Do the Hard Things First: Regular Past Tense Verbs

The complexity approach for phonology has been studied and proven to be an effective method in targeting phonological goals. However, principles of complexity have only recently been applied to grammar, specifically the teaching of past tense -ed. Van Horne, Fey and Curran (2017) found that teaching children the hardest regular past tense -ed forms first led to greater accuracy for both trained and untrained verbs. Hooray, hardest first = better generalization!

What does this mean for therapy?

Do the hard things first! When teaching regular past tense verbs, start with the verbs that are the hardest to learn. But, how do we know which verbs are the hardest? Well lucky for us, Van Horne & Fager (2015) already did the dirty work. They completed a study that determined which verbs were the hardest for children with specific language impairment to produce based on telicity (completedness of the event), verb frequency and stem-final phonemes. Feel free to check it out yourself and take an in-depth look by following the links to the full articles. OR go ahead and download my little handout with 60 verbs listed from easiest to hardest!

Do the Hard Things First: Auxiliary “Be”

A little grammar refresher for you (because I sure needed it!!) – auxiliary “be” is a helping verb such as “He is eating,” and in question form the word order changes, “Is he eating?” Copula “be” is a linking verb such as “He is happy,” and in question form the word order also changes, “Is he happy?” De Anda, Blossom & Abel (2019) suggest that the copula form is easier to learn because it doesn’t require the present progressive “ing” like the auxiliary form does. They also suggest that the question forms are more challenging because of the changing word order. In their case study, they had a single subject who was taught auxiliary “be” in question form. Results indicated that he improved his ability to produce auxiliary “be” as well as his ability to produce copula “be” following treatment. Again, hardest first is showing generalization!

What does this mean for therapy?

Do the hard things first! When teaching linking and helping verbs, start with the auxiliary form (is/are + ing) and start with it in the question form. In the study by Anda, Blossom & Abel (2019), they used a cueing hierarchy to teach the singular and plural forms of auxiliary “be”. For more, check out the link to the free access article below.

Sources
De Anda, S., Blossom, M., & Abel, A. D. (2019) A complexity approach to treatment of tense and agreement deficits: A case study. Communication Disorders Quarterly. doi:10.1177/1525740118822477
A Complexity Approach to Treatment of Tense and Agreement Deficits: A Case Study

Evans, Karen. “Want Grammar Skills to Generalize? Load Your Therapy with ‘Hard’ Verbs.” The Informed SLP, The Informed SLP, 13 Sept. 2018, www.theinformedslpmembers.com/reviews/want-grammar-skills-to-generalize-load-your-therapy-with-hard-verbs?rq=grammar.

Owen Van Horne A. J., Fey M., & Curran M. (2017). Do the hard things first: A randomized controlled trial testing the effects of exemplar selection on generalization following therapy for grammatical morphology. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 60(9), 2569–2588. https://doi.org/10.1044/2017_JSLHR-L-17-0001
Do the Hard Things First: A Randomized Controlled Trial Testing the Effects of Exemplar Selection on Generalization Following Therapy for Grammatical Morphology

Owen Van Horne A. J., & Green Fager M. (2015). Quantifying the relative contributions of lexical and phonological factors to regular past tense accuracy. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 17, 605–616.
Quantifying the relative contributions of lexical and phonological factors to regular past tense accuracy

Pezold, Mollee. “Starting with the Hard Stuff: Complexity for Morphology.” The Informed SLP, The Informed SLP, 14 Apr. 2019, www.theinformedslpmembers.com/reviews/starting-with-the-hard-stuff-complexity-for-morphology?rq=grammar.

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