What is Colourful Semantics?

January 30, 2020 No Comments

Colourful Semantics is a Speech and Language Therapy approach created by Alison Bryan. This approach provides children with a visual framework to develop their sentence structure and grammar. It does this by attaching a colour to the different elements in a sentence:

  1. Who – Orange
  2. What Doing – Yellow
  3. What – Green
  4. Where – Blue

This allows your child to learn the imporant elements of a sentence (e.g. verbs), and how to put them together in the correct order. By providing this visual element, you give your child the opportunity to build their own sentences, at the level they are working on.

Alongside the four key colour-coded elements, there are also further stages that incorporate adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions and negatives.

In order to understand a bit better how this approach works let’s look at this sentence:

Tom is riding his bike to the shop.

There are different parts that make up this sentence and each part is given a colour:

Who? Tom

What Doing? is riding

What? his bike

Where? to the shop

Who is Colourful Semantics suitable for?

The Colourful Semantics approach is suitable for children with a wide range of speech, language and communication needs (SLCN):

  • Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)
  • Language Delay or Disorder
  • Global Developmental Delay
  • Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Learning Disability
  • Down Syndrome

What kind of things can Colourful Semantics be used for?

There are a range of skills that can be targeted using this approach, including but not limited to;

  • Understanding & answering WH question words (e.g. who, what)
  • Understanding word order (e.g. Subject-Verb- Object)
  • Developing sentence length
  • Story telling skills
  • Vocabulary development

Remember that while Colourful Semantics can be used with children with a range of SLCN, it is important that your child’s language is first assessed by a Speech & Language Therapist to determine both their level of language and the suitability of this approach.


  • Bolderson et al in (2011) Colourful Semantics: A Clinical Investigation. Child Language Teaching and Therapy October 2011 vol. 27 no. 3 344-353. 
  • Bryan, A. (1997) Colourful Semantics: thematic role therapy. In Chiat, S., Law, J. and Marshall, J. (Eds) Language Disorders in Children and Adults: Psycholinguistic approaches to therapy. London: Whurr. 

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