Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

March 16, 2022

Word Finding Difficulties

By: Lisa Peterson, MS, CCC-SLP

Word finding accommodations are designed to match task formats to learners’ abilities. Differentiated instruction can reduce the retrieval load inherent in classroom discourse and in the test-response format. To help students with word finding difficulties gain equal access to the general education curriculum, accommodations are focused on reducing the retrieval load, not the workload, in academic work. To support a student with word retrieval problems, accommodations can be provided at the instructional, testing, and conversational levels.

The focus for testing is looking for recognition, not recall.  We do not want a student’s expressive language difficulties to interfere with his or her ability to demonstrate knowledge. The use of recognition task formats such as multiple choices, cueing, or question priming, and the provision of specific materials that offer cues or aid retrieval (such as procedural cue cards, electronic resource files, or discourse scaffolding) may be very beneficial.

Word finding accommodations may also be needed in reading. Oral reading errors produced by children with word finding difficulties may result from lexical access or word retrieval disruptions rather than poor decoding skills. Replacing an oral reading assessment with a silent reading assessment would prevent underestimating the reading skills of learners with word finding difficulties because of their inability to retrieve written words during an oral reading task.

Accommodations and Support Ideas:

  • Provide a context for learning. Preparatory sets give the student a purpose for listening. The student will benefit from having an overview of how his/her learning fits into the “big picture.”
  • Provide time for the student to organize his/her thoughts before expecting an oral response.  Allowing ample time to think reduces the stress associated with word finding. When possible, provide the questions ahead of time.
  • Assess learning with recognition tasks instead of recall.  Offer alternate assessment formats, including multiple choice, true/false, and matching. Other response options include “select,” “circle,” or “highlight the answer” response formats.
  • When written tests are used, provide a word bank of important words.
  • Allow extended time for all classroom and standardized assessments.
  • Allow the use of resource notebooks or cue cards during exams.
  • Allow the use of open-book or take-home exams.
  • Encourage voluntary participation in oral classroom discussions.
  • Present multiple choice during oral questioning in the class.
  • Help the student rehearse for verbally-demanding activities.
  • Provide cues for words when the student appears to struggle. The student may want a communication partner to give him/her a hint about the start of the desired word. Hints can include initial sounds or first syllables. Other helpful support strategies include providing category suggestions, synonyms, gestures, or sentence completions.
  • Ask the student to visualize what he/she wants to express.