Word Finding Difficulties and Home Strategies

Guest Authored By Andrea Levy, MS, CCC-SLP

“Word finding difficulty” — also known as “word retrieval difficulty” — refers to the “tip of the tongue” feeling where the person understands the word and has used it appropriately before, but cannot retrieve the word in that moment. A child with word finding difficulties will typically have conversational speech that consists of fillers (e.g., “um”, “well…uh”), use of vague words or pronouns (e.g., “stuff”, “thing”, “something”), revisions (e.g., “a spoon… I mean a fork”), and extra verbalizations (e.g., “Oh, I know that… it’s a….”). It is common for children with word finding difficulties to substitute semantically related words, such as, “spoon” for “fork.” A speech-language pathologist should be consulted with any concerns regarding word retrieval skills.  

Here are 5 language “games” to play with your child at home to increase their word retrieval skills: 

  1. Name that category: Name 3 items in a category and ask your child to label the category. For example, the parent says, “chair, table, couch” and the child responds, “furniture.” This activity can also be reversed where the child is asked to name 3-5 items within a category. 

  2. Fill-in-the-blank associations: Provide your child with a fill-in-the-blank association to complete. This is also known as “go together” items. For example, the parent says, “Socks and ____” and the child responds, “shoes.” 

  3. Describe an item: Have your child describe several attributes of a familiar item, such as the category, function, location, and parts of the object. This will provide them with a strategy for describing an item to a communication partner when they are unable to retrieve the word. 

  4. Fill-in-the-blank riddles: Think classic road trip games, such as, “I Spy…” or “I’m Going to a Picnic.” For “I’m Going to a Picnic”, the first player says, “I’m going to a picnic today and I’m bringing…” The next player says an item that begins with the letter A. Each player must repeat the list that has previously been said during their turn. The game continues until letter Z. 

  5. Play “HedBanz”: This family guessing game is great for working on word finding. Each player puts a card on their headband that they cannot see. Players take turns guessing the card on their head and describing the other player’s card. It is best to not use the timer when working on these skills, so your child has enough time to formulate their response.  

Feel free to reach out to our Speech-Language Pathologists with any questions or concerns you may have about your child’s word finding difficulties.