Analysis Of Strategies That Assist Students Facing Trouble With Semantics

The Southwest Educational Development Laboratory has collected a number of teaching resources that assist educators in organizing their practice around the teaching of semantics, or the study of how words are formed, in their Instructional Resources Database. The strategies they suggest include (but are not limited to):

Create a concept wheel: Divide a large circle into four parts, with the word of the lesson in the center. The root word goes in one quadrant of the circle, and three other words that contain the root word in the other quadrants. Discuss with students how the root word is related to the words, and determine the meaning of the word in the center from the derived definition.

Morophological examination: Create a word list for students that contain one word that has a few variations. For example, sign, signal, and signature. By defining one or two of the words, students can infer the meaning of the root and understand the relationship between the worlds.

Interpreting English Expressions: Given a common expression such as “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” analyze the phrase and what it might mean. Then, discuss what the phrase would mean if interpreted literally.

These activities clarified what exactly students with communication disorders struggle with in terms of semantics: relationships. Students who have difficulties with semantics need to be taught each word as an individual unless they are directly informed of the relationships between words. It is our challenge as teachers to teach students the relationships between words and provide them with the tools with which to identify the relationships on their own.

The last activity, on interpreting English expressions, stood out to me as “unlike” the others on the suggested list of activities. This activity implied that students who are struggle with semantics also are challenged by figurative language and abstract thought. It seems that the inability to identify relationships between words and interpret figurative language are mutually exclusive skills; this activity raised the question: what are the secondary disorders that arise from what begin as communication disorders? And, how can we prevent the secondary disorders?

These strategies appeared to be particularly geared toward elementary aged students (or highly disabled students), but at the higher levels of education I think all students could benefit from being directly taught things like Latin and Greek bases and roots and linguistics.

Created By: Kristen Holtschlag

Footnote: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, 2006. 25 July, 2007.