My Favorite Research-Based Vocabulary Activity for Speech Therapy

Speech-Language Pathologists wear many, many hats. One of our most important jobs is to help our students build their vocabulary using research-based strategies. The good news is that there are a bunch of research-based strategies to improve vocabulary. The bad news is, that you can’t exactly write SMART a goal to “improve vocabulary.” You need a strategy and a plan.

First, let’s work through a few research-based strategies you can use to build vocabulary with your speech therapy students.

As you probably know, the vocabulary strategy you choose is going to vary depending on the age and abilities of your student. This particular post is going to focus on improving vocabulary for students who are probably in the mid-elementary and older age range.

When I am teaching vocabulary to students in this age group, I want my students to get better at turning a word over in their heads and looking at it from different angles. I want them to be able to break apart words, define words, and then define those words on their own.

For myself, I like to start with a morphological approach. Or, in layman’s terms, I like to start by teaching prefixes and suffixes. An article by the IMSE Journal perfectly summarizes why targeting vocabulary with prefixes is a good strategy.

“Over time, students begin to understand that most words are structured according to logical patterns of meaning and spelling. Consider that the 20 most common prefixes make up 97% of all prefixed words and the 14 most frequently used word roots provide clues to the meaning of over 100,000 words. The correlations between morphological awareness and success in reading, writing, and spelling are strong.”.

We know we need to target those 20 most common prefixes. But we don’t want to just target prefixes, do we? We only have a few precious minutes with our students each week. We really need to be efficient.

That is why I created these one-page vocabulary prefix worksheets.

Using prefixes to teach vocabulary and morphology in speech therapy

I started by identifying the 20 most common prefixes. Then for each prefix, I made FIVE worksheets that target different words that contain that specific prefix.

But that isn’t the only research-based vocabulary strategy I used.

Remember how I said I wanted my students to be able to turn those words around in their mind? Well, each page prompts the student to do the following:

  1. Identify the prefix
  2. Identify the root word
  3. Define the prefix
  4. Write the definition of the word from the dictionary
  5. Write a synonym for the word
  6. Write an antonym for the word
  7. Define the word using the students’ own words
  8. Draw a picture describing the word
  9. Write a sentence using the word to describe the picture they drew

Here is how I recommend using these one page vocabulary worksheets:

  1. Make them part of your speech routine. Spend 5 minutes at the beginning of each session doing the worksheet together. The more you do them, the faster your students will get.
  2. Sending them home for homework. You can also send these home for homework for extra practice at home. Depending on the needs of your student, you may want to send home a blank worksheet of the word you did together in your session, or you may want to send home a new word.
  3. Use them to supplement vocabulary growth. Continue to expose your student to new words by using a variety language-rich activity such as reading or writing during your sessions.
  4. When you come across new vocabulary, use these same steps to help your student learn new words.


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