Using Fast Mapping in Assessment via Telepractice:
Fun, Accurate, and Inexpensive!

There are a lot of new challenges during these stressful times, so I want to share with you a fun, inexpensive, and clinically accurate way to diagnose children through telepractice: fast mapping.  I used this method before COVID19, and it smoothly transfers to tele-assessment. In addition to research saying it has higher validity than standardized testing, it is play-based so it is very fun!

What is fast mapping? 

Fast mapping is a dynamic assessment method that tests how an individual learns words and word concepts after their first exposure to a new word.

Why is fast mapping important?

Fast mapping is based on a test-teach-retest model. It is a more accurate diagnostic tool than standardized assessment because it eliminates bias of prior knowledge. For example, during a standardized test, a child may accurately label the word “cookie.” However, this doesn’t provide data on if the child was explicitly taught the word prior to assessment. 

This is problematic because children from monolingual, high socioeconomic backgrounds may pass standardized tests and falsely present as without a disability. Alternatively, children from multilingual or  low socioeconomic backgrounds may falsely present as having a disability. 

Using fast mapping, we gain insight on if the child has adequate working memory for learning language, their learning style (what prompts they need to answer correctly), their problem solving skills (how they plan or ask for help to remember the word), and auditory processing (if they can hear the word accurately). 

What materials do you need to conduct a fast mapping assessment?

You don’t need many materials and you don’t need to spend a penny!

1. One familiar object, ex:  their favorite toy or food. 
2. One unfamiliar object. Some objects you can try that you may already have around the house are: envelopes, a wrench, dumbbells, a whisk, plier, tweezers.


You can choose to increase the complexity of the task by including:
1. More than one familiar object
2. More than one unfamiliar object
3. Unlabeled foil object(s). Foil objects do not need to be labeled as they are simply used to distract the child from the correct answer.

How do you conduct a fastmapping assessment?

1.Test to determine prior knowledge.
Ask the child, “What’s this?” If the child can label an object, replace it with a new object. If the child can not label, go to step 2.

  1. Teach the child the new word.
    This word can be a real word or a nonsense word. The important thing is to pick a word that reflects the child’s present levels. For example, don’t use the word “wrench” if the child can not produce /r/ sounds. Substitute it with a nonsense word like “koob.” Also, focus on clear communication of the word by using appropriate sentence length. For example say: “This is a stamp.” Not  “Look at this stamp, have you ever used a stamp? I use them to mail letters to my friends?”
  1. Retest for both receptive language comprehension and expressive language. 

Test for receptive language by showing the unfamiliar object along with the familiar object. Then you can instruct, “Point to the koob.” You can also place the unfamiliar object amongst a group of familiar objects and foil objects to increase task complexity.  

Test for expressive language test using the same materials. Alternate between pointing at the familiar and unfamiliar object, asking the child to label. You can also alternate between the foil and additional familiar objects if you have chosen to test in this manner. Alternation ensures that the child is truly creating word-association and not guessing or echoing words.

Do not wait until the end of the assessment, as you will lose out on opportunities for more data. Retest immediately after the first presentation of the word, and then after a brief play-based activity, then again towards the end of the assessment.

How do you report results of a fast mapping assessment? 

When we we report how a child learns a new word, describe: 

  • How many repetitions used in your assessment
  • The assessment activity
  • Any prompting used to elicit production of the new word
  • Amount of time between each retest

Fast mapping is fun, clinically accurate, and inexpensive! 

Given the choice, most kids would rather participate in a fun, enjoyable activity than take a test. In addition to the excellent clinical implications, I love fast mapping because it’s fun! There are so many games which you can use for a fast mapping tele-assessment. Some suggestions are  virtual bingo, read alouds, or holding a doll up to the screen.

A child is more than a score from a standardized test. Using fast mapping we gain more knowledge about a child’s true abilities!

Sample Report:

Sonia was assessed through the game Bingo. In order to eliminate bias of prior knowledge, Sonia was instructed to label all nine words on her bingo board, which included 7 familiar words and 2 unfamiliar words. Sonia accurately labeled 7 familiar words and the two unfamiliar words were labeled by the clinician. Immediately after, Sonia was asked to label the two unfamiliar words. The clinician asked, “Tell me all the things on your bingo board.” Sonia labeled the 2 new words correctly. To assess her working memory in a slightly longer time period (five minutes), the clinician and Sonia played Bingo. Sonia was instructed to circle pictures when the unfamiliar word was presented, through one-word utterances from clinician, such as “wrench” and “whisk.” She demonstrated comprehension of the two new words by accurately circling the words. Finally, at the end of today’s assessment, approximately 30 minutes later, she was asked to label the 2 new words again. She labeled the 2 new words with no prompting. During today’s assessment, Sonia learned 2 new words with a total of 2 repetitions  from the clinician within a 30 minute period,  indicating adequate short-term memory for language acquisition. 


Owner and Speech Language Pathologist
Primary Bilingual Therapies

Learn More


Crowley, C. (2014, May 1). Dynamic Assessment: How Does it Work in the Real World of Preschool Evaluations? ASHAWire.

Gray, S., & Gray, S. (2019, October 10). The Relationship Between Phonological Memory, Receptive Vocabulary, and Fast Mapping in Young Children With Specific Language Impairment. Retrieved from

LEADERSproject. (n.d.). Retrieved April 30, 2020, from

Venker, C. E., Kover, S. T., & Ellis Weismer, S. (2016). Brief Report: Fast Mapping Predicts Differences in Concurrent and Later Language Abilities Among Children with ASD. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 46(3), 1118–1123.

Weismer, S. E., Venker, C. E., Evans, J. L., & Moyle, M. J. (2013). Fast Mapping in Late-Talking Toddlers. Applied psycholinguistics, 34(1), 69–89.

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