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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Jeret

Speech Therapy Strategies for Enhancing Vocabulary in Children with Language Learning Disabilities

Speech Therapy for Language Learning Disabilities Child in Skokie, Illinois

Having an expansive vocabulary is a hallmark sign of an educated individual. It enables us to speak and write more eloquently, comprehend written material, excel in academic or professional settings, and express abstract ideas effectively.

Language-Based Learning Disabilities (LLD) encompass a range of difficulties related to understanding and using spoken and written language. These challenges can hinder children's ability to read, learn, complete assignments, perform well on exams, and develop social relationships.

Children with LLD, often face particular hurdles in vocabulary development. Research indicates they typically have smaller vocabularies compared to their peers without learning disabilities. This blog post explores the significance of vocabulary enrichment for children with language disorders, offering practical advice for parents to support this critical aspect of language learning. In addition, it discusses how speech therapy can be helpful for children with LLD.

Types of Vocabulary Words

Consider the variety of vocabulary words within your own knowledge. Some words we use consistently in our daily lives, ranging from those commonly used in everyday conversation. While others are those found in writing, but occasionally spoken. And others are more specialized terms, only used when speaking or writing about particular subjects or topics.

We can break these types of vocabulary words into tiers:

  • Tier 1 words are basic words that occur often and naturally in conversation. Children are exposed to them frequently, and therefore, these words often do not need to be explicitly taught. Examples include "run" and "dog."

  • Tier 2 words are high-utility words, not frequently found in conversation, for more advanced language users, and are found across a variety of domains. Often, children are less likely to learn these words independently because they are not used as frequently as tier 1 words. Examples of tier 2 words include "comprehend" and "interpret."

  • Tier 3 words are often not discussed unless engaging in specific topics. Examples of tier 3 words include "binary code" and "photosynthesis."

The "Layers" of "Knowing" a Word

We don't simply categorize words as either known or unknown. Understanding a word involves various layers:

  1. Knowing it well enough to explain and use it confidently.

  2. Having some familiarity with the word, enough to connect it to real-life situations.

  3. Recognizing the word from previous exposure.

  4. Not being familiar with the word at all.

Ideally, fully grasping a word and being able to articulate and apply it is the ultimate goal.

Language Learning Disabilities and Vocabulary

From preschool through second grade, children are learning how to read. They do not often learn vocabulary from what they read because their main focus is on the mechanics of reading. This paradigm, however, shifts once the child is in third grade when they are reading to learn. At this point, children are reading to acquire content knowledge in different subject areas and expanding their vocabulary.

Often, children with language learning disabilities present difficulty with reading and reading comprehension. This will impact their ability to develop a robust vocabulary like their peers and may cause them to miss out on the academic aspect of reading that often occurs starting in third grade.

Benefits of Vocabulary Enrichment for Children with Language Learning Disabilities

There are many benefits to improving a child's vocabulary. These benefits include:

  1. Clearly expressing their thoughts and feelings: With a large vocabulary, they can express their thoughts clearly without struggling to find the right word.

  2. Improving confidence: Children with an increased vocabulary often feel more confident when engaging in classroom discussions or with peers.

  3. Performing well in school: With a larger vocabulary, children often perform better in reading, writing, and other content areas.

  4. Love for reading: With a larger vocabulary, children often encounter fewer setbacks when reading, thus possibly fostering a love for reading. This love for reading further expands vocabulary, as well as content knowledge.

  5. Opening doors to new opportunities: A strong command of language opens doors to diverse opportunities, personal growth, and career advancement.

Research on Vocabulary Development

Research on vocabulary development reveals:

  1. By the age of 3, there is a gap in vocabulary knowledge among children from different socioeconomic status groups. As children enter school, this gap widens.

  2. First-grade vocabulary predicts students' reading achievements in their junior year of high school.

  3. Children with Language Learning Disabilities (LLD) know fewer words than children without LLD.

  4. Children with LLD have less understanding of word meanings than their unaffected peers throughout the school years.

  5. Children with LLD need 2-3 times as many exposures as their peers to support short-term word learning.

Despite these challenges, there are numerous strategies to enhance a child's vocabulary.

Top 3 Tips to Improve Vocabulary in Young Children (with or without Language Disabilities)

How to improve a child's vocabulary

As mentioned earlier, during the preschool to second-grade years, children are in the process of learning to read. Consequently, relying solely on reading to introduce vocabulary may not be the most effective method during this developmental stage. While books remain valuable, they should be supplemented with other approaches to vocabulary acquisition.

Provide Diverse Experiences

Introducing children to various experiences, such as visiting the circus, farm, zoo, or museum, can expose them to a variety of new words. During these outings, point out unfamiliar objects or people to encourage dialogue and exploration.

Connect Unknown Words to Familiar Experiences

A useful strategy for learning new words is linking them to familiar concepts. By doing so, children can establish mental connections that aid in remembering unfamiliar terms. For instance, if a child understands "vegetable" and learns "zucchini," this familiarity can facilitate the acquisition of other vegetable-related terms like "asparagus" or "cucumbers." Similarly, grasping the concept of "cold" can pave the way for understanding words like "freezing."

Play Games that Encourage Vocabulary Growth

Games like Headbanz and Scattegories are great games to play with your child to improve vocabulary.  In Headbanz, players wear a headband with a card displaying an object, word, or concept that they can’t see.  Through questioning, players try to guess what is on their card by asking yes or no questions.  In Scattegories, players must think of words that fit specific categories and start with a given letter.  This game challenges players to recall vocabulary quickly while also promoting strategic thinking.

Top 3 Tips to Improve Vocabulary in Older Children (with or without Language Disabilities)


Reading with your child is so important.  When coming across an unknown word, it’s important to give them a child-friendly definition (not a definition you would find in a dictionary).  It’s important when reading not to pause over the word or disrupt the flow of reading when coming to the novel word because it can make the activity feel more like a chore.  

Exposure to New Words

Exposing your child to new words at a reasonable pace is a great way to expand and improve your child's vocabulary. Overloading your child with 20 new words each day isn't going to help them with retention. Instead, aim to introduce approximately 4-5 new words per week. Engage them in various activities to facilitate learning. For instance, consider word associations—prompt your child to link a new word with one they already know, creating connections between their existing vocabulary and new terms.

Play Games that Encourage Vocabulary Growth

Games like Word Slam and Taboo are great games to play with your child. Word Slam is a fast-paced word guessing game where players try to guess a word based on clues given by teammates. This game is excellent for expanding vocabulary and improving word association skills. In Taboo, players have to describe a word to their teammates without using certain "taboo" words or phrases. This helps players find alternative words to express their ideas.

Speech Therapy for Children with Language Learning Disabilities near Skokie, Illinois

Speech Therapy for Language Learning Disabilities Child in Wilmette, Illinois

At Speak with Stephanie, we offer in-person speech therapy services to children and adults with language learning disabilities in Skokie, Evanston, Wilmette, and other nearby neighborhoods.

Speech therapy plays an important role in improving vocabulary for children with language-learning disabilities.  Here are several ways in which Speak with Stephanie can help achieve this:  

  1. Individualized Assessment - As Speech-Language Pathologists, we conduct thorough assessments to identify specific language difficulties a child may have.  This assessment helps tailor therapy interventions to target areas of need, including vocabulary deficits and reading comprehension.

  2. Individualized Treatment - As speech therapists, we design intervention programs specific to the child’s age, abilities, learning style, and interest.  These programs may involve activities including naming objects, categorizing words, learning synonyms and antonyms, and determining novel words using context clues.  We make sure to keep activities fun to ensure retention. 

  3. Multisensory Approach - We often utilize a multisensory approach to engage children with language disabilities.  Activities may include the use of visual aids, manipulatives, games, and technology to make learning vocabulary more interactive and memorable.

  4. Semantic Mapping - We use semantic mapping as a technique to help children with language disabilities organize and understand the relationships between words.  This visual representation helps children better comprehend and retain new words.

  5. Contextual Learning- We provide children with the opportunity to learn vocabulary in context such as structured conversations, stories, and games.

  6. Home Practice and Carryover - We collaborate with caregivers to ensure carryover to the home environment.

Online Speech Therapy for Children with Language Learning Disabilities throughout Illinois, New York, & New Jersey

In addition to providing in-home speech therapy to clients in Skokie and nearby neighborhoods, Speak with Stephanie offers individualized speech therapy services to children and adults with Language Learning Disabilities throughout Illinois, New York, and New Jersey.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Language Based Learning Disabilities?

Language Based Learning Disabilities (also known as developmental language disorders, and LLD) is a disorder that impacts a person's ability to understand and use spoken and written language effectively.

What are the signs and symptoms of language-based learning disabilities related to vocabulary?

Some signs include: difficulty with word retrieval, limited vocabulary, challenges in understanding word meanings, difficulty learning new vocabulary, challenges in word associations and categorizations, difficulty with reading comprehension.

How does speech therapy contribute to improving vocabulary in those with language-based learning disabilities?

Speech therapy addresses vocabulary deficits through targeted assessment, individualized treatment, multisensory engagement, semantic mapping, contextual learning, and home practice.


About the author:  

Stephanie Jeret is a Speech-Language Pathologist and the owner of Speak with Stephanie LLC. She obtained her Bachelor's and Master's degree from the City University of New York. She has practiced speech therapy in a number of settings including outpatient rehabilitation, telepractice, skilled nursing facilities, schools, and a private practice. She specializes in the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of a variety of communication disorders including articulation disorders, receptive/expressive language disorders, and fluency disorders. Information is available by emailing her at or by visiting



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