Build Your Child’s Vocabulary Through Salient Features

salient featuresLabeling an item and expecting your child to remember the word is not as easy as 1, 2, 3.  In order to map new words into your child’s lexicon (i.e., his/her word dictionary), particularly if he or she has a language disorder, teaching salient features is essential for word understanding, use, and retrieval.  The following are key salient features when teaching new vocabulary, maintaining previously learned words, and expanding vocabulary.

Key Salient Features:

  • Category: Including the category into which a word belongs helps organize the word into a group.  This then facilitates further thought about words that are related to the target vocabulary word. For example, a pencil belongs to school supplies.  What else belongs to school supplies?
  • Place Item is Found: Identifying a location where a word may be found allows your child to visualize the target word.  For example, a pencil can be found in a pencil cup or in a drawer at home and in a desk or backpack at school.  Avoid non-specific locations such as the store or at school, as many items are found there.
  • Function:  Talk about the purpose of the item.  For example, a pencil is used for writing.   Identifying this feature allows a child to connect a noun to an action.
  • Associations: Discussing word associations helps map an image of a new word.  For example, a pencil has an eraser.  What other parts are there to a pencil?
  • Description: Include additional descriptions of a word to isolate it from other vocabulary words.  Color, shape, size, or what an item is made out of are all excellent descriptions to discuss. For example, a pencil is long and skinny.  It has an eraser on the end and a graphite tip to write. 

If your child has difficulty retrieving a word, encourage him to use the above salient features to describe the word. Increasing salient feature awareness will also increase your child’s overall vocabulary.  If you are observing many moments of word finding difficulties, to the point where is it affecting your child’s communication, contact a pediatric speech therapist.

For more fun with building vocabulary, click here to read about 5 board games that promote speech and language skills.

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