Keeping text simple

It can’t be hard to make things simpler… can it?

Well, actually, it can be quite tricky. Creating or adapting resources for children with language impairment can take a long time. Not only that. After using the resources it may be necessary to revise the language if some counter-intuitive things come to light!

In brief:

Adapt text in the following ways:

  • vocabulary should be  simplified
  • sentence length should be reduced
  • sentences are chunked so line breaks avoid splitting phrases wherever possible
  • passive voice (which can cause problems) should be changed to make active voice sentences
  • symbol support can be included for unusual vocabulary
  • topics are well-known

 With more detail:

  • Monitor the vocabulary from several angles:

–          Watch out for the use of too many pronouns (unless you are focusing on teaching what the pronouns mean). Although pronoun words are among the high frequency set, children with language impairment may be unaware that these words refer to something which has been mentioned. It may sound a little odd but repeating a name or a noun will help the child to read with meaning.

–          Negatives and passives are much more difficult to understand even if you have used easy words.

–          Irregular verb pasts (e.g. ‘built’ ‘ran’) may look easy to read but, if they aren’t used by the child in conversation, then you could split the learning of them from reading. Use the trickier words in spoken practice games and employ less specific but very common words like ‘made’ or ‘went’ in written work to begin with.

–          Think about the words with a conceptual meaning that are introduced to early readers. Words like ‘then’ ‘than’ ‘all’ ‘or’ – do the children understand sentences in conversation with these words? Are they confusing the words which sound similar? Because many English speakers have dialectal variants in their speech, words like these can be confused. Another pair is  ‘are’  and ‘our’.

  • Keep sentences short. And try to keep groups of words in a phrase chunked together on a line. Avoid, for example, introducing a line break in phrases like ‘into the house’ or ‘lots of boys’ or ‘the big cat’. Sometimes, however, it becomes clear that some shorter sentences are not actually more helpful! E.g. in English we can say ‘Give Tom the bun’ or ‘Give the bun to Tom’. Both require the same action but children seem to find the second version (which has more words) easier to understand.
  • If symbol support is being used, too much of it may be confusing. And some symbols can be less than useful and are better left out if they seem likely to produce a false impression. E.g. the symbol for the word ‘drive’ will suggest a car so if the resource is about earlier times it could be better to use no symbol or go to the trouble of applying the symbol for ‘carriage’ to the word ‘drive’. This can be time-consuming but worthwhile.
  • Learning aids like writing frames, outlines, diagrams, tables, pictures and mind-maps are great. It is however tempting to save space by using too small a font size, or leaving too small a gap for missing words etc.
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