Word retrieval, or word finding, means a person’s ability to think of the right word when they need it.  Word finding means that the person can’t think of words they already know or have been exposed to. We all have those moments when we can’t think of the right word, and in that instant we are having a word retrieval problem.  

A variety of issues can cause word retrieval issues: fatigue, age, brain injury or simply an area of challenge on its own. Some people have a wonderful vocabulary, but in conversational speech they have trouble coming up with the right word.  This may cause unnecessary pauses in speech, and often causes someone to use filler words such as “um”, “ugh, and “like”, or use non-specific words such as “thing” and “stuff”.  

Here are some activities that you and/or your child can use to improve word retrieval skills so that you have the ability to come up with the right word when it is needed.

Recall Strategies

Provide a synonym or antonym for a given word. Come up with a word that means the same thing (synonym) and a word that means the opposite 

Providing a word from a definition and then one can say what it is or choose the word from a group of words (word bank).

Categories: When given a few words, pick which ones go together the best (inclusion) or which one doesn’t belong (exclusion) and then tell why.

Associations: Name associated items by giving an item and then the person practicing word finding has to generate the other: shoes and _____? 

Describe the function (what does it do)

What is it associated with? (tables and chairs, fork and knife)

What does it looks like? (color, shape, size)

Rapid Naming items in a category, such as vegetables, household items, etc. List as many things as possible from a certain category.  For example, list as many foods or clothes as possible, writing down how many were thought of each time so progress can be tracked over time.

Sequencing items needed to complete a certain task. How to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Describing steps taken in a daily routine.

What comes next? 

A B C D E F …

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday …

Summer, Fall, Winter …

One, two, three …

First, second, third …

Similarities and Differences. What’s the same and different between an apple and an orange? Start with simple items/activities and then make them more complex.

Narration: Retell a story, a movie or tv show. Narrate a story when given a picture.

Read! Any book that has the following elements:

  • Books that contain rhymes and/or silly rhymes (Dr. Seuss is excellent for these).
  • Books about opposites.
  • Books about word classification (i.e., semantic classes): e.g., vehicles, tools, occupations, etc, involving knowing the names of objects or entities within a class.
  • Books about animals and their young, involving knowing the precise names for animals’ offspring (e.g. horses have foals, cows have calves, etc), and the correct names for some common animals according to gender (horse: mare, stallion. filly, colt).
  • Books about names.
  • Books that contain high repetition of the same word.
  • Books that tell a story 

Sentence Completion: A house is a place___________ (to live). 

Similes: She is as pretty as a _________?

Circumlocution: say as much as you can about a word and it can facilitate the word, or a good substitute, to come forward.

Playing games similar to ‘Catch Phrase’ involving describing a word without saying the specific word for others to guess the word as well as listening to the descriptions of a word and practicing naming (recommended without a timer initially).

Visualize: the item, action, person or event trying to be recalled.

Gestures are commonly used in communication and can facilitate word retrieval as we describe in a non-verbal way. 


Rhyming can help us to remember. Rhymes are great mnemonics because they’re closely connected to songs and often include catchy wording that’s easy to recall. Using rhyming mnemonics can help one remember key facts, such as, “I before E, except after C”. 

Acronyms use the letters in a specific word to form a new keyword—such as NASA or ATM. Remembering the keyword can help one to recall each aspect or step in a group or concept. One example we all learn in school is the helpful way to remember colors in a spectrum in the correct order: “ROYGBIV,” which stands for red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.

Associations rely on the connections we make between sounds, letters, and word meanings. It makes a match between words that start with the same letter—for example, one can remember that Mother’s Day happens during the month of May because each of them begins with the letter M.

There is a lot to do but we are here to help make it as fun and easy as possible!

At Vibe, our speech therapists are trained to work with children and adults of every age, and in every facet of speech and language.  We are experts in our field. The clinical and personal relationship we have with you is at the core of everything we do. From the resources we bring to support growth in communication, to the highly individualized therapy sessions. We offer collaborative partnerships with other providers, family and caregivers and we are committed to exceeding your expectations. We look forward to helping your child bring their best self into the world!

Contact Vibe Speech Therapy to learn more about how we can help you!