Word Retrieval Strategies


Difficulties with word retrieval can be aided with effective word finding strategies. As a team of speech-language pathologists, we put together a list of professional activities that you can practice on your own.

Word Retrieval Therapy on DVD

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to help find words using new ways or strategies.

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Using "Cues" to help Word Retrieval

Cues are simply giving someone (or yourself) a hint or clue as to what the missing word might be. Remember, you usually know the word you're trying to retrieve, so a clue might help you find it more rapidly.

There are two types of useful cues:

1. Phonemic Cues: These cues use sounds to aid in a patient's word retrieval. The first vowel or consonant sound of the missing word is typically used as the phonemic cue.

For example, if the missing word is soup you could cue that word by making an extended "S" sound. You could say, "Oh, you're thinking of a word that starts with Sssssss ..."

Hearing the initial "S" sound can sometimes trigger an individual's memory of the full word.

Another strategy linked to phonemic cues is rhyming. For example, if a patient is having difficulty retrieving the word free, you could give them a cue by telling them that the word they are looking for rhymes with tree or three.

2. Semantic Cues: These cues are category or background clues.

A category cue would provide the category or group the missing word belongs to. For example, if the missing word is horse, you could cue that word by saying, "It's a farm animal."

A background cue would state a function of the word. For example, if the missing word is hammer, you could say, "It is used to pound nails."

The Cloze Exercise

Another semantic strategy is using a cloze exercise. This requires using an understanding of all the words in a sentence to give you a good idea of what the missing word might be.

For example, if the target word is door, you could say, "I unlocked the front _________."

You wouldn't unlock the front tree, so the strategy here is to use the related information (unlock and front) to help determine what the target word is (door).

Additional Strategies and Exercises
to Practice at Home

Naming Categories: Give three or four items belonging to the same category and then have the person with word finding difficulty try to identify the category.

You can then reverse this naming game and give the category first, then have the anomic individual name three or four items belonging to that category.

To make this activity more challenging you can name as many items as possible in one minute. Write down your answers and try to beat your previous score each time you practice.

Antonyms: Naming opposites. Choose a word and try to come up with the opposite of that word. For a higher challenge see if you can think of more than one antonym for each word.

Synonyms: Naming words that have the same, or almost the same meaning. This activity tends to be more difficult than naming opposites. However, it is a great practice tool for strengthening word retrieval skills.

For more of a challenge, try to name two synonyms for each word.

Fill in the Blank: Say a familiar phrase and leave the last word out (this is the cloze exercise mentioned earlier). Try to supply the missing word. When phrases become mastered you can move on to sentences.

For the ultimate challenge, read a paragraph from a newspaper or book and occasionally leave out a word (make sure the missing word is reasonably easy to identify). This is a great strategy for word retrieval.

Picture Naming: You can use this activity several ways. Use family pictures to identify the names of family members as well as familiar places, like homes of extended relatives or vacation spots.

You can also use pictures of common items. You can purchase picture books or use newspapers and magazines to provide hundreds of items to be named.

One last naming activity:

Label items around you as you travel through your daily routine.

To become active in your own recovery, use every chance you get to challenge and increase your word retrieval skills!

Similarities: Choose two words within a category and describe how they are the same. For example: How are ketchup and mustard the same?

This activity not only challenges word finding abilities, but also forces you to think about word associations. This cognitive ability can be used as a strategy to aid in word retrieval.

Differences: This activity tends to be more challenging than describing similarities between words. Using the same example as above: How are ketchup and mustard different?

This exercise forces you to remember specific details that make similar objects different from one another.

Visualize the Word: When you can't think of a word, try seeing it. Using your minds eye, practice visualizing the word written on paper.

You can also try to visualize the word being written out one letter at a time. You can then read it when it's complete. This technique may sound impractical; however, it has proven to be very useful with some patients.

Keep in mind that reaching your full potential involves tapping into all of your strengths to help overcome your weaknesses. Successful word retrieval depends on using new ways to accomplish an "old skill."

Sequencing Events: This word finding activity is based on familiar sequences, such as holidays, seasons, and months.

For example:

  • What holiday comes after Thanksgiving?
  • What season comes after autumn?
  • What month comes after March?

Of course you can use many other well-known sequences such as weeks, days, and time.

An important thing to remember about these activities:

Daily practice is necessary to reach your highest potential.

And, just as important: the methods used during the exercises are teaching you strategies to help find those missing words in your daily routine!

In other words, when you have trouble thinking of a particular word,
try to:

  • think of its opposite,
  • say a phrase to yourself and try to fill in the blank,
  • or try to think of related words in the same category.

These are all strategies you can use independently to help improve your word finding abilities.

The opportunity to talk with people that live with word finding difficulty can also be a great resource. For information on events and support groups in your area, please visit The American Stroke Association.

Word Retrieval Exercises on Video!

Designed by a team of experienced speech pathologists, this collection of professional word finding exercises is now available to use in the comfort of your own home.

What does our Word Retrieval Exercise Video offer you?

Word Finding Exercises on Video

  • Reduced frustration every time you communicate!
  • Professional strategies to successfully advance and strengthen your word retrieval skills!
  • The opportunity to practice everyday!
  • Over 50 minutes of word retrieval exercises!

With this collection of highly effective word finding exercises, all you need is the desire to improve.

The Word Retrieval Exercise Video is an affordable and effective solution that can make a significant difference in your
loved one's life!


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