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Dr. Caroline Ramsey Musselwhite

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Descriptive Language Teaching – Intro

Descriptive Language Teaching 

Descriptive language teaching is a strategy attributed to Gail Van Tatenhove (www.vantatenhove.com). 

The descriptive language teaching process teaches and reinforces the use of core language – high frequency words – in the classroom and home throughout the day.  It reduces the need to continually chase vocabulary by programming more and more unit-specific words.

Introducing Descriptive Language Teaching

Partners can model simple language for describing complex words.  For example, an 'expert' is SOMEONE WHO KNOWS VERY MUCH.  While the word 'expert' is unlikely to be pre-programmed in most communication devices, the words above in capitals are lower frequency, and therefore are more

likely to be found on most robust AAC systems.

So, just use this approach, coming up with a simple 'kid-friendly' definition of a more difficult word that is unlikely to be on a student's AAC system.  Just modeling these simple definitions is a great way to support students in seeing another value of core vocabulary – giving them access to low frequency words, even if they are not yet competent spellers.

Try this throughout the day.  When you come to a word that is difficult (50¢ word), just pick some easy (5¢) words to describe it!  Enjoy!!

Remember – Expand the Number of Teachers!  This is a great strategy to teach siblings, grandparents, and tutors.  It's also a powerful tool for inclusive classrooms.  I have had general education teachers rave about this strategy, as it forces their students to really think about the meaning of a word, rather than using rote textbook definitions.  


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