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Speech in the Schools

Verb Choices and Learning Opportunities

Published March 27, 2015 8:23 AM by Teresa Roberts

Our daily lives are filled with a combination of both obligations and opportunities. Sometimes we may even have difficulty distinguishing between the two. Having the chance to work hard, to push oneself to accomplish tasks, and to learn new things is an opportunity. Access to education is not universal – learning is in many ways still a privilege, regionally and globally.

There is a unique balance within each of us, of demands that are within our capacities, and complexity that is within our proximal zone of development. We may have personal limits at any given time and our understanding is continually expanding, however, we are often stronger than we know. This may mean that we thrive when we work just a little harder than we think we can. We grow when we appreciate the moments that challenge us.

We have the ability to change the perception of any given task or event with only one word. Verb choices carry more semantic meaning than we often expect. The verb choice may show either obligation or opportunity. Consider the following two statements:

“We have to read this book today.”
“We get to read this book today.”

Which statement makes you more interested in reading the book? The first sentence is about obligation and the second sentence is about opportunity. When we use the verb “have to”, we automatically demote the task to something that is undesirable. When we “get to” do something, we elevate it by adding excitement, eagerness, and adventure. We are affected by our word choices and our own self-talk. Think about what you will gain from your accomplishments and how lucky you are to “get to” to do things.

Our clients are affected by our word choices and how we present tasks to them. They can often read our moods, and their own responses to the activities may be predetermined simply by how we introduce them. We can entice through verb choices, highlighting newness, curiosity, and interest. Think about what you and your client will “get to” do at your next session.

Professionally, our colleagues are affected by our word choice. Consider these two statements:

“I had to go to a training session on behavioral intervention yesterday.”
“I got to go to go to a training session on behavioral intervention yesterday.”

The first statement might elicit a response of sympathy or commiseration, while the second statement has the potential to pique someone’s interest, e.g., “Really, how was it? What did they say?”

When we remember that learning is a gift, we can present the acquisition of knowledge and the practice of skills as the opportunities that they are. We can let our words entice others to participate.

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About this Blog


    Speech in the Schools
    Occupation: School-based speech-language pathologists
    Setting: Traditional and specialized K-12 classrooms
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