Tell me everything you know

If you were asked to “tell everything you know” about a common object – say for example an apple, your cup of coffee, or a smartphone – what would you say?

Similarly, how would your child describe the item?

Many people (both kids and adults) will describe what the item looks like (appearance) or what it does (function). This is hardly surprising.

When a teacher poses the same question to students, more often than not they would respond with a one-word answer or look at the teacher with blank stares. However, students usually knew more details about the objects than what they were telling the teacher in their descriptions. Especially for students with receptive and expressive language deficits, vocabulary is a primary area of concern.

That’s what prompted Sara Smith to develop the Expanding Expression Tool (EET) kit for defining and describing. The tool kit is now being used with preschool through high school level students in both general and special education classrooms across the United States and other countries.

The Importance of Describing/Defining
Over the school years, students are asked to define and describe multiple vocabulary words and topics across the curriculum. In the younger grades, they are expected to share details about their show and tell. As teachers introduce new topics, students discuss what they already know and also share what they have learned after the unit is completed.

As early as kindergarten, there is already a focus on reading and understanding informational texts and also completing informational writing. This becomes much easier for students when they have strong vocabulary skills. In grade school through high school, teachers will ask students to read informational text and then summarise, give oral presentations, or write papers on given topics. All of these tasks involve describing and are a big part of academic life. Skill in word definition/describing is also closely associated with IQ and academic performance.

Colour-coded strandWhat is the EET? And How Can It Help Students?
The Expanding Expression Tool (EET) kit is a multisensory, simple strategy that helps students build vocabulary skills, include details in writing, and express and comprehend curriculum material. When using the EET, students hold a colour-coded strand and recite a chant that helps them learn what to include when describing. They melodically recite “green-group, blue-do, what does it look like?, what is it made of?, pink-parts, white-where, what else do I know?”. After the chant is taught, teachers and students use the EET to describe different items and objects.

As they make their way through the strand, students describe the category, function, appearance, composition, associated parts and location of the object. Students who originally gave 1-2 word answers will begin to provide 5-6 details about whatever they were asked to describe. When describing an apple, for example, the “I don’t know” or “it’s red” answers eventually became “It’s a fruit. You eat it. It’s red and round. It comes from a tree. It has a stem, core, and peel. You find it in an orchard or on my teacher’s desk and it is healthy.”

Students with higher language levels are able to use the same concept in the kit to write reports and comprehend topics throughout the curriculum. At all age levels, students will use the organisers or stickers in the kit to help include more detail in the writing. Teachers use the EET prompt cards to take notes on topics such as photosynthesis, ecosystems, federalism, etc. The colour/symbol coding helps the students classify the information and helps with both understanding and recall of the information.

Why is multisensory instruction important?
When multisensory approaches are used in classrooms, it makes it easier for students to learn the information. If we have students both recite aloud what they are learning while providing a visual, we increase information into two subsystems within working memory. This is what makes it easier for working memory to communicate with the child’s long term memory. As you work with your child at home, you can also incorporate multisensory strategies that can help him or her.

Watch the video below to see how the EET works.

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