Strategies to Support Understanding Copy

As changes in a person’s abilities take place, they will need progressively more support to understand information they hear. By using a few strategies to support understanding, you will change the participant’s experience from one that may be frustrating, confusing, or without meaning to one of engagement and enjoyment.

Use familiar words and plain language. Find clear ways to describe objects and ideas. Avoid slang, metaphors, and figurative language, as these may be misunderstood. The more concrete your statements, the less chance for confusion.

An example of this is a misunderstanding that took place when a facilitator asked “Which artwork would you like to take home” as a way of talking about what painting participants liked best. One participant thought the facilitator was trying to sell her an artwork and became suspicious and distrusting. In a subsequent session, the same facilitator adjusted the question to simply “Which painting do you like the best?”  This question had much better results.

Try to use specific nouns for objects, places, people rather than more vague terms like ‘he’, ‘it’, ‘there’. This will ensure everyone knows what you are talking about, even if they may have lost track of an earlier part of your presentation.

When talking, try to stay relatively still – be purposefully animated with gestures to add emphasis or demonstrations, but avoid distracting movements like swaying, fiddling with hands or pacing. Your non-verbal communication will help add meaning – facial expression, gestures, visual aids, demonstrations, but again avoid being distracting. 

When sharing information or ideas, use shorter sentences – five to seven word phrases are a good limit while you assess your group’s abilities. Share one idea at a time with a pause to allow for processing. Watch everyone to see how well they are following along. Slow down or add more information or rephrase a statement as appropriate. Don’t be afraid to leave more silences that you might in other programs.

Give instructions and ask questions in one- or two-step, simple instructions, pausing between steps to allow processing time or to complete actions. If your participants seem to have difficulties following your instructions, slow down and rephrase. Start with 1-step instructions. Pause between instructions and watch to see how it is going. Shift to 2-step directions if appropriate. Shift back to 1-step instructions as needed. For participants who speak a different language than you, be sure to explain carefully in simple terms. Try to use a few words in their language if you can. Ask their companion to assist with interpretation, and again be sure to leave time for translation. Again, incorporate nonverbal communication such as gestures, body language, pointing, using objects, pictures.