around.

Implications for clinicians: Teach your students how to infer word meanings, and have them explain the strategy back to you while they are doing it. Then practice, practice, and more practice!


Frishkoff, G. A., Perfetti, C. A., & Collins-Thompson, K. (2010). Lexical quality in the brain: ERP evidence for robust word learning from context. Developmental Neuropsychology, 35, 376-403. doi:10.1080/875656412010480915

Any science geeks in the house today? If so, I’ve got a special treat for you.

Have you ever wondered what is actually going on in your brain when you learn words, or how we are possibly able to learn all the words in a language?

Frishkoff et al. (2010) found out for us. When we’re initially learning words, brain activity occurs in the frontal regions. Activity then shifts to posterior regions when we begin to store information in long term memory.

Frishkoff et al found that when adults encounter unfamiliar words in texts in both obvious and ambiguous contexts, this posterior shift occurs; meaning its possible to learn words no matter how informative the context. However, its much more work, and we tend to have better understanding of words when contexts provide more information.

Something else that they found helped with long term storage: semantic priming. For this task, researchers showed the participants the unfamiliar words they were about to encounter, and then asked them to indicate if they were semantically related to another word.

This study was done with adults, however its highly likely that the brain of our students will respond in a similar way when they are reading and learning words.

Conclusion: It’s possible to learn words from reading, no matter how informative the context; but ambiguous contexts can make it more challenging.

Implications for clinicians: Find ways to do “semantic priming” to make your students think about words that may come up while reading. The key to long term storage is to start that thought process.



Li, Y., Wang, G., , Long, J., Yu, Z. Huang, B., Li, X., Yu, T., Sun, P. (2011). Reproducibility and Discriminability of Brain Patterns of Semantic Categories Enhanced by Congruent Audiovisual Stimuli. PLosOne, 6, 1-14 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0020801

In their study, Li et al. (2011) measured fMRI signals of 9 adult males (average age 31.5 years) while they viewed 80 different picture associated with two different semantic categories.

The researchers did a within-groups study. They compared the fMRI signals in the superior temporal sulcus and the medial temporal sulcus under the following four conditions:

An auditory signal only

A visual only showing the semantic category

A visual showing the semantic category, with an auditory signal NOT congruent with the visual

A visual showing the semantic category, and a congruent auditory signal

The first question you might have: Why did they measure brain response in the superior and medial temporal sulci?

Because those are the two areas of the brain associated with semantic features. When our brains decode semantic information and create “categories”, we can actually observe this activity through FMRI signals in these two areas.

In other words, we can “see” these connections being made.

The second question you might have: What were the results? Which stimulus created the strongest activity in the brain?

A visual with congruent auditory signal.

What this means is that the researchers saw the greatest cortical responses when the participants heard someone say the semantic category, while seeing a picture of it at the same time.

This response was stronger that seeing a visual alone, hearing someone say the category alone, and when what they heard didn’t match the visual they saw.

Our students have difficulty with storage and retrieval, and we’re always looking to strengthen it.

While we can’t assume that this same pattern would be present across other populations and age ranges, it would be interesting to see what would happen if this was done with children with language impairments?

Could pairing a visual when we teach categorization help our students with storage and retrieval issues?

If it was, what would you do in your therapy?



Zipoli, R. P., Coyne, M. D., & McCoach, D. B. (2011). Enhancing vocabulary intervention for Kindergarten students: Strategic integration of semantically related and embedded word review. Remedial and Special Education, 32, 131-143. doi: 10.1177/0741932510361262

Zipoli et al. (2011) studied the impact of vocabulary instruction during book reading on 80 Kindergarten students over the course of an 18 week period.

The researchers compared word learning across one of three conditions:

“No review”-Teachers briefly explained and defined target words when they were encountered during storybook readings.

“Embedded review”-Teachers briefly explained and defined target words, and then explained and defined them again during an additional reading.

“Semantic-related review”-Teachers briefly explained and defined target words, and then did extension activities focusing on semantic features of words (e.g., sound, appearance, sensation, action, association, location, and word associations).

Of all three conditions, semantic-related review resulted in the greatest amount of word learning. In other words, kids learned more words when instruction was more robust, and allowed kids to actively discuss semantic features.

However, the researchers also considered which condition was the most EFFICIENT. When researchers considered the amount of words and the amount of time spent teaching, the “embedded review” was found to be the most efficient.

Kids learned more words when they had time to discuss semantic features, but the teachers actually got the biggest bang for their buck when they simply explained and defined words several times during book readings.

Instruction in typical classrooms most likely resembles the more efficient “embedded review” condition, and for good reason: teachers don’t have time to go in depth for every word they need to target with their students.

According to these findings, that may be a good option; since the researchers found that this was still effective for the typically developing Kindergarten students in the study.

But what about our students with speech and language impairments? This might work for typically developing children, but we know that our students can’t fill in the semantic gaps on their own.

This is where SLPs come in. When the typical classroom instruction isn’t enough, we might need to be the ones to provide that extended instruction our kids need to make connections.


Christ, T., & Wang, C. (2011).  Closing the vocabulary gap?: A review of research on early childhood vocabulary practices. Reading Psychology, 32, 426–458. doi:10.1080/02702711.2010.495638

We know that we need to start our students off right in preschool, but its important to know the most effective way to do that.

Vocabulary has a huge impact on our students’ success in school, so this needs to be a critical focus of what we do for our students who are preschool age.

Christ and Wang (2011) did a meta-analysis on studies done on vocabulary instruction in classrooms for students ranging from preschool through Kindergarten age conducted between 1986 and 2008.

There’s both good news and bad news in the findings. I’ll give you the good news first: there are quite a few effective practices going on in these classrooms that are resulting in robust vocabulary development.

The findings showed that the following practices had a positive impact on word learning:


Definitional information/direct instruction

Direct questioning

Providing multiple exposures to target vocabulary

Brief explanations of words were effective in increasing vocabulary, but not as effective as having extended discussions about words, and encouraging students to discuss and use words across different contexts.

Now for the bad news.

Across a number of studies, Christ and Wang found that a Matthew Effect was present. What does that mean?

The Matthew Effect is when students with fewer skills progress at a slower rate than those with stronger skills.

The findings of the study indicated that many of the students who came from low socioeconomic backgrounds and who started instruction with less developed vocabularies progressed at a slower rate.

The silver lining is that although there were students who didn’t progress as much as others, ALL children were able to improve their vocabulary if given the right instruction.

What does this mean? When it comes to vocabulary instruction, sometimes our students’ just need MORE…and that’s why SLPs are here!

What will you do today to close the gap?


Gersten, R., Fuchs, L. S., Williams, J. P., & Baker, S. (2001). Teaching reading comprehension strategies to students with learning disabilities: A review of research. Review of Educational Research, 71, 279-320.doi: 10.3102/00346543071002279

This study was done a while back, but the results still hold true.

In this meta-analysis, Gersten et al (2001) examined studies that investigated the effectiveness of metacognitive strategies during academic tasks for students with diagnosed learning problems. There meta-analysis included a review of studies across a 20-year period that were published before 1999.

Based on their review, they found that students with learning disabilities often do not engage in the self-talk typically involved in utilizing metacognitive strategies that enhance comprehension.

But this doesn’t mean they can’t learn.

The research also showed that when students receive explicit instruction showing them HOW to utilize metacognitive strategies, they can learn to use them effectively.

This is good news for us. While many of the students on our caseloads don’t figure these strategies out on their own like many “typical” students, they are capable of learning them. Yet many teachers might not have time during the day to provide this instruction, which means someone else needs to do it above and beyond the general education instruction.

We are just the ones for the job!

How will you help your students learn to be “meta” today?


Walsh, B.A., & Blewitt, P. (2006). The effect of questioning style during storybook reading on novel vocabulary acquisition of preschoolers. Early Childhood Education Journal, 33, 273-278. doi:10.1007/s10643-005-0052-0

Did you know the questions you ask your students while reading can have an impact on the number of words they learn?

Walsh and Blewitt found that this can be the case in students as young as 3. They studied the impact of questioning style of teachers during book reading on the vocabulary acquisition of 35 3 year olds over a 6-week period.

There were three experimental conditions:

Children were asked questions requiring them to use or explain target words.

Children were asked questions exposing children to target words, but not requiring them to use or explain them.

Children were exposed to target vocabulary during story but not asked any questions.

Can you guess which condition was most effective in improving the students’ vocabulary skills?

The results were a bit surprising (at least to me). Both questioning conditions were equally effective, and were both significantly more effective than not asking students at all. This meant that simply asking a question about the target words, whether it required students to use the word or not, was just as effective at increasing word knowledge.

I say this is surprising because some research done with older children shows that requiring students to use words is more effective than exposure alone.

But…according to Walsh and Blewitt’s findings, for younger kids, simply requiring them to actively think about words might work just as well.

Again…more evidence that we should be reading with our students AND engaging with them while we do!

In the spirit of helping everyone in this group build vocabulary, share your favorite children’s story for building vocabulary in the comments below.


*I’ve decided to continue this blog post in a series of blog posts called: Research Summaries for People who Hate Reading Research. 

You can download the first article in that series by clicking this image below:


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