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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Lau, SLP

Teaching Categorization: Why is it Important?

Whether I am working with a school-aged client who is struggling with vocabulary and comprehension, or if I am working with an adult client who has new word-finding difficulties after an acquired brain injury, one language area that reaps great benefit from speech therapy is categorization.

What are Categories?

Categories are a group or class of items with shared characteristics. Categories help us to process information, learn, remember, and integrate new information. Without the ability to group items together, we struggle to make sense of the world. It’s harder to find the word we’re looking for and understand how things are organized. Categories are a foundation for how we learn, relate, store, and recall words. 

Working on categories is a great way to build and expand vocabulary, understand new words in a more efficient and organized fashion. Learning new vocabulary by categories allows for better comprehension and retention, and helps “file it away” better for easier recall. Those with language disorders have a difficult time organizing and remembering words, and categorization is a great way to address these difficulties.

Borovsky and Elman from the University of California do a find job of describing the importance of learning categories: "The ability to group objects into categories based on some similarity of function, form or meaning is arguably one of our most important cognitive behaviours. While it may be a common-sense notion that we form categories based on our own direct experience of them, we also develop categories for things we may have never directly experienced like Roman emperors, subatomic particles, and vacuum-tube computers." (Borovsky & Elman, 2006).


Preschool – animals, body parts, clothes, shoes, jewelry, colors, letters, shapes, numbers, family members, days of the week, desserts, food, names, rooms of the house, furniture, sounds, toys

Early Elementary – snacks, drinks, dairy foods, vegetables, pets, book parts, buildings, characters, coins, condiments, containers, dinosaurs, directions, emotions, flowers, fruits, holidays, ingredients, instruments, jobs, jungle animals, liquids, months, movies, patterns, planets, punctuation, reptiles, insects, rhyming words, seasons, senses, kitchen utensils, sizes, solids, sounds, sports, transportation, tools, vowels, writing utensils, school supplies

Late Elementary – mythical creatures, adjectives, verbs, parts of speech, school subjects, businesses, cities, states, consonants, countries, continents, currency, exercises, habitats, mammals, measure units, metals, nouns, oceans, odd/even numbers, presidents, punctuation, seasonings, symbols, textures, trees, weather

Middle/High School – adverbs, ancient civilizations, constellations, cuisine, elements, famous landmarks, government types, gasses, gems, internal organs, languages, minerals, mountain ranges, music types, religions, traditions

One particular app that I recommend for working on word-finding challenges with adult clients is the Tactus Category Therapy app.

As stated on the Tactus Therapy website, the app doesn't require any verbal output, but it’s still exercising the brain in ways that can help people talk, using their own voice or AAC. A handy app for schools, hospitals, and home use, with flexible activities to challenge all ages and abilities.


J. Child Lang. 33 (2006), 759–790. (C) 2006 Cambridge University Press

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