Sentence Segmentation to Improve Communication – Part 2 of 2

phonological awareness continuum


Visual and Rhythmic Prompt

In part one of this post, you learned how I use echo singing to work on auditory comprehension, turn taking, and keeping a steady beat.  I also briefly introduced a strategy for cuing speech using a dry erase board and dotted sentence segmentation.  Having my client point to each word or the dot under each word as he or she says each word provides a visual for becoming aware of sentence segmentation, develops the speech to print connection, and provides both a tactile and rhythmic prompt for getting the words out successfully.


Gradual Release of Responsibility

The rhythmic echoing and visual with dots under each word is a strategy that I have developed over time as it targets phonological awareness skills as well as provides pacing and a visual focus.  While taking a graduate class at UW-Oshkosh in 2014 — Reading in the Elementary School — I realized that I was following the “Gradual Release of Responsibility” when using this strategy.  It was also during this class that I became aware of how easy it is to constantly “test” rather than “teach” within the structure of a session.

Gradual Release of Responsibility is an educational model that has been adopted by several schools in my area.  As far as I can tell, it originated in a 1983 manuscript by Pearson and Gallagher, available as a pdf download through Google Scholar.  In more recent years, Fischer and Frey have published a book on the topic and several others have presented on a similar model using different terminology.


Testing or Teaching

One of points that stuck with me during the grad class is that the number one thing new educators need to overcome is their tendency to “test” rather than “teach.”  I found that I could relate to this in my one-on-one clinical work, as I was often taking data (i.e. how many times was the child successful out of five attempts) to measure progress.  Granted, I also gave a variety of prompts, but it often felt like I was hoping to see if they’d get it on their own, and if not, then I would provide the least intrusive prompt.

With more of a teaching mindset, I find myself modeling exactly what I want them to do first and then gradually fading the prompts as they become successful.  It is significantly more effective to teach the skills and provide supports with a gradual move toward independence.

In a classroom, this might look more like:

A focus lesson  —  “I do it”
Guided Instruction  —  “We do it”
Collaborative  —  “You do it together”
Independent  —  “You do it alone”

In a one-on-one setting, it may look like this:

Demonstration  —  “I Do, You Watch”
Shared Demonstration — “I Do, You Help”
Guided Practice —  “You Do, I Help”
Independent Practice —  “You Do, I Watch”

These are the phrases used in the published literature and in the published visuals you will find if you google “Gradual Release of Responsibility.”  Teachers in the classroom are being instructed to use these phrases while teaching so that kids know what is expected of them.


Gradual Release of Responsibility — Adapted

In my work with kids on the autism spectrum, I find that the heavy use of pronouns is confusing.  If I say “I do, you watch,” I can’t be certain that child isn’t thinking that “I” refers to him or herself.  For those clients that benefit from the structure of knowing what to expect, I label the process as:

Shared Practice
Independent Practice

If we are working on a math skill, my clients on the spectrum experience less anxiety and know exactly what to expect if they know that I will “model” two problems, we will do two problems together with “shared practice,” and then they will be asked to do two problems independently.  We use the term “shared practice” and talk about how practice means we are learning a new skill and it’s okay to make mistakes or ask for help if needed.graudal release of responsibility

Where is the Music?

You may be wondering where the music is?  This is supposed to be music therapy, right?  There are many components of music that can be manipulated to create a successful learning experience — melody, rhythm, accompaniment, timbre, volume, and tempo.  I find that a rhythmic prompt (without a melody or singing) is sometimes the most effective in a one-on-one teaching situation.


In Summary

The structure of turn taking and rhythmic call and response is a skill which will be extremely useful as literacy skills continue to develop.  Entraining to a steady beat results in improved connectivity for kids on the autism spectrum and provides focus and a template for a response for all kids.

Combining this turn taking skill with what has become known as the “gradual release of responsibility” is an extremely effective way to target literacy skills.

Using turn taking, rhythmic cues, and intentional teaching with a gradual release of responsibility are all strategies that will help a child learn the skill of sentence segmentation.

Learning to attend to larger “chunks” (i.e. words) will set the foundation for later being able to manipulate the smaller “chunks” of syllables and phonemes.  And that, my friends, will lead to successful readers and communicators in life!


Fischer, D., & Frey, N.  (2008).  Better Learning Through Structured Teaching:  A Framework for the Gradual Release of Responsibility.  Alexandria, VA:  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

LaGasse, A. B.  (2013).  Influence of an external rhythm on oral motor control in children
and adults.  Journal of Music Therapy, 50(1), 6-24.

Pearson, P.D. and Gallagher, M.C.  (1983).  “The Instruction of Reading Comprehension,”  Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8, 317-344.

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