Summer Freebies!

travelGuidesI’m sure that, for the first few weeks of summer vacation at least, school will be the last thing on your mind. But did you ever consider that summer could provide a treasure-trove of free therapy materials that you can use throughout the school year?? Here are some ways to make therapy fun and functional, and relevant to the curriculum for all of your artic, language, fluency, and voice students:


  1. Tourist brochures – Hotels, rest stops, and tourist destinations always have racks upon racks of cards and brochures that promote all of the attractions in the area, and they are FREE. Help yourself! These provide interesting stimulus material for reading aloud, discussion, and writing activities.
    1. Our fourth grade studies Pennsylvania history, so brochures from historical sites in our state are very relevant to their classwork. And it’s always surprising (in a sad way) to learn how many students have never visited local historical sites. Maybe sparking their interest will lead to family day trips in the region.
    2. Brochures from outside the state offer the opportunity to talk about history, geography, distance, and observable differences in the photos compared to your immediate environment. What do you see? What do you think it’s like there? Does it remind you of any place you have already visited? How long would it take to get there? What would be the best way to travel there? What would you have to pack for that trip?
    3. Provide brochures from a variety of locations and have the students discuss the pros/cons of each from their point of view.
    4. Use brochures as a reference for writing activities, such as writing a letter or postcard to someone about an imaginary trip or writing an ad to promote a tourist destination. Video the students presenting their ad – lots of fun, great carryover for artic, and useful for self-monitoring via playback.
  2. Postcards – not free, but usually cheap. Use as above, and also as creative story starters about “my best” or “my worst” summer vacation. Sort by common features (location, type of attraction, etc.). Locate the places on a large wall map.
  3. Maps and regional travel books – free to members of AAA. Maps alone offer so many language opportunities! Older students will enjoy learning how to look up tourist destinations and then plot them on the map to create an interesting itinerary. Read the hotel and restaurant listings, comparing amenities and price. Create math word problems related to these materials for students who struggle with that language. And don’t forget the maps that are often provided in amusement parks, zoos, historic villages, etc. With just a little thought, I’m sure you can come up with all kinds of storytelling, describing, categorizing, auditory memory, and sequencing activities that the students would really enjoy.
  4. Menus – lots of restaurants have take-out menus so, again, help yourself! With your artic, language, social skills and life skills students, use menus for:
    1. artic practice with multisyllabic words
    2. discussion of likes/dislikes and healthy vs. not so healthy choices
    3. role play ordering and taking orders in a restaurant – good for social skills, auditory memory (can the waiter repeat and/or write down what the customers ordered?)
  5. Bus and train schedules – available at all stations and depots. These provide practice with functional life skills, in addition to artic and language. Can they locate the quickest route to their destination? How much will it cost? How long will it take?
  6. “This Week in (vacation location)” booklets — use for planning a daily or weekly itinerary, comparing/contrasting and expressing opinions about listed activities, writing and then verbally delivering “ads” to get folks interested in the various events. (My students love to do news, weather reports, and commercials on video — motivating speech and language practice that provides playback for self-monitoring).
  7. Photographs of your travels — use for labeling, describing, writing captions.

Students love using these unconventional materials in therapy. Beyond the activities I create to support their goals, these materials spur the students to share stories from their own travel experiences, giving me the opportunity to assess their conversational artic, vocabulary, grammar, and ability to tell a story in sequence and with sufficient detail.

So, while you are out and about this summer, be on the lookout for these materials and ask your friends and relatives to do the same. Then create a “travel agency” nook in your therapy room and enjoy using these materials throughout the year!

The Many Uses of Wordless Picture Books

There is no moment more magical than the first time a child reads — actually reads — a book independently.  Such focus, such concentration on the text as the child decodes the printed words!  This is the first step on a lifelong journey across time, space, cultures, and ideas that a love of reading will provide.

29313But firing the imagination is not limited to books with text.  Indeed, wordless picture books may tap into more imagination, more language, more critical thinking, and more projecting of one’s self into the story.  Whether illustrations are simple or lush, the reader uses them to answer so many questions, because that is the only way the story can be told:  Who or what is in the picture?  Where and when is this taking place?  What is happening?  Why is this happening?  What is the problem?  What are some solutions?  How did the character’s actions work out?  What is the difference between this picture and the one before and the one after?  Did anything change?  How does the character feel? What is the character thinking?  How would you feel?  What would you do?  What will happen next?  And on and on….

Wordless picture books are ideal for speech/language therapy.  Just think of how many 17165875goals can be addressed by a single wordless book by letting the child take the lead in “reading” the story:  describing, labeling, grammar, predicting, articulation, and fluency are just a few of the typical s/l skills that can be practiced and measured.  Add to that joint attention, answering questions, turn-taking, and perspective-taking, and you’ll see that wordless picture books are ideal for working on pragmatic skills.  When the child has finished “reading” the book, review it for practice in recall, retelling, and sequencing.  Have a student who is weak in written language?  Use wordless picture books to practice sentence and story writing. Working with very young children or children with cognitive impairments?  Use the books to build receptive skills and basic concepts:  Show me —.  Point to —-.  Where is —?  What color/shape is —?   He is clapping;  now you clap.    Imagine — all of these communication skills can be  worked on, no reading required!

the-lion-and-the-mouseWordless picture books are especially good for children who use AAC.  In addition to building all of the skills detailed above, the children can use their AAC system at the single word, phrase, or full sentence levels to tell the story, answer your questions, and ask questions of their own.  This builds fluency with the system as they learn how to navigate to needed core and fringe vocabulary, and helps AAC users increase their mean length of utterance.

22750286If you Google “wordless picture books,” you’ll find a lot of “top ten” recommendations.  If you want to find titles of a hundreds wordless picture books, join (free), then put in this URL:  I guarantee you’ll find a year’s worth of books that will appeal to and be appropriate for all of the students on your caseload, regardless of age, gender, personal interests, or IEP goals.  Many may be available in your school or public library.  To add to your own collection, you can search local booksellers or find nearly all on Amazon.

Story Book Game….and much more!

Story Book GameFive Below comes through again!  The Story Book Game is a tin full of picture cards that can be used for telling stories.  You know how it goes:  pick a card, use the object in a sentence; the next player picks another card and adds to the story with that word.  This is fun for verbal narrative, and can also be used for written narrative.  But why stop there?

With students who need phonological awareness practice, use the cards for identifying initial and final sounds, sound blending, and counting syllables.

With language students, use the cards for naming, categorizing, describing, and comparing.  Name 3 in the array and ask the students to identify how they are related.  Give the student a question word and a picture card for practice in generating questions.

For auditory processing, spread the cards on the table and give descriptive clues.  Name 3-4 cards in row; have the students repeat back in sequence.

Of course, your artic, fluency, and voice students can benefit from any of these activities.

That’s a lot of therapy for just $5!

UPDDATE 4/25/15:  I just found another use!  I’m working with a little girl who is learning to use TouchChat HD with Word Power on an iPad for communication.  These cards were great for “going on a hunt” for vocabulary!  She looked at the card, hit “groups” to open the categories, then we figured out the correct category and found the word.  She loved it…and learned a lot about vocabulary organization on her device in the process!

Wax Museum

Wednesday was a very special day in my elementary school:  the 3rd grade’s annual Wax Museum, my favorite event of the year!  The entire third grade participates in this cross-curriculum project. Each student selects an exemplary character, either historical or contemporary.  The students research their character and write a report about the character’s life and accomplishments. After editing and rewriting the report as a speech in the first person, the students write their speeches on index cards.  The students rehearse their speeches in class and at home until memorized.  This is an excellent opportunity for the teachers to work on presentation skills — eye contact, volume and intonation, speaking rate.  My artic and language students bring their speeches to therapy for extra practice.  Then the big day arrives!

Betsy RossOn Wax Museum Day, each student dresses in the fashion of his or her character.  Ben Franklin, Neil Armstrong, Albert Einstein, Madame Curie, Harry Houdini, and Mickey Mantle are just some of the 80+ characters in the Wax Museum, and the costumes are amazing!  The students stand around the perimeter of the playground, each with a 5″ circle of red construction paper labeled “press me” taped to the ground in front of them.  The Wax Museum characters stand stock-still, until a museum visitor (parents and the rest of the student body) steps on the “button.”  The character then springs into life, launching into their speech.  At the conclusion, they freeze until the button is pressed again.

This is such a fabulous activity, and it encompasses so many academic standards!  History, research, writing, memorizing, designing costumes, presenting:  what a thorough and memorable way to learn!  I would be willing to be bet those skills and those characters remain with the students for a lifetime, and I’m delighted to be able to support my students in this project.

While our school does this on a large scale, you might want to try this on a small scale with students on your caseload or in a special education class.  Fun stuff!

Maximizing the Use of Materials

Given that I typically see my language students 30-60 minutes per week, I like to maximize the number of goals we work on in each session by having my materials work double-duty.  A good example is combining expressive and receptive skills in the same activity.  I can accomplish this using an “oldie but goodie” book from Great Ideas for Teaching called “Processing Auditory Messages Exactly and Totally.”  This book is filled with complex b/w scenes that can be photocopied for each student, and two levels of directions.  The lower level is very straightforward:  “color the monkey’s eyes blue,” for instance.  Level two requires more processing:  “One animal is holding a musical instrument.  His hat should be green.”

Obviously, this book is made for following directions.  When I write goals for my K-2 students who have auditory processing, attention, and /or receptive language deficits, I write them in a way that gives me very good information (and data) on exactly where the students are successful and where they are breaking down when following two-part directions.  For example:

“After hearing a 2-part direction only once, S. will act on the named element on a paper/pencil task.”

“After hearing a 2-part direction only once, S. will perform the named action on a paper/pencil task.”

In other words, if I give the student the direction to “draw a blue circle around the biggest dinosaur,” I will measure (1) if he did SOMETHING to the biggest dinosaur (named element) and (2) if he drew a blue circle around something (named action).  A red circle around the biggest dinosaur will get the student one point for named element but no points for named action.  A blue circle around the smallest dinosaur will get the student a point for the named action, but no points for the named element.  This really helps me to see if the student is only processing the first or last part of the direction, and if he doesn’t understand the vocabulary/concepts related to the element or the action.  For some students, I will write the goal “with no more than one repetition of the direction,” for others, “with no repetitions” or “after hearing the direction only once.”

So, clearly, this book is very useful for rehearsing following verbal directions.  But those same scenes can be used for much more…

Expressively language:  Before we begin the receptive part of the lesson, we first talk about the scene.  “What do you see?” I ask, opening up the lesson to exploring vocabulary (can they name the animals and items in the scene?), context knowledge (can they look at the whole scene and figure out the location or theme?), grammar (can they use a grammatical sentence to describe the action, position, and/or possession of each character in the scene?), and storytelling (can they make up a story about the scene, including some predictions, what some of the characters might say or think, etc.).

Articulation and fluency:  While vocabulary and grammar might be goals for some in the group, others can participate in the same expressive language tasks mentioned above, but their focus will be on using correct articulation or smooth speech.

This expands the goals I’m measuring and involves all students in a mixed group in the skills they need.  An added advantage of opening the lesson with these expressive activities is that the student will become familiar with the scene, both visually and with the related vocabulary, so when we move to the following directions activity, I can be relatively sure that errors in receptive performance are due to processing/attention problems and not due to visual scanning and/or unfamiliarity with the vocabulary pictured.

If you are looking to pack a lot of punch into a 30 minute session, this is just one way in which a single piece of paper can provide rehearsal of and data for 2 following-directions goals, plus goals for vocabulary, grammar, storytelling, articulation, and/or fluency.