Word Stimulation: Definition, Examples and Benefits
Words Are Power
This article was inspired by something Eric Dierker, a fellow online writer, asked me about a while ago, to help a friend who had dementia. I formulated it for a specific purpose and passed it on. I came back to the file the other day and decided to develop it for general advice and as a teaching aid. So thank you Eric for the inspiration!
What Does 'Word Stimulation' Mean?
It’s not always easy to find appropriate words for conversation, description, expansion of vocabulary, so that we can improve ourselves’ or others’ life skills, memory skills, social skills, self-confidence and education.
To help learn words, or retrieve words from our memory, we need to use a form of stimulus which enforces learning and aids recall, sometimes known as ‘overlearning’. Learning new words comes from matching words with visual images (concrete or in our imagination). Practising that is 'overlearning', preferably using a different sense, such as auditory added to the visual.
If you want to help someone who has difficulty with words, or difficulty using them to interact with others, then focus on his or her strengths and interests.
'Planning a Garden' Example
To begin with, we’ll choose a word which corresponds to an interest of someone.
We’ll look at George who likes gardening. Start with a discussion about planning a new garden and the types of flowers, shrubs, possibly trees that he prefers.
The first flower is rose.
- Ask George to (or you can) write that single word in his favourite colour of rose, in lower case and alone on a piece of card, as above.
- Then go on to other flowers and shrubs which might be his favourites, repeating the same procedure.
- George can create a template of a garden, with borders.
- Print it out so that it can be used kinaesthetically (manipulated by hand) and print pictures of the flowers. This multi-sensory use increases memory skills, helps with making choices, comparing and discussing ideas and more.
- George can use these to ‘plan’ a garden, using the template with enough space to place the flowers, trees, fruit bushes and so on, where he wants. The garden can be expanded in whatever way is applicable.
You are encouraging hand-eye coordination, memory, automatic recognition of words, clear planning and independent choices. All of this can be expanded within any chosen theme, such as a kitchen, cookery, painting; the choice depends on the individual.
Have a conversation with George regarding the plan, how it looks, alternative positions for the flowers, what he likes best; try to make sure the conversation and ideas come mainly from him, just be the ‘guide’, the ‘prompt’ and take it from there.
To be in charge of a conversation promotes self-esteem, giving a sense of worth and allowing recognition of that by someone else.
Obviously, you could adapt this to just about anything.
Using an Object for Discussion
You can use any interesting objects you have to hand. Choose one, be it wooden or metal or an ornament. This works well in groups as well as with individuals. Use one object for each group.
Put each object where everyone can see it. Let anyone say whatever they observe about this object. Let them pick it up, examine it, to see what they notice. This might take the discussion along the lines you require.
If needed, ask questions such as
- what is it made of?
- what is it for?
- are there any markings on it? What are they for? (decoration, ease of use)
- what does it feel like?
- where is it from?
- how old do you think it is?
- who would use it?
From this, your students could draw pictures, make a report (written or drawn or both, historical, factual), tell a story or make of it what they, or you, wish.
Using Pictures or Photos
The same can be done with a large picture (famous or otherwise), preferably one with lots of action or detail. Any observations could include fashions, vehicles, animals, landscape, plants, landmarks they might recognise, weather and mood. Again, the outcome could be any form of report or drama or debate. You could add questions such as
- ‘Who painted this?’ or
- ‘Who published this?’, and ‘Why?’
- ‘Where is it?
- 'What does the architecture tell you?'
The photo above is of a picture of an old building before an earthquake; the empty land behind it is where that building once stood.
Any resultant questions (from student or teacher) will stimulate further discussion. The possibilities are endless!
Stimulation, Hands-on, Focus on the Person
To me, the important thing is the stimulation and the hands-on approach. The words are the stimulation for their own use.
- What does the spoken word make you see in your mind?
- What does that word make you feel?
- What does that word mean / what ‘group’ does it belong to? (e.g. ‘red’ belongs to ‘colour’, ‘carrot’ belongs to vegetable)
Use as many senses as possible as this stimulates even more. Multi-sensory teaching involves these senses: visual, vocal, aural, tactile and olfactory, otherwise referred to as sight, speech, hearing, touch and smell.
You can see the word and see the picture beside it. You can hear the word as you or someone else says it. You can touch the word if you make an outline of it, thereby investigating its own shape. You can even put a smell onto the paper on which the word is written! You can read it when it’s in your long-term memory.
I’ve noticed that if a person has a passion or is particularly interested in a conversation, when people are 1:1 interacting with him/her, then the response is much more lively and often more accurate. Too many people, too many ideas, too much outside interference (e.g. noises) and the concentration will go. With it will go the interest.
It's important to notice the individual student's use of words. Recognition and reward of their command of the language, or their use of a new word, is crucial for confidence. If they're not sure then ask what word seems appropriate for them to use and discuss the best possibilities. That is the way they will learn, they will retain that technique and benefit from it all.
Variety of Needs
If there is reading difficultly, making the reading a secondary priority takes away the focus on that problem and so reduces it. I have noticed in drama students that the less confident readers are not so when they are coping with a script which transports them into another being, an alternative character. The reading is not the focus, the character is.
Some individuals might need help in expression. Finding words that fit is the key. Write words on paper (preferably in different colours) and fit the words to pictures or match with the same word in black print. Then ask them to put the word into a sentence. Development through to a paragraph and more would take time and it’s important to progress at the student’s pace.
There are word games available with groups to match up, such as Happy Families. There is a junior version of Scrabble (for more advanced students). Games such as Boggle and Upwords are fun. You could make your own ‘Snap’ games with single words, possibly with different colours (e.g. ‘dog’, ‘cat’, ‘rat’, ‘frog’ etc, in red, blue, green, yellow for each).
Word ladders are fun too but it needs a more advanced student to enjoy the challenge. Students can make their own word ladders for each other to try (but they must be able to do it themselves).
We all know these. A simple idea but not always easy to do! Get from the top word to the bottom, changing only one letter at a time.
The answer to the one above would be
There may be other possibilities.
Choose any number of words from 3 to 7, depending on the ability of your student. Make sure you know they work!
Use of Word Stimulation
This method is useful for:
- subject teachers (easily adapted to any subject);
- teachers of literacy, usually using words with rhyming endings, from a simple ‘-at’ pattern (cat, mat, fat, bat) to more complicated patterns in a progressive manner;
- parents who want to help their children;
- anyone who wants to help a friend;
- groups who need to interact better (or one within that group who finds communication difficult);
- games with words and meanings.
Above all, make if fun!
When I come across a new word, I like to note it down, use it where I can and explore its meanings and origins.
I love onomatopoeia like 'scintillating' and 'gunge'.
Do you have any specific words that have grabbed your imagination? Please share them in the comments; I'd love to hear about them.
Do new words fascinate you?
Where have you found new words?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Ann Carr