Today I worked with a little girl who has a word-finding problem. She has difficulty naming words in categories and even understanding categories.

I brought out the “Mystery Garden” game by Ravensburger. The game board is a luscious painting of a path through a garden filled with flowers, animals, a lake, park, farm and so on. A player selects on of the 50 picture cards that are an exact picture of something on the board. The other player has to ask yes-no  questions to guess what is on the card. This game of deductive reasoning, vocabulary, association and categories helps build language skills.

It took less time than I thought to teach my 5 year-old client to start with “bigger” questions that were more general dealing with categories. By playing the game, she finally learned what a category was, which was a concept that had been difficult for her to master. I drew big circles on a piece of paper and wrote “toys,” “animals,” “plants” and so on. She quickly understood the group of categories to form a question about in her first line of questions: “Is it a toy?” “Is it an animal?” If she started too specific, I would use the words, “Give me a bigger question.”  We followed our questioning with where it was, “Is it in the sky?” “Is it on land?”

Then I needed to show her the next level of questioning based on the category. If I was holding an animal card the options were about attributes: “Does it have four legs?” “Is it furry?” “Is it smooth?” or “Is it big?” She quickly lost the temptation to ask if it was a specific object.

I was amazed at how easily this little girl started to see the hierarchy of questioning based on going from the more general to specific and being able to question according to attributes.

I knew the game was a hit when I found her making up her own cards for guessing when it was time for me to leave. She wanted to continue with Mom!