Key Word Strategy

The key words strategy is used and shared by J. Mayer, SLP, Shakopee School District

The key word strategy is a memory and comprehension strategy that students can use in any setting where they need to learn information. Students are routinely (preferably once or twice a week) assigned to identify and define in an agenda or notebook an important content or ‘key’ word learned in each class during the school day. They are required to bring their key words to language intervention sessions. They must explain their key words using a standard format that can be modified depending on students’ needs.

Key words are personal; chosen by, and meaningful to the student. However the strategy includes teaching and reviewing with students what types of words (content words that challenge the student, and are meaningful to them) qualify as ‘key’ words, as well as teaching students how to define the words.

The key word strategy can benefit a wide variety of students with language needs in the areas of vocabulary, comprehension of academic language, sentence structure, organizing and explaining information, and transferring information across settings. When the strategy is routinely used, students can master it’s basic mechanics and key word review during direct language intervention sessions can be a foundation for increasingly complex and challenging practice and review of a variety of curriculum based language skills.

Students in a language group can take turns teaching their key words and listening/learning key words presented by other students. During their teaching turns, students can practice effective oral language skills. Listeners can practice comprehension skills such as asking clarifying questions and paraphrasing the key word definitions to confirm the information.

The SLP can use the key words as a springboard for further practice of language skills appropriate to specific students’ needs. Examples include using the key words in sentences of increasing complexity, categorizing the key words as verbs, nouns, adjectives or adverbs, and adding prefixes and suffixes to key words to expand vocabulary by learning and using word families.

In addition to giving a context for curriculum based practice of language skills during key word review, the strategy is beneficial because it holds students with language disabilities accountable to remember and explain something of what is being presented in each class during the school day. Regular accountability and practice improves their ability to remember and transfer knowledge across settings. Teachers and parents readily understand the usefulness of this strategy, so they are more likely to support it. Routine key word assignments can also become an efficient way for the SLP to be continually aware of class content and curriculum language needs of the student. (We all know the logistical challenges of getting regular information about class content from classroom teachers!)