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!

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Toy Box Communication

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Two things I’ve noticed when working in Multiple Disabilities classrooms:  (1) the students don’t know how to play with a variety of toys, and (2) there is little peer-to-peer interaction.  There’s an easy way to address both of these needs while also building choice-making, visual discrimination of pictures (photos/symbols) and objects, and core language.  I call this therapy activity “toy box communication.”

Magformers.jpgFirst, you’ll need a variety of toys that provide a variety of sensory input: movement, sound, lights, vibration. Examples include:  a pull-back race car, fire truck with lights and siren, a vibrating bumble ball, a lightsaber, a light-up, musical magic wand, a fidget spinner, magnet blocks, wind-up toys, a light-up mirror, a radio or iPod, Simon game, battery-operated animals and toys, a doll that talks or cries,sound-activated toys, etc.  The toys should be age-appropriate and appealing to both boys and girls.  Also, consider the students’ physical abilities;  battery interrupters and switches may be needed for those who can’t turn on a toy’s small switch.  You’ll need a box or basket to contain the toys.

Create a communication card for each toy using labeled photos or symbols, or use these visual representations on a communication board or speech generating device, as appropriate to the students’ needs and abilities. In addition, provide a way for the students to move beyond choice-making to initiate, terminate, and comment during the activity by creating extra cards or adding messages to the communication board or device.  Examples include: “my turn,” “more,” “all done,” “That was fun!,”  “Boring!,” “turn it on,” “turn it off,” “stop,” “go,” and “help.”  The communication cards can be Velcro’d to a clipboard, binder cover, or eye-gaze frame.  Display at least three choices, or more if the students can handle a larger field.311xIo2mxmL.jpg

Working with a small group of 2-3 students, I introduce a few toys to the students, naming each, describing how it works, and exclaiming when the toy operates to acquaint the students with the toys and to get their attention.  I then put 3-4 picture cards on my binder cover and ask, “Who wants a turn?”  Any movement or vocalization counts as “I do!”

Student #1 touches, looks at, or gives me a toy card to make a choice.  I label it, “Oh, you picked the firetruck!”  I then offer two toys, the firetruck and another, to see if the student selects the correct toy.  I hand the student the desired toy and pause to see if the student can operate it independently.  If not, I present the card for “turn it on” or “help.” When that request is made, I show the student how to operate the toy and allow the student a minute to play with it.  I ask “do you want more or are you all done?,” modeling those choices on the binder.  If the student selects “more,” I allow another minute.  At the end of the minute, or if the student indicates “all done,” I ask the student to hand the toy to the next student for brief exploration. Once the toy has been passed to each student in the group, it goes back in the box.  Then Student #2 has a turn to make and play with his/her toy selection for a minute or two, passing it around the group when finished.  And so on….until everyone in the group has had 2-3 turns making toy choices or until attention to the activity fades.

Mead-The-Fidget-Spinner.jpgOnce the students have participated in this activity a few times and are showing familiarity with and even preferences for toys, I’ve added a “not here” symbol in the choice array so the students can indicate that they want something other than the 3 toys I’ve offered on the binder. “Oh, you want something different! What do you want?”  The choice cards are changed to include the toy you know the student prefers, and the activity continues.  It should go without saying that I am modeling, commenting, using a prompt hierarchy, and pausing throughout the activity, in a way that is individualized for each student.

The activity as described offers opportunities to practice:

  • initiating a turn
  • terminating a turn
  • choice-making
  • picture-object matching and discrimination
  • pointing, grasping, handing, or eye-gazing to communicate
  • fine motor manipulation of the toys
  • accepting a variety of sensory input
  • learning to give and get
  • attention to and interaction with peers
  • waiting and anticipation
  • making comments and requests through core and fringe vocabulary

It is possible to extend this activity in many ways to build additional play, communication, and motor skills with each of the toys.  Here are just a few ideas:

  • Sending the pull-back car to peers.
  • Rolling, kicking or throwing the ball to peers or other target
  • Building/knocking down blocks
  • Choosing hairstyles, accessories, makeup using the light-up mirror
  • Requesting the vibrating pad for relaxation
  • Making choices with radio/iPod — headphones or no headphones, what station or songs to listen to
  • Extending switch use learned in this activity to operate other devices for recreation, vocational training, and communication

Using toys in this way offers so many opportunities for skill development that can transfer to other activities and settings, and that can enrich a student’s life by expanding his/her range of leisure activities.

 

A Salute to Two Generous Souls

Two retirements were announced in the past few weeks by two gifted SLPs whose reach extends far beyond their own caseload.  These women started blogging early on and shared countless ideas and resources, free to anyone who could use them.  I have always admired their generous spirit and creativity;  to me, they represent the best of our profession.

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-3-33-49-pmCindy Meester’s Blog, “Speech Therapy with a Twist,” is a delightful compendium of ideas for making every aspect of school-based therapy fun, functional, and motivating.  Cindy knocks herself out with amazingly creative theme units.  The photos of her room decorations, the way she incorporates technology and literacy, and the many ways in which she builds multiple therapy lessons into a single theme are nothing short of inspiring!  Just look at her posts!  How could her students and teachers not love Cindy’s “twist” on therapy?  I’m not sure how long Cindy has been blogging, but it seems to me that she was one of the pioneers who has been around at least as long my site.  To maintain this high level of energy and enthusiasm for so many years — that should be the goal of all SLPs.  Cindy has set a wonderful example for all of us and, through her blog, has left a detailed roadmap of inspiration for SLPs to follow into the future.  Cindy will be retiring at the end of this school year, but will be maintaining some part-time involvement in private practice.  This seems a wise move for Cindy;  I can’t imagine this energetic SLP going cold turkey into retirement.

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-4-21-25-pmRuth Morgan is another pioneer in blogging.  On her blog, “Chapel Hill Snippets,” Ruth describes herself as “a mentor, speech pathologist, mom, wife, and technology junkie.” But that hardly says it all.  Ruth has dedicated her energies to students who have significant disabilities.  In post after post, year after year, Ruth has created and generously shared visual materials to support even the most challenged students in communicating and engaging in literacy activities.  In addition, Ruth has shared lots of ideas on using the iPad in therapy, created easy-to-follow tech tutorials and data forms, and much more. While she has a great fondness for using books in therapy, she also sees potential lessons in everyday life, such as the social skills lesson she built around this funny political ad.  As Ruth prepared herself for retirement, which took place about 2 weeks ago, she wrote a post for her replacement, but the message is one that we all should heed:  Helpful Tips for Teaching a Language Group for Students with Severe Communication Challenges — outstanding advice to read and share.  Those tips give us a glimpse of the insight, compassion, and dedication that Ruth brought to school each day.  Like Cindy, Ruth is more “easing out” than cutting ties abruptly.  After a vacation in Florida, she’ll join the board of New Voices Foundation and promises to keep blogging and creating.

Cindy and Ruth, I am sure I speak for countless SLPs when I thank you sincerely for your outstanding contributions to our field!  You’ve certainly earned a very long and happy retirement.  Congratulations on your wonderful careers.  You are leaving a legacy of creativity and generosity that will continue into the future.

With best wishes,

Pat Mervine

 

 

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 Goodreads.com (free), then put in this URL:  https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/wordless-picture-books.  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.

My Brain’s on Fire!

logo_dog_fkaDon’t you just love when you find something while browsing the Internet that just lights up your whole brain??  I stumbled across a post from SmartMouthSLP.com that did just that!  It’s all about a website, PlayPosit, that lets you create lessons – free! — using video from YouTube and other sources.   I started exploring and my head just about exploded!

There are premade lessons for every subject imaginable that you can use, and you can make your own.  In addition to social skills, as described in the SmartMouthSLP.com post, you can use this for predicting, inferencing, comprehension, narrative, answering questions — the possibilities for speech/language therapy are endless.  There is built-in data collection, a bypass for school filters that block YouTube, and the ability to share your “bulbs” (video lessons) with others.

But then I got thinking….could this be used with AAC users to help them learn their systems, engage in conversation, comment and offer opinions, build core and fringe vocabulary, AND work on predicting, inferencing, comprehension, narrative, and answering questions?  Oh, yes, it can!  In just a short time, I was able to create a little video activity that works on all of those skills:  Click HERE to view.  How engaging is that??! Guess what my AAC users will be doing tomorrow?

Thank you, SmartMouthSLP, for alerting me to this amazing, stupendous, totally awesome resource!