Why Use SWAP with your students?

The Chilliwack Speech and Language Department is introducing a new way for educators to target Language Content difficulties- The “SWAP”. SWAP stands for “Student Word Analysis and Practice”. The format of the SWAP borrows heavily from the now familiar format of the SNAP, that has been successfully introduced by the district for teaching and assessing Numeracy skills since September 2017. We envision the SNAP template to be easily “swapped out” for a Language and Literacy template.

The SWAP came about after we had observed the SNAP in classrooms and thought it would lend itself to a Language and Literacy focus. Many students have limited Language Content skills (weak vocabulary, disorganized word storage and imprecise word usage). Students rely on solid Language Content skills to communicate effectively, derive meaning when they read and write rich text.

Because low Language Content skills are commonly identified in our students through SLP assessments, we endeavored to create a learning tool that could target many Language Content skills at once, in an integrated and meaningful exercise.

We hope that because of previous introduction to the SNAP, educators can easily incorporate the “SWAP” into classroom routines, much like its predecessor. Reception has been overwhelmingly positive from classroom teachers, Speech-Language Assistants and their students.

Language Content

Language Content is the meaning attached to spoken and written words. You may have heard other terms that mean the same as Language Content such as: Language Processing skills, Semantics and/or Meaning.  It is the "meat and potatoes" of communication. It is crucial that Language Content is organized in the brain so that words can be stored correctly to help with efficient word retrieval. Language Content is targeted by working on a hierarchy of specific skills:

* Labeling

* Stating Functions

* Associations

* Categorization

* Similarities

* Differences

As students advance in school, academic demands increase and more instruction occurs primarily through an auditory modality and written text. Students need to develop skills to attach meaning to spoken and written material.

Students with difficulties in Language Content often show the following characteristics:

* Answers with “I don’t know”

* May speak clearly and talk a lot, but it takes work from the listener to understand their   message.

* Uses a lot of vague language (e.g., “this, it, stuff”)

* Uses lots of gestures

* Difficulty with word-retrieval

* Can often decode at a higher level than they understand

Language Content can be differentiated from Language Structure, which is commonly referred to as “grammar.”

SWAP Connections to English Language Arts Curriculum

Big Ideas

Curricular Competencies

Playing with language helps us discover how language works.

  • SWAP helps students discover how language works by exploring how words are connected.

Language and story can be a source of creativity and joy.

  • SWAP provides students with the opportunity to be creative in generating meaningful connections to selected words.

Use sources of information and prior knowledge to make meaning.

  • Students fill in the boxes with items that are personally relevant/that they have experienced. By accessing prior knowledge, students are able to form new linguistic connections and strengthen existing ones.

Explore foundational concepts of print, oral, and visual texts.

  • Students are exposed to written and visual texts when completing SWAP.

Exchange ideas and perspectives to build shared understanding.

  • When completing SWAP as a class, students share their ideas with each other to build stronger conceptual and shared understanding of word relationships.

Identify, organize, and present ideas in a variety of forms.

  • SWAP provides students with a visual way to identify, organize, and present linguistic relationships.

Use developmentally appropriate reading, listening, and viewing strategies to make meaning.

  • SWAP helps students build connections between words.


The SWAP was designed for use in a multitude of settings: classroom wide, small group and 1:1 that correspond to the RTI Tiers of Intervention. In other words, the SWAP can be used as a teacher-led class activity of for all class members individually (TIER 1); small group targeting language and/or literacy goals (Tier 2); or by a specialist teacher for direct intervention (Tier 3: SLP, SLA, ESL/ESD teacher, LA teacher etc).

The target word should be chosen because of it's relevance to the group or individual and consistent with the curricular content of the grade. Target word sources may include: science unit vocabulary, spelling test words, teacher-read book, novel study book, classroom seasonal theme etc.

K-1 Level:  whole class or small group activity 

Teacher choses a meaningful target word (noun) and writes it in the middle square.  Sound out the word as you print each letter.  Alternatively, especially for younger, pre-literate students, you could use a colour photo or drawing of the target word with the printed word.

With younger children, the teacher may need to model heavily to guide discussions- especially with the higher level Language Content skills (ie. Similarities and Differences).  Group/small group rather than individual practice is recommended.

*Please note that even though a student may be in an older grade, they may still benefit from a K/1 Level exercise.

Grade 2+ Level:  Class, small group or individual activity.  Teacher choses or gives guidance for choice of target word (concrete noun).

The following chart shows the order of fields to flow through using the example "horse" as the target word.



Key words in template



Expected Age of Mastery


(middle field)


The picture must show at least one defining characteristic of the word (shape, colour, detail etc.)horse30-36 months
Functions“do”action word that is associated with the target wordYou ride it36-42 months
Associations“Go”/”goes together”commonly associated word and why


Both farm animals

42-48 months
Categorization“group”could have broad specificity (i.e.. animal) and narrow specificity (i.e. amphibian) depending on class experience and expectations

Farm animals


(Starts 42 months)

8 years

Similarities and Differences






The feature of “same” should involve a primary feature of shared category.  For example, a horse and a cow both have teeth, but this is not a meaningful similarity.


The feature of “different” should involve a meaningful distinguishing difference. 

Horse and cow- both live in a field


Horse and cow- people ride on horses

(starts at 5 years)


9-10 years

Adjectives“describe”visibly evident characteristics (colour, texture, size) and encourage students to think about properties that can’t be seen (smell, weight, feeling, taste etc.)Fast, big, agilePreschool onward
Sentence“sentence”a grade appropriate sentence (orally in younger grades and with expected written conventions in older grades) that reflect understanding of the word.The horse is eating hay.Preschool onward
Alliteration“same sound”The word must start with the same sound (not letter) as the target word.  For younger grades, a field of 2-4 words could be offered.Happy, hop, hillPreschool
Rhyming“rhyme”The word must have the same number of syllables and end Vowel+Consonant sound combination.  For younger grades, a field of 2-4 words could be offered.coursePreschool