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Speech in the Schools

Deconstructing Describing

Published May 24, 2016 10:16 AM by Teresa Roberts

Let’s start with a virtual field trip to the zoo to watch the hippos eating watermelon, using multimedia.

With YouTube, we can bring entertaining videos of zoo animals to therapy sessions. The hippos, with their mouths wide open awaiting a large, whole watermelon, give us a way to build our describing skills.

We can start with a basic noun phrase that has an article (the) and a noun (hippo): “the hippo”. Here is our short sentence: “The hippo is eating watermelon.” Now we can grow our noun phrase element-by-element using guided questions.

Quantity: How many of the hippos love watermelon?
•    Quantifier: All of the hippos love watermelon!

Specificity: Which hippo has his mouth open?
•    Demonstrative adjective: That hippo has his mouth open.

Numerical term: How many hippos are eating watermelon?
•    Number: Two of the hippos are eating watermelon.

Negation: How many hippos are sleeping?
•    Negative: None of the hippos are sleeping.

Characteristics: What does the hippo look like? Is he big or small? Is he grey or brown?
•    Adjectives: The big, brown hippo is eating watermelon.

Every time we add details to provide additional information, we are expanding the noun phrase, the syntactic complexity of the sentence, and the specificity of our descriptions. Describing doesn’t end there. Some of the best elements come after the noun phrase as post-noun modifiers.

Environment: Where are the hippos? They’re at the zoo.
•    Prepositional phrase: The hippos at the zoo are eating watermelon.

Location: Where are the hippos standing? They’re by the fence.
•    Prepositional phrase: The hippos by the fence are eating watermelon.

Characteristics: Tell me about the hippo’s teeth. Let’s count his big teeth. We can see eight big teeth.
•    Prepositional phrase: The hippo with eight big teeth is eating watermelon.

We can even embed an entire clause into our noun phrase. All we need to do to transform our prepositional phrases into relative clauses is to add a relative pronoun (that) and a verb. With a relative clause (also called an adjective clause), a whole sentence is used to describe the noun.

•    The hippos that live at the zoo are eating watermelon.
•    The hippos that are standing by the fence are eating watermelon.
•    The hippo that has eight big teeth is eating watermelon.

When you embed a clause, you combine two ideas. Two sentences become one sentence:
“The hippo has his mouth open” + “The hippo is waiting for watermelon” becomes “The hippo that has his mouth open is waiting for watermelon.”

Now let’s add in our first elements: “That one big, brown hippo at the zoo that has his mouth open is waiting for watermelon.”  We produced a sentence with 17 words, multiple elements, and an embedded clause.

We can model the gradual building of elements through repetition of a simple sentence with one addition at a time. Our describing skills are more complex than color, shape, size, etc. We can embed a whole idea to share what we know about the subject.


Thanks for this tip. It's just what I  needed for one of my students.

Liz Diaz, SLP May 27, 2016 1:03 PM
Bx. NY

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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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