Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What Are Carrier Phrases and How Do I Use Them?

If you don’t live in the world of speech-therapy, you probably aren’t familiar with the term “carrier phrase.” Luckily, it’s very simple one to understand. When we speechies talk about carrier phrases, we are referring to phrases in which the first few words stay the same and only the last word changes. Some of my favorite carrier phrases are:

I want a…
I found a…
I have a….
I see a….
Do you have a….?
Where is the….?

Carrier phrases can be a great way to help children learn to use longer sentences. And, as a bonus, they can be used to help with lots of other speech and language skills as well. Carrier phrases work well because they can be used repetitively in an activity, giving children multiple opportunities to learn the phrase.

For example, if I am looking at books with a child, I might model the phrases, “I see a ball!” “I see a fish!” “I see a plane!” and then wait. Often, the child will come back with, “I see a (new noun here).” This teaches the child that exchanging one word in a sentence changes the meaning of the sentence, but because the first few words of the sentence are the same, it’s easier for children to memorize and say the whole thing. This can, however, be a good and bad thing. It’s good because using carrier phrases can lead to children using longer sentences quickly. Many children with autism, for example, are taught to use “I want (+ noun)” to request things and are able to learn this pretty fast. The downfall, though, is that sometimes children become over reliant on using these carrier phrases and don’t learn to make up all kinds of new and creative sentences. Carrier phrases can be good as a first step for learning to create sentences, but I always make sure children are using lots of different types of 2-word phrases as well.

Carrier phrases are also great for other language skills. For example:

• Carrier phrase can be used with children who are working on producing new speech sounds (i.e., articulation). Often, children can produce a sound well when producing it in one word at a time, but they have difficulty producing it in sentences or conversation. Carrier phrases are a great in-between step, because they increase the sentence length, but "reduce the linguistic load’ (in other words, they don’t require kids to think as much about what they are going to say before they say it). This can be especially helpful for children with developmental apraxia of speech.

• Carrier phrases are also great when working with children who are stuttering. In my post on preschool stuttering, I gave lots of beginning suggestions for working with a preschooler who stutters. One of those steps is to use slow and simple speech (again with the idea of “reducing the linguistic and cognitive load”—or helping children speak in activities that are predictable and thus require a bit less complex language and a bit less thought about what they are going to say). Doing this helps increase fluency. Using carrier phrases can be a great way to sloooow an activity down, take turns, and use simple, repetitive speech to increase fluency. 

How to use carrier phrases?

• Use expansion to model the phrase for your child in an appropriate activity. Say, for example, you were having snack and your child kept asking for “cookie” by just using that one word. Each time he did this, you might say, “I want a cookie,” before you give him the cookie and wait just a bit to see if he imitates you.

• Read books that have carrier phrases embedded in them. One of my favorites is Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?by Eric Carle.

• Play games like Memory and Go Fish, modeling simple phrase like, “Do you have a (noun)?” and “I found a (noun) ” or “I see a (noun)”

• Take turns pointing out interesting things in a book, modeling “I see (noun)” as you go.

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I'm actually not familiar with that phrase. I like how you described it.

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  3. Do you feel that a repetitive phrase can be used at the end of a sentence and only change the first word?

    I use this in articulation-"There's a fish in the lake", "There's a turtle in the lake"

    Is it still fulfilling the goal "Will use in a carrier phrase"?

  4. Very helpful! Thank you! But what is the difference between a carrier phrase and a closed sentence task when used in a short term goal?

  5. With a closed sentence task, you want the child to just fill in the word (You: You have a ..... Child: Book!). With a carrier phrase, you are expecting the child to repeat the whole phrase!