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Tips for Targeting Curriculum-Based Language and Literacy

by Sarah Warchol
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An SLP helps a middle school student with writing during an in-classroom session.

As a speech-language pathologist, I’m fascinated by the effect of language on literacy. I’m constantly learning, sharing ideas, and collaborating with other professionals on strategies for improving students’ phonemic awareness, morphology, syntax, comprehension, spelling or written expression.  I’m so interested in this topic, that a few years back, I initiated a Facebook group, “The Speech-Language Pathologist’s Role in Language and Literacy.”

Below, I share strategies to target comprehension for expository text and vocabulary instruction.

Two primary areas SLPs can target to improve comprehension for expository text include background knowledge and vocabulary (in the text as well as general academic vocabulary). To get a head start, I gather curriculum information from teachers, as well as a scope and sequence for each topic to be covered.

Typically, the learning objectives I make include understanding vocabulary, contextual cues, inference, cause/effect, prediction, problem/solution, stating an opinion, persuasive argument and answering/asking questions. With topics and learning objectives at hand, I make a chart with students’ names and goals, learning objectives, and scope and sequence for each subject.

Comprehension for expository text

To make planning easier, I use several free websites with great ideas and tools for teaching and modeling various skills, providing practice activities, and offering resources for students needing modifications and accommodations for their exercises. My favorite part about these sites is that they offer reading materials based on grade or reading level.

Middle school students find the texts interesting. The text covers current events and common curriculum topics. Activities usually break tasks down by focusing on specific learning objectives.

As an added benefit, sharing these resources with classroom teachers helps build relationships and opens doors to further collaboration.

  • CommLit: Variety of nonfiction topics, current events and text-dependent questions.
  • ReadWorks: A variety of passages, text sets, and texts based upon grade/reading level or learning objective.
  • Wonderopolis: Engaging texts to use when targeting inference, prediction and background knowledge.
  • Epic!: Large collection of texts on fiction and nonfiction topics, also audible books.
  • ReadingVine: Text sets and passages organized by reading level and learning objective.
Vocabulary instruction

I address vocabulary from curriculum content and general academic words. A great resource for grade-level academic vocabulary lists is the Smart Balanced Assessment Consortium:

To know which grade level lists to use for my students, I do an informal vocabulary screen to obtain a baseline of the student’s knowledge of words. I then give each student a chart with the vocabulary words and they write down if they know each word, have heard the word before but don’t know the meaning, or have not heard of the word. For words they know, I ask the student to use it in a sentence.

For younger students who have difficulty with writing, I complete the charts verbally or by using Google docs.

Look for future posts on language and literacy and feel free to contact me with questions. And share your best strategies or ask questions in the comments section below.

Sarah Warchol, MS, CCC-SLP, serves students at Adams Middle School in Guilford, Connecticut. She has more than 15 years of experience as an SLP and has also taught languages, including French and German. She created and administers “The Speech-Language Pathologist’s Role in Language and Literacy” Facebook group.  swsmiles23@aol.com

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