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Calming the CHAAOS in language/literacy therapy

Dear secondary-school SLP: We have a special gift for you. No, it’s not another mug—it’s a whole barrel of research and resources (including FREE lesson plans)—to help you with language and literacy therapy for your older students. Enjoy!

December 8, 2021

First up: CHAAOS. No, really, it’s a good thing! 


It’s an academic vocabulary interventionCreating Habits that Accelerate the Academic Language of Students—and is featured in this article from Sanchez & O’Connor. The program includes 48 scripted lessons across three, 4-week instructional cycles that target a total of 48 academic vocabulary words–aka Tier 2 words. These are fairly frequent, useful words found across academic texts and disciplines, but aren’t words that students would typically hear in everyday conversation—words like cajole, hoist, and brazen. 


For this study, small groups of sixth graders with specific learning disabilities were taught four new words each week using this four-day instructional sequence:

  • Day 1: Introduction: Students repeat target words and child-friendly definitions, then participate in a discussion of photos that depict the words
  • Days 2 & 3: Deep Practice: Students apply the target words by answering questions about them in new contexts
  • Day 4: Cumulative Practice: Students review the words and definitions and do related practice activities

Similar to the results of a previous study, the students made large gains in their word knowledge from pre- to post-test and performed significantly better than another group who didn't get the intervention. And, guess what. The authors have made it so easy for you to implement CHAAOS by providing you with FREE lessons and materials organized by grade level


Back up a second


That guided discussion of visual examples during Day 1 of CHAAOS? That’s an instructional strategy called semantic reasoning, which encourages students to apply their critical thinking skills to find a word’s meaning. And, we’re not talking about just surface-level understanding here. Semantic reasoning tasks can help your students develop a deep, rich understanding of words that are meaningful to them academically. This new tutorial (part of a SIG 1 forum—see more below) walks you through each of the steps needed to plan and implement a contextualized vocabulary lesson that incorporates semantic reasoning, including how to:

  • choose target words
  • write student-friendly definitions
  • create a vocabulary self-rating chart
  • model semantic reasoning during a think-aloud activity, and
  • connect the target vocabulary back to the curriculum

Their article is also chock-full of examples and resources that take the guesswork out of the whole process, including photos, sample scripts, and a list of websites where you can access free, related materials.

What about morphology? 


Isn’t that critical for academic vocabulary? For a step-by-step guide on using morphological awareness intervention to target both content literacy (general strategies—like summarizing—that help students across texts) and disciplinary literacy (domain-specific considerations like specialized vocabulary) with adolescents, take a look at Wolter and Green’s piece. The authors explain why neither literacy type should be overlooked for our students with language and literacy deficits, before outlining a sample science-based intervention, including examples of goals and a mock lesson plan. And if that’s not enough, read it for their insights into how to harness morphological awareness to improve adolescents’ phonology, orthography, and semantic skills in domain-specific classrooms (Hint: you’re going to want to consider those domain-specific Tier 3 words). 

Want even more? 


Check out Collaborative Academic Conversation for word learning, or CAC. The primary focus of CAC is guiding students to make inferences that are needed to understand new vocabulary and identify and connect important ideas in a text. To do this, the approach encourages adolescents to participate collaboratively in text-based discussion using academic language, and Dunaway and Lewis’s tutorial makes it really easy to make that happen in your therapy sessions:

  • Start by watching this introductory video of an SLP using various CAC-based strategies to facilitate a conversation with a group of 9th and 10th graders with language impairments. 
  • In the article itself, you’ll find a description and detailed examples that will allow you to target three main language skills that have been shown to increase participation in text-based conversations and understanding and use of academic language: Determining, connecting, and elaborating key ideas; purposefully using academic language, and working collaboratively to build ideas.
  • But, wait! There’s more! Don’t miss the supplemental material, including sample lesson plans for narrative and expository texts, sample CAC goals, and other, related references.

Now that your instructional toolbox is full of new goodies, there’s one more element to consider:  the students' motivation and self-determination. Collins’ tutorial provides a case-based example of how different motivational and behavior-change techniques can be incorporated into your contextualized language interventions to improve adolescents’ language and literacy skills. The author walks you through how to select goals, develop a plan, and implement the strategies to improve your clients’ intrinsic motivation via teletherapy. 

Kelley Nelson-Strouts also contributed to this review. 


Collins, G. G. (2021). Motivating adolescents to participate in literacy intervention: A case example from telepractice. Perspective of the ASHA Special Interest Groups. ​​[available to ASHA SIG members]


Dunaway, C. & Lewis, C. (2021). Using a collaborative academic conversation approach to improve language and literacy. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups. [available to ASHA SIG members]


Fallon, K.A., Lawrence, B., & Seifert, D. (2021). Semantic reasoning: Building vocabulary with critical thinking skills. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups. [available to ASHA SIG members]


Sanchez, V. M. & O’Connor, R. E. (2021). Improving academic vocabulary for students with disabilities: A replication study. Remedial and Special Education.

Wolter, J. & Green, L. (2021). Supporting content and disciplinary literacy success for adolescents with LLD: A blended and contextualized morphological awareness strategy approach. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups. [available to ASHA SIG members]

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Melissa Brydon, PhD, CCC-SLP (she/her)

Melissa Brydon, PhD, CCC-SLP (she/her)

Melissa Brydon is a writer for The Informed SLP. Dr. Brydon is a speech–language pathologist, reading specialist, and assistant professor in the Communication Sciences and Disorders department at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.
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