Colorful (Colourful) Semantics

Many students on our school’s caseload have a weakness in grammar skills and syntax organization but I never felt that I was adequately addressing their needs by concentrating on parts of speech. Last summer I searched for a new way to work on these syntax goals. I came across a program developed by Alison Bryan of London Speech & Language Therapy called Colourful Semantics (Colorful Semantics here in the states). Instead of teaching students to learn what a noun is or what a verb is you teach them to build a sentence by answering questions.

I introduced this program to two language students, the moderately mentally impaired class, and a general education classroom that consisted of many English Language Learners (ELLs). I asked my students to create a sentence from some picture cards showing students doing different activities in school. I used this initial lesson to get a baseline of how the students were writing. Below is a sample of this initial lesson from one of my students.


After this initial lesson, I knew they needed help organizing their thoughts. The Colorful Semantics program teaches sentence writing in 5 levels which are each color coded for easy recall.

Level 1: Who? (Subject – orange)

Level 2: What Doing? (Verb- yellow)

Level 3: What? (Object – green)

Level 4: Where? (Location – blue)

Level 5: Describe? (Adjective – purple)

Here is a link to a PDF file that explains the steps of how to teach the colorful semantics program. Click here for PDF.

After going through the steps with the students I saw amazing results. Their writing made sense. It didn’t take us long to go through the steps to get to writing sentences. We did not work on level 5 this year but that will come next year. The other two teachers who used the format of writing in their classrooms had the same fantastic results. The teacher that had many ELL students was very pleased that her students could learn writing sentences without understanding what a noun is. As I taught the program to my speech students, I added that the orange would be a noun, the yellow a verb, the green a noun, the blue would start with a preposition, and the purple is an adjective. I was teaching parts of speech just not individually, more as a whole sentence and these are the parts. My students were able to comprehend this format better. Below are some “after” the Colorful Semantic program samples. All of these are from the same student that wrote the initial example. You can see how his sentences progressed. He still has a lot of difficulty with spelling but you can usually make out what he was saying.

This is a sample of his work using the same picture cards from the baseline but after he was taught the Colorful Semantics format. I used sticky tabs to help him recall what the questions were.


Here is another example of his work.


The next picture is of his work while we were working on irregular past tense verbs. He was able to incorporate the Colorful Semantics format into these sentences.


I made these posters for my classroom and the other two incorporating the program to provide visual prompts for the students while they were writing. The speech students that used the program kept a reminder strip in their writing folder in their classroom so they could use the format when they were writing essays. I shared with their teachers what the strips were for and they reinforced the use of the Colorful Semantic strip while they were writing.


I encourage you to explore the links I have provided and see if this program would help your language students. There is an app “Colourful Semantics” available on iTunes by the developer of the program. I have not been fortunate enough to purchase this app yet but it is on my want list. I have used Rainbow Sentences app by Mobile Education which is set up like the colorful semantics program.

Colourful Semantics – London Speech & Language Therapy website

Colourful Semantics app on iTunes

Colourful Semantics activities

More activities

Please comment if you have used this program, have any questions, or if you have used something else to address syntax skills.

15 thoughts on “Colorful (Colourful) Semantics

  1. Great idea! I too have struggled with how to teach sentence structure. Thanks for sharing!


  2. […] The Speech Place wrote a great post about Colorful Semantics.  It’s a technique designed to help easily teach […]

  3. […] wrote a post about the Colorful (Colourful) Semantics program a few weeks ago (click the program name for the link). This program is for helping clients […]

  4. Alison Bryan

    I am so delighted that you have found CS so successful . I’d be really interested to chat further . We are doing lots more with it that might interest you

    • roslyn

      Do you have any ideas/resources re how colourful semantics can be used cross curricular?

      • I think it could be used very well to describe the summary of a reading story and an event or person in history. For example: George Washington was the first president of the United States. Who-doing what-where. The order may need to be rearranged but could work as a model to help a student develop a complete response. You could leave blanks with the question words below for them to fill in.

      • Alison Bryan

        Hi Roslyn

        Cross Curricular ideas:

        1] FACT LEARNING
        you can use the colours to brainstorm and then organise the facts for many subjects

        EG Churchill -ORANGE ‘who’

        WHERE [ blue] – London, UK, 10 Downing Street
        WHEN [ brown] – dates
        WHAT [ green] – prime minister,
        DO [ yellow ] – things he did [ led country during war, smoked cigars etc]

        Can then make coloured mind maps or fact recall cards

        2] VOCABULARY
        You can sort out vocab by colour/question words. Ask the right question to get the meaning of vocab you want and that is the colour. Again can make colour coded mind maps.

        Tricky ones to sort are WHAT v WHERE e.g. country names could be a WHAT but could also be a where. Make a decision as to what you choose and then stick to it. The discussion of colour allocation with the children can help the word learning process

        you can also sort out complex vocab meanings for older children
        e.g. the BURGLAR = WHO orange
        BURGLED = DOING yellow
        the BURGLARY = WHAT green

        I have just started to use coding to support the grammar curriculum for terminology and syntax .

        In Herts we are starting to combine the CS colours with the SHAPE CODING shapes and this is proving to also be very useful for supporting the grammar curriculum The only variable is that OVALS & RECTANGLE are double sided [ one side ORANGE, one side GREEN] since these shapes can be either WHO or WHAT

        4] NARRATIVE

        we use CS colours with the Becky Shanks Narrative packs from Black Sheep Press. Can apply this to any narrative framework
        STORY IDEAS – DOING/WHAT HAPPENED [ yellow] x3
        STORY END – WHO + Feel LIKE + WHY [ e.g. the boy was happy because he found his dog ]

        Hope these ideas are useful

        Alison B

  5. Lizziej

    Thanks so much for this information and the research you have done. I am looking at using this programme with struggling writers. One of my students has had the ireadwrite app purchased for him to use and my job this week is to teach him to use it! I wish it was Colourful Semantics as I think it is better suited for lower level students and as confidence develops it can be used with increasing independence.

    • I’m glad you found this amazing program. It helps with not only written but oral language as well.

  6. Alison Bryan

    If you would like to chat about how to use Colourful Semantics for supporting written language leave a contact email and I’ll get in touch Alison Bryan

  7. I am currently writing a practice based research assignment for my final assignment for my Teaching and Learning foundation degree. I would really appreciate some information regarding what inspired you to create this programme. I am certainly seeing benefits in speech using level 2 of the programme with children with a variety of learning difficulties. Although working to a very basic level some of the students know that the orange “who” card comes first and the yellow “what doing” card comes next. They arrange these cards themselves before I give them a picture from which to make their sentence. Thank you.

    • I am not the developer of Colorful Semantics, Alison Bryan is. She can help you with any specific questions. Within the post is the link to London Speech where you can go to contact Alison. I am glad you have found the program helpful.

  8. Lynda

    HI, thanks for posting this information. I was really keen to look at the Apps for use in clinic but am unable to find them on ITunes or int he App store. Do you have any suggestions?

  9. […] my post introducing you to Colorful (Colourful) Semantics. If you haven’t yet, check it out here for an overview of the […]

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