Why do SLPs work on formulating sentences in speech therapy with subject, verb, and object components? While typical children will begin to combine words and form sentences, children with a language impairment might struggle with this basic syntax. It’s our job to help them grow their vocabulary and use it in a way that makes sense!
Read on for more information on how to assess, plan, and provide treatment for kids struggling with formulating sentences in speech therapy!
Before we start working on a skill, we need to determine where the child is currently performing. I follow my procedures for a quick language sample to gather information.
The earliest sentences are usually made up of a subject and verb (e.g. “doggy sit”) or a subject, verb, and object (e.g. “doggy eat food”). All over the world, even the simplest of sentences are built around a subject and a verb. We see the simplest of sentences emerge in children around 2 years of age and by 3 years, we would expect to hear two or more of these sentences during a 30-minute parent-child interaction (Hadley et al., 2018).
Just remember, it has to have both a subject and a verb to count as a sentence! If an utterance is missing either one of those, it’s actually just a word combination!
Next, you can look at the sentences that the child is producing and count how many unique subject-verb combinations they have. Is the only subject and verb combination “I want”? That child might have actually learned those as one concept (this happens a lot with our gestalt language processors if they’ve been taught sentence starters). We want to see a variety of subjects, verbs, and combinations. (If you want to get even more technical, check out Hadley et al.’s (2018) supplemental materials!).
So if you have a student who is combining some words, with at least 100 words in use, and 20 different verbs, research suggests working on sentences in the following order:
Once you have a good foundation of subjects and verbs, it’s time to add on objects! Keep expanding those sentences!
I like to keep it simple when I need to work on forming sentences with students. Here are a couple of goals I use, coming from my speech therapy goal bank:
In order to create more diverse sentences, our kids need to have a wide vocabulary of verbs and adjectives to pull from. We can also expand on types of subjects.
For the younger students, play-based therapy can be effective, talking about the actions and characteristics of the toys using recasts and expansions. Reading books together is also an excellent way to introduce new vocabulary. Talk about the pictures. Books have a much richer level of language than conversational speech, which will help your child to be exposed to a greater diversity of language.
I like to use structured materials as well, to make sure that I’m systematically introducing lots of vocabulary and really reinforcing subjects, verbs, and objects. So that’s why I created my DIGITAL Sentence Formulation Sliders – Leveled with Real Pictures for Speech Therapy product.
You can check out a 3-minute walkthrough of my sentence formulation product here, or keep reading for more information.
It targets formulating sentences and early syntax with Boom cards™️, Google Slides™️ and PowerPoint™️ options in 3 differentiated levels with beautiful real pictures! We’re talking no-prep, no-print speech therapy materials ready-to-go!
It also works really well to answer basic wh- questions because each picture contains a “who?” and “what doing?” component, with some pictures also including a “where” component.
This product has received over 400 5-star reviews, including these:
And, whenever you are ready to add in some additional syntactical structures, I have other similar products in this series targeting pronouns, past tense verbs, spatial concepts, and adjectives.
I hope that gives you a good place to get started with those kids who need some help expanding their utterances and getting more diverse sentences into their everyday language!
Hadley, P. A., McKenna, M. M. & Rispoli, M. (2018). Sentence Diversity in Early Language Development:
Recommendations for Target Selection and Progress Monitoring. American Journal of Speech-Language
Pathology, 27, 553-565.