Adult word retrieval strategies.


This cue is provided to the WFS (word finding struggler) when the listener is sure about the word she is struggling to retrieve and produce.  If the WFS was struggling to retrieve and then say the word “mom”, you would provide the beginning sound of the word mom (which would be the phoneme /m/-mmmmmm)-giving her the phonemic cue and helping her to retrieve the word.   This cue is one of the easiest word retrieval cues for the person struggling with word finding concerns.  Usually when the WFS hears the beginning sound of the word it helps them to retrieve the word almost instantly. 

The goal, then, is for the WFS to realize that if she is able to say the beginning sound of the word she may be able to cue herself to retrieve the word (sometimes she may not be able to retrieve the word mom, but she knows that it begins with /m/, so the WFS may cue herself with the sound that m makes…..mmmmmm).  Once she gives herself the cue, she maybe able to retrieve the word all on her on.    So remember to use the phonemic cue when you are communicating with someone that is struggling to find the right word.  Also remember that this cue ONLY works when you know what the word is she is struggling to say.  

Finally, in order to continue to help the WFS become a better communicator…be sure to have her restate the entire sentence.  What this means is: if she said: “I bought flowers for my………” and struggled to find the word mom.   Next you cued her with the /m/ sound, which helped her to retrieve “mom”,  and then the last step is for her to go back and restate the sentence: “I bought flowers for my mom”.  As she continues to respond to the phonemic cues, as she continues to restate the sentences….she will build on her word finding abilities…..and MOST importantly learn to use the strategies. 



Also are utilized in order to help the WFS with word retrieval skills.  When the WFS is struggling to retrieve a word and the listener is UNSURE of what word she is trying to retrieve, the listener/therapist provides the WFS with words that might be related to what she is trying to express.  For example if the WFS was trying to tell you about something she ate at an Italian Restaurant (now there are many possibilities-so you can’t use the phonemic cue because you do not know what she ate).  So the next step would be to provide her with as many semantic cues as possible (you may have also heard the term circumlocution).  This means that you can say words that are related to eating at the Italian Restaurant.  For example: pizza, pasta, do you eat it with a fork, a spoon, sauce, did you sit at a table or eat at the counter, can you eat it in a bowl, is it round or square……continue to try and provide as many cues as possible.  I was once working with Lauren and she was trying to tell me that she ate Rigatoni Ala Vodka for dinner.  She struggled for about 20 minutes……but she got it…….we talked about the fact that she ate it with a fork and that you could not use your fingers (so it could not be pizza)…..she remembered what she had to drink…..who ate at the restaurant with her….that it was a pasta……but not a long pasta like spaghetti and I continued to provide her with semantic cues……and we kept rephrasing the sentence….”I went out to eat for dinner with my mom and I ate……” until finally she was able to recall “rigatoni ala vodka”.

Now the ultimate goal is for the WFS to begin to use this strategy on her own….so that when she is struggling to find a word…..she can try and recall other words that are related to this word….and then hopefully she will be able to self cue and retrieve the word.


In order to help the WFS become a better self-cuer you can play this enrichment activity. 

Categories:  Provide the WFS with a word…..the word should be a noun…as it makes this activity a little easier….but also the most beneficial for word retrieval.  If you give her the word APPLE, she has to provide three attributes related to the word, and the first attribute must be the category….and she also must provide the answer in a full sentence.  So it would sound something like this:  An apple is a fruit, it is red and it has seeds in it.





Carrier phrases are effective in helping the WFS to retrieve words and use them functionally.  Functional and spontaneous language is language that we use to obtain a need, or get what we want or to express a thought or an idea.    Carrier phrases are simple phrases such as peanut butter and ___________.   

This strategy can only be used when you know the word that the WFS is trying to say.  If you are not aware of the word….it would be impossible to provide the carrier phrase.  When you know what word the WFS is trying to retrieve… can use a phrase or sentence that basically has a blank______________ at the end of the sentence.  And this blank then  needs to be filled in by the WFS.  So if the WFS was trying to retrieve the word “toothpaste”….you could say something like this…..”I brush my teeth with a toothbrush and_________” 

Remember the goal is for the WFS to learn how to formulate her own carrier phrases.  The young girl that I work with has started to use not only the phonemic cues…but the carrier phrases as well.  It is amazing when you see how successful the WFS can be as a speaker when she learns on her own how to retrieve those “stuck” words.

You may find in your own day-to-day life…when struggling to recall someone’s name…..a place that you shopped at……..or a movie that you saw……you may re-cap the events of the day….and then say to yourself…..”I went to lunch today at the diner and had a salad with my friend….______________…….MARY!!!”  Sometimes recapping the events and then formulating a sentence that acts as a carrier phrase helps you to retrieve the word that is “stuck” or on the “tip of your tongue”.


There is more information about word retrieval strategies posted under the word finding page. Be sure to post any questions.

About Kim

My name is Kim Marino and I have been practicing as a licensed speech and language pathologist since 1993. I work on Long Island providing diagnostic evaluations and services to children from birth to age 21. My experience is vast and am proud to say that I work with children that may present with articulation and phonological concerns, oral motor feeding concerns, Down Syndrome feeding, cognitive rehabilitation, auditory processing delays, receptive language delays, cleft palate feeding and sound development and expressive language delays. Most importantly, I am the mother of four amazing children and am happily married to my childhood sweetheart. I feel blessed to have my four children and so lucky to share this journey in life with my husband. I always had it somewhere in my head that I wanted to develop a blog or a website of some sort so that I could provide families with an additional that parents could help their little ones become a better communicator. And as I was developing this blog....I realized that I also needed to share the stories about my life and my children....and the funny things along the way that help to keep me smiling. Whether you are a working mother or not...finding balance between home, children and life can be a challenge....I hope that my blog helps to bring a smile to your face..and also some tools to help you help your little or big one. I hope you enjoy! Kim
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