Colourful Semantics
Making sentences make sense
• What are common difficulties the students you work
with have when it comes to making up sentences
(both oral and written?)
Don’t know what to write
Sentences don’t make sense
Produce brief sentences without details
Have trouble expanding on ideas
Sentences consist of grammar mistakes
Colourful Semantics
• Colourful Semantics was developed in the UK by Speech
and Language Therapist Alison Bryan
• It was brought to Victoria by Speech Pathologist Andrea
Hewett (Bairnsdale)
• Presentation adapted from that developed by Marcella Van
Mourik (CEOM Speech Pathologist)
Where does
the name
come from?
What is ‘Colourful Semantics’?
• A method of teaching children how to understand
and construct sentences
(syntax vs. morphology – grammar is modeled not
explicitly taught e.g. ‘the, -ing, auxiliary verb is’)
• A therapy technique that uses colour-coded cue
cards that ‘show’ the structure of a sentence; each
card represents a word or part of a sentence
– Tunes the child into key words in sentences
Activities aim to help children to:
• Understand instructions and sentences
• Follow discussions and to communicate their own
ideas effectively
• Reduce problem behaviours such as anger and
aggression in the classroom (if this is the result of
frustration associated with language difficulty)
• Use different modalities to learn about making
sentences (Children with SLD are usually stronger
visually and kinesthetically - hands-on)
• Develop competent use of simple and complex
sentence structure
• Develop a concept of narrative (e.g. what makes up
a ‘story’)
• Produce grammatically correct sentences in
speaking and writing
• Develop literacy skills by building a strong
foundation in oral language:
John Monro’s ‘multiple levels of text processing'
(MLOTP) model outlines the importance of using
existing oral language skills to comprehend text.
Select a word from the bucket
Decide which group your word belongs to:
Form a group with others who have the same word type
In groups, brainstorm ideas about:
What a sentence is?
What things should be included to make a sentence?
What is a sentence?
• Can be a one or more clauses joined together
• So what is a clause?.....It is a unit of meaning that
contains a verb and a subject (noun)
• For example….
– ‘The dog jumped’
What is a sentence?
• More information about the noun is added through the
use of adjectives
• More information about the verb is added through the
use of adverbs
• For example….
– The lazy brown dog jumped over the log quickly
How is a sentence made?
Think of an idea - eg. visualise a dog burying a bone
Think of a verb to represent the concept - eg. bury
Determine the other parts needed in the sentence and choose
a main word for each part – eg. WHO (the dog), WHAT DOING
(bury), WHAT (a bone) and WHERE (in the garden)
Add the grammar – eg. The dog buried a bone in the garden
Add the motor plan – eg. sounds, sequencing, body language,
intonation, etc.
Say the sentence
Colour Cue Cards
‘WHO’ = orange = nouns
Can include:
people e.g. man, baby, Grandma
animals e.g. horse, dog, butterfly
occupations e.g. clown, hairdresser, doctor
pronouns e.g. he, she, it, they
describing words e.g. big man, brown horse, sad girl
‘WHAT DOING’ = yellow = verbs
• Can include:
– ‘stand alone’ verbs e.g. run, sit
– verbs associated with an object e.g. wash (car), brush
– different tenses (past, present, future)
– ‘is’ (copula) verb ‘to be’ e.g. Boy is tall
(other times, ‘is’ = auxiliary verb e.g. Boy is
running; in this context ‘is’ is modeled, not explicitly
‘WHAT’ = green = objects/nouns
- e.g. brush dog, wash car
‘WHERE’ = red
- e.g. on the car, in the cupboard,
outside, at the park
‘WHEN’ = purple
- e.g. yesterday, last week,
on the weekend, tomorrow
‘HOW DOING’ = white = adverbs
- e.g. quickly, gently, like a monkey,
in a silly way, well
‘WHAT LIKE’ = blue = adjectives
Can include:
- Feelings e.g. angry, scared, hungry
- Physical attributes e.g. old, tall, pretty
how doing
‘WHO TO’ = pink = indirect objects
- e.g. The girl gave flowers to her mother.
Joining words = brown = conjunctions
- e.g. and, because, after, although
‘Not’ = red circle cut out
- e.g.
not verb, not adjective
(N.B. ‘never’ = ‘how doing’ (adverb);
‘does/did’ etc. = auxiliary verbs
e.g. ‘Boy did not run’)
Suggested strategies for Colourful
• Use colour cue cards
• Use signs where appropriate (i.e. children with more
severe comprehension difficulties)
• Use Choice and Contrast questioning
• Use Recasting & Remodelling to promote grammar
• Use lots of praise, encouragement and
Using Colourful Semantics
Teach ‘WHO’
Establish the colour link by explaining ‘who’ words are
orange and present the orange card
Use real objects
Identify real people in the class, home, school
Identify people and animals in storybooks, photos and
Make a poster with pictures or photos
- Expand vocabulary and oral language by using
occupations activities (e.g. ‘Who am I?’)
- Students may experience difficulty with gender (e.g.
he, she)
2. Teach ‘WHAT DOING’
- Establish the colour link by explaining ‘what doing’ words
are yellow and present the yellow card
- Use stand alone verbs at this stage (e.g. running,
walking, jumping, sleeping, sitting, standing, falling,
crying, laughing, swimming, sleeping etc.
- Use pictures from magazines, books, photos etc. and
encourage the student to identify the ‘what doing’ word
- Make a poster with pictures or photos
- A variety of tenses can be used (e.g. past, present,
future) (e.g. using ‘Tense Sequencing cards’)
- Students may experience difficulty using verb tenses
and may need more assistance with this step
- It is important to remember that prompts need to
change as different tenses are worked on. E.g.:
- PAST TENSE: What did the girl do? (jumped)
- PRESENT TENSE: What does the girl do (jumps)
4. Teach ‘WHO’ + ‘WHAT DOING’
Use stand alone verb pictures
Place action picture in front of the student
Place ‘who’ and ‘what doing’ cue cards in front of the
Point to the orange ‘who’ card and ask ‘Who is in this
picture?’ (boy)
Point to the yellow ‘what doing’ card and ask ‘What is the
boy doing?’ (sleeping)
Ask “What is the complete sentence?” (The boy is
4. Teach ‘WHAT’ (in conjunction with ‘WHAT DOING’ words)
- Establish the colour link by explaining to the student:
‘what doing’ words are yellow (present the yellow card)
‘what’ words are green (present the green card)
- Identify actions in the classroom, at home or at school
- Identify actions in story books, photos or magazines
- Use ‘what doing’ words that can be associated with an
object (e.g. reading (a book), throwing (a ball) etc.)
It is important to ensure that the student understands the
distinction between ‘what doing’ and ‘what’ words in
this context
For example:
When asked “What is the boy doing?”, a child will often
respond with ‘reading a book’. This is incorrect.
‘reading’ is the ‘what doing’ word
‘book’ is the ‘what’ word
5. Teach ‘WHO’ + ‘WHAT DOING’ + ‘WHAT’
Place action picture in front of the student
Place ‘who’, ‘what doing’ and ‘what’ cue cards in
front of the student
Prompt student as outlined previously:
‘Who is in the picture?’ (a boy)
‘What is the boy doing?’ (reading)
‘What is the boy reading?’ (a book)
‘What is the complete sentence?’ (The boy is reading
a book)
In pairs, ask each other comprehension questions for these pictures….
It is important to remember that colourful
semantics builds on the concept of ‘meaning
words’ rather than specific grammatical
structures. Therefore, if a student responds
with “The boy reading a book” reward the
student for including all parts of the sentence,
but recast the sentence back to the student
using the correct grammar.
6. Teach ‘WHERE’
- Establish the colour link by explaining to the
student that ‘where’ words are red (present red
‘where’ card)
- Present the student with pictures and ask the
student to identify the ‘where’ words (e.g. under
the chair, in the box etc.)
Use the following activity ideas to teach ‘where’:
• Play hiding games – ask ‘where’ things or people
are hidden. Consider the following hierarchy:
life size objects → toys → photos → drawings
• Play barrier games and/or use picture scenes – give
each other instructions (e.g. put the bike on the
road’ etc.)
• Students may experience difficulty understanding
7. Teach ‘WHO’ + ‘WHAT DOING (IS)’ + ‘WHERE’
8. Teach ‘WHO’ + ‘WHAT DOING’ + ‘WHERE’
9. Teach ‘WHO’ + ‘WHAT DOING + ‘WHAT’ + ‘WHERE’
10. Teach ‘WHEN’
11. Teach ‘WHO’ + ‘WHAT DOING’ + ‘WHEN’
12. Teach ‘WHO’ + ‘WHAT DOING + ‘WHAT’ + ‘WHEN’
13. Teach ‘WHAT LIKE’
14. Teach ‘WHO’ + ‘WHAT DOING (IS)’ + ‘WHAT LIKE’
15. Teach ‘WHO’ + ‘WHAT LIKE’ + ‘WHAT DOING + ‘WHAT’
16. Teach ‘WHO TO’
17. Teach ‘WHO’ + ‘WHAT DOING + ‘WHAT’ + ‘WHO TO’
18. Teach ‘HOW DOING’
19. Teach ‘WHO’ + ‘WHAT DOING + ‘WHAT’ + ‘HOW DOING’
On the weekend I played soccer at the sports oval.
On the weekend I played soccer at the sports oval.
My brother and I were kicking the football to our next door neighbours
My brother and I were kicking the football to our next door neighbours
My sister spoke well during the school performance.
My sister spoke well during the school performance.
The whale was as big as a house.
The whale was as big as a house.
- Present the brown card to the student and explain
that ‘joining words’ are brown
- Explain to the student that we can join sentences
together to make longer sentences. We join
sentences with a joining word (point to the brown
- Give the student some examples, then ask them to
formulate sentences using the cue cards (2 sets)
- Teach ‘joining words’ one at a time, making sure you
explain the joining word to the student and provide them
with examples and modelling
- Present the student with pictures and photos, as well as the
colour cue cards
- Encourage the student to formulate each sentence
individually before joining them
- Check that the student understands the concepts by asking
questions, such as ‘What did the boy do first?’ etc.
- Ensure that tense is consistent
The boy went to the doctor
The boy had a pain in the stomach
Using Colourful Semantics in the classroom
• Have large copies of cue cards stuck on blackboard or wall,
ready to use.
• Put up posters or butchers’ paper containing brainstormed
words/pictures for each cue.
• Use colour cards as cues during ‘Show and Tell’
• Use colour cards during writing demonstrations or story
writing activities
• Gesture to cue cards as a story is read and/or discussed to
assist with comprehension
Incy wincy spider climbed
up the water spout. Down
came the rain and washed
poor Incy out. Out came the
sunshine and dried up all the
rain so Incy wincy spider
climbed up the spout again
• Have students find the key words in a sentence, text or
picture  underline them in colour etc.
• Write a sentence on the board and have students match up
the words with the cue cards. Encourage the students to
make the sentence ‘more colourful’ by adding a word or
sentence part.
• Add appropriate labels to the cue cards e.g. ‘who’ =
noun/subject; ‘what doing’ = verb; ‘what’ = noun/object
 Students can then use the colour cards to refer to if
unsure about a label e.g. adverb, adjective
• Use colour cards as cues during narrative, essay, report,
debate, sentence formulation etc.