by Andrea Anderson, MS CCC-SLP
We’ve all had moments where the word we were thinking of was “on the tip of our tongue”. Students with seizure disorders, Traumatic Brain Injury, and other neurological impairments often have difficulty with word finding.
Here are a few strategies and exercises parents and teachers can do with their students.
Naming Categories: Give three or four items belonging to the same category and then have the person with word finding difficulty try to identify the category. You can then reverse this naming game and give the category first, then have the anomic individual name three or four items belonging to that category.
To make this activity more challenging you can name as many items as possible in one minute. Write down your answers and try to beat your previous score each time you practice.
Antonyms: Naming opposites. Choose a word and try to come up with the opposite of that word. For a higher challenge see if you can think of more than one antonym for each word.
Synonyms: Naming words that have the same, or almost the same meaning. This activity tends to be more difficult than naming opposites. However, it is a great practice tool for strengthening word retrieval skills. For more of a challenge, try to name two synonyms for each word.
Fill in the Blank: Say a familiar phrase and leave the last word out (this is the cloze exercise mentioned earlier). Try to supply the missing word. When phrases become mastered you can move on to sentences.
For the ultimate challenge, read a paragraph from a newspaper or book and occasionally leave out a word (make sure the missing word is reasonably easy to identify). This is a great strategy for word retrieval.
Picture Naming: You can use this activity several ways. Use family pictures to identify the names of family members as well as familiar places, like homes of extended relatives or vacation spots. You can also use pictures of common items. You can purchase picture books or use newspapers and magazines to provide hundreds of items to be named.
One last naming activity: Label items around you as you travel through your daily routine. To become active in your own recovery, use every chance you get to challenge and increase your word retrieval skills!
Similarities: Choose two words within a category and describe how they are the same. For example: How are ketchup and mustard the same? This activity not only challenges word finding abilities, but also forces you to think about word associations. This cognitive ability can be used as a strategy to aid in word retrieval.
Differences: This activity tends to be more challenging than describing similarities between words. Using the same example as above: How are ketchup and mustard different? This exercise forces you to remember specific details that make similar objects different from one another.
Visualize the Word: When you can’t think of a word, try seeing it. Using your minds eye, practice visualizing the word written on paper. You can also try to visualize the word being written out one letter at a time. You can then read it when it’s complete. This technique may sound impractical; however, it has proven to be very useful with some patients. Keep in mind that reaching your full potential involves tapping into all of your strengths to help overcome your weaknesses. Successful word retrieval depends on using new ways to accomplish an “old skill.”
Sequencing Events: This word finding activity is based on familiar sequences, such as holidays, seasons, and months. For example:
- What holiday comes after Thanksgiving?
- What season comes after autumn?
- What month comes after March?
Of course you can use many other well-known sequences such as weeks, days, and time.
An important thing to remember about these activities: Daily practice is necessary to reach your highest potential. And, just as important: the methods used during the exercises are teaching you strategies to help find those missing words in your daily routine!
In other words, when you have trouble thinking of a particular word, try to:
- think of its opposite,
- say a phrase to yourself and try to fill in the blank,
- or try to think of related words in the same category.
These are all strategies you can use independently to help improve your word finding abilities.