More Ideas for PowerPoint

For years I have taught summer technology courses to teachers, instructional assistants, and therapists of every kind.  One of the most popular courses was “PowerPoint for Special Educators.”  In a previous post, I described how I use PowerPoint as a drawing tablet to create printable scenes that teach language in context.  That post also describes how to use PPT to create full- and half-page books and social stories.  Both uses of PPT involve the straightforward and simple use of the text tool and drawing tools.  You can illustrate with graphics (photos, clipart, symbols) from any source:  your camera/phone, the library built into PPT, Google Images, and sources of communication symbols, such as Boardmaker and SymbolStix.  When importing graphics from outside PPT, I always advise that you use a blank (white) background, as some illustrations will import with a white border that is visible on a colored background.

Other printable materials that you can create with PowerPoint are:

  • flashcards
  • gameboards
  • coloring pages
  • matching activities
  • posters
  • newsletters
  • behavior charts
  • in other words, just about any kind of printable visual supports you can think of!

But it is easy to use PPT to create on-screen activities for your students, as well.   This post is not intended as a step-by-step guide for how to use all of the tools in PPT;  that would be far too extensive and complex for me to type and you to read through.  I do hope you glean enough information from this overview to start some exploring on your own. (If you feel you’d benefit from in-depth training, contact me about the possibility of a full-day workshop at your school or ask your IT department for some guidance).   I’ll give some examples to get you started and, if there’s enough interest in the topic, I’ll add more in future posts.

PPT is a great tool for reviewing curricular materials and taking practice quizzes. These can be done in all text or a combination of text and symbols, and can be silent or with sound. You record the text to be read to the student, import sound effects that match or enhance the visual, or use built-in sound effects to indicate correct/incorrect answers, page turn, etc.  These PPT-based learning materials can be as simple or sophisticated to meet the student’s developmental level, from cause/effect through multiple choice practice quizzes, and can be especially helpful for students with special needs.  (Note: PPT will not keep score, which is why I use them for practice.  If you want to keep track of the student’s performance, ie use this as a real test, you’d have to have an adult sit with the student to tally correct/incorrect responses).

As I said, this is not a detailed instructional manual, but let’s take a look at how Action Buttons can be used to create a simple illustrated quiz.

Screen Shot 2019-07-29 at 4.31.06 PMFirst, I use the Clip Art Gallery to find the pictures that I want. (Note your other choices for importing graphics as well).


Screen Shot 2019-07-29 at 4.30.18 PMThen I place the pictures on the page and add the text prompt.




Screen Shot 2019-07-29 at 4.38.34 PM From the Slide Show menu, scroll down to Action Buttons and over to Next Slide.





Screen Shot 2019-07-29 at 4.44.03 PMWhen you draw an Action Button over the correct answer, it will appear as a big blue arrow.  We will fix that in a moment.  You will also get this pop-up menu.  It is already programmed to go to the next page.  You can chose to select a sound effect, such as applause (built into PPT) or an actual cow mooing (imported from a free sound effects site).


Screen Shot 2019-07-29 at 4.52.59 PMDouble-click on the blue arrow to bring up the Format toolbar.  Slide Transparency all the way to the right to get rid of the blue background on the button. Then pull down on the Line menu to select “no line.”  When you click off the button, it will have become invisible.

Create additional cards in the same way, ending with a blank card or card that you decorate in some way, title “The End,” or whatever you want (the Action Button always has to have a place to go).  Each time, put an invisible Action Button over the correct answer.

NOW THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!!  You can choose to have a fancy transition or just simply show the next slide.  Transitions and sound effects can be fun and reinforcing or highly distracting, so know your student and plan accordingly.  IF YOU ARE USING ACTION BUTTONS AS DESCRIBED ABOVE, you need to change a setting in the Transitions Toolbar!

Screen Shot 2019-07-29 at 4.58.51 PM

After you have created your entire activity, go to the Transitions Toolbar and DESELECT “Advance Slide On Mouse Click.”  If you leave that checked, the student can click anywhere on the screen and the slide will advance.  If you uncheck that box, the only way the student can move to the next slide is by clicking on the correct answer.

Whew.  That’s the very basics of creating an onscreen practice quiz.  It may seem complicated, but once you do it a few times, it is really quite simple.  There is SOOOO much more you can do with PPT for your students.  I hope this will get you started exploring this powerful tool.

One final note:  my screenshots may look different from what you see on your screen, depending on the Mac or Windows version you are using.  Don’t worry about these differences!  The tools are all there somewhere and they all work the same.


The Surprising Power of PowerPoint

Screen Shot 2019-07-18 at 9.01.37 AMI’ve been giving workshops for over 20 years in how to use applications on your computer in ways they were never intended — all to benefit your students and to ease the burden of caseload management.  One of my favorite workshops is “PowerPoint for Special Educators.”  If you only use PPT for slideshow presentations or don’t use it at all, you are missing out on a versatile tool in your toolbox!  This post won’t be a detailed instruction manual for each use of PPT with your caseload (although I’d be happy to come to your school to do a workshop sometime!).  Instead, this overview should help those who are familiar with PPT to explore some of these uses on their own.  And if you have come up with a use that I haven’t described in this post, please share in the comments!  PPT is available for Windows and Mac, and one beauty of this program is that you can move seamlessly from one platform to another:  make it on Mac, show it on Windows, no problem.  Here are some of the ways I use PPT to make printed materials for my caseload and some tips to boost your creativity and efficiency:

  1.  Use PPT as a drawing pad.  Years ago, I had access to a wonderful application called AppleWorks.  Oh, how I loved this package of word processing and drawing!  The drawing tools were fantastic, as they allowed me to do all kinds of scenes and other graphics to help my students with language and concept development.  Then Apple — for reasons I will never understand — dropped AppleWorks, and we were stuck with Microsoft Office for Mac.  The word processing part of Office is fine, but I couldn’t find any workable way to do my scenes and other graphics….until I found the drawing tools in PowerPoint.  YAY!!!  That brings us to Tip #1:  you don’t have to use PPT exclusively for slideshows.  I will often use PPT for all kinds of illustrations to support my students’ needs:
    1. freehand drawing simple or complex scenes with the tools provided in PPT
    2. use the freehand tools and text labels combined with photos or other graphics from other sources — a great way to develop lessons that relate to the student’s curriculum for students who need simplified presentation and visual supports
    3. create multiple-choice quizzes with graphics, such as the 10-question quiz I present after reading a book to my developmental kindergarten and Life Skills classes
    4. create adapted worksheets and homework pages with text and graphics
    5. create board games for artic and language therapy
  2. Use PPT to create social stories and easy-reading books.  I love, love, love to use PPT to create printed books and social stories because it is so quick and easy!  Create your title page, then combine text and illustrations on each page of your story, just the way you would if you were making a slideshow presentation.  Tip #2 (and this applies to uses described above as well):  It is best to use a blank (white) background if you are bringing in graphics from other sources, as these sometimes come with a white background border that you can’t see until you paste it on a colored slide. Yes, there are ways to get around this but I’m all about working efficiently.  Why take another step or two if you can avoid it?  When your book is finished, it’s time to print!  Decide if you want each page of the story to be a full sheet of paper, or if you want your book to be half-size.  This decision will determine how you tell the slides to print.  If you want a half-size book, select 2 slides per page.  Tip #3:  I always deselect the optional border on these slides because it makes a much better appearance.  Tip #4:  use a personal paper trimmer or paper cutter to cut the pages in half in no time.

I will provide more ideas and tips in a future post, so stay tuned!

5-Minute Therapy for /r/

If I was asked to list my top three challenges as a school-based SLP, correcting /r/ would top the list in terms of difficulty and high incidence.  (The other two challenges are laterals and dysfluency.  Fortunately, these have been very low incidence on my caseload).

If I was asked to list the top three benefits that have come out of my website, Speaking of,  and this blog, the answer would be:

  1. Materials!  Through the vast Materials Exchange on my site, I’ve been able to build up my “bag of tricks,” by either using the free materials “as is” or by using them as a guide to create materials specific to student needs.
  2. New therapy techniques!  Through product reviews I’ve done on the site, I’ve increasingly expanded and refined my speech and language therapy.  I’ve also learned a lot from the generous SLPs who answer questions, give advice, and share tips on the various message boards in the SLP Message Center.
  3. The growth of the Speaking of community!  So many SLPs have contributed to the growth of the site by sharing materials, participating on the message boards, and spreading the word about the site to colleagues, SLPs in training, teachers and parents.  I have personally developed close relationships with so many SLPs around the world through Speaking of and related social media.  Even though I haven’t met all of these SLPs face-to-face, we recognize each other as kindred spirits in support of children with communication challenges.  And I’m not the only one who has forged close relationships because of the site!  Susan Sexton and Linda Seth met through my site and — wow! — what a productive relationship that has been!

Linda Seth has more than 30 years’ experience as a school-based SLP and 5 years as a classroom teacher.  Her varied experiences range from inner city schools in New Jersey to the last one-room schoolhouse in West Virginia.  She has achieved national recognition as an outstanding (and one of my very favorite!) presenter across the country.  Linda is the author of numerous volumes of therapy materials that seek to actively engage students (individually, in small groups, and in classrooms) in fun and meaningful learning. Great examples are the books in the G.R.O.W. series, which stands for Get Rid of Worksheets.  See what I mean?  Active learning is what Linda is all about, and she has an unlimited wealth of ideas toward that goal.  If Linda is ever presenting in your area, DO NOT miss the opportunity to attend!  To see and purchase all of Linda’s materials, visit Great Ideas for Teaching.

Susan Sexton is a retired school-based SLP from Michigan.  Susan broke away from traditional 30-minute small group therapy and pioneered the idea of short, frequent, intensive therapy sessions that became the basis of her very popular “5 Minute Kids” therapy plan and materials.  Research and anecdotal evidence shows that students make measurable progress and the length of time in therapy is reduced, using this approach.  Be sure to visit Susan’s website for details, samples, and purchase of her must-have materials.

5-minute-kids-logoIt was through Speaking of that Linda and Susan connected — and, boy, did they ever!  Putting their two very creative heads together, they produced the fabulous series of books:  “5-Minute Kids Therapy,” “5-Minute Games,” and “5-Minute Verbs.”  As soon as I saw these books, I knew they were going to my all-time favorite “go to” materials.  And now — oh, joy! — a new volume has just been published!  While the other “5-Minute Kids Therapy” books address all of the consonant sounds that are frequently addressed in therapy, this new one is all about vocalic /r/!!  The book follows the same format as the predecessors:  repetition lists at the word/phrase/sentence levels, data charts, pages for independent practice, quick games to keep kids motivated, and homework and carryover activities.  Really, what more could you want??

Check out this new book (special new release price of $22!)from Susan Sexton and Linda Seth, and then check out all of their other gems.  In addition to using these books for short, frequent, intensive therapy, I’ve used them for group therapy, homework, and for establishing baseline and progress monitoring.  Every time I use them, I am so glad that Speaking of brought these SLPs together!


Listen up!

In my career, I’ve known all kinds of listeners:  some who take in all of the message, some who only get part of it, and others who need multimodality support to attend and process.  Personally, the auditory channel is not my best way to take in information.  I need to hear the message more than once to recall the details, have the auditory combined with visual input, or I write it down.  Fortunately, I was well taught in the art of note-taking in elementary school so that my notes were salient and well-organized.  Note-taking not only provided me with a useful written account of the verbal information that I could review over and over as needed, but also helped me to stay on task and fit the information immediately into a schema, which increased my understanding from the get-go.

Graphic organizers abound for gathering all kinds of information.  But before we can teach the skills of winnowing out main ideas and supporting details, separating what is important from what is not, and linking new information to prior knowledge, we first have to get the student to attend.  For years, I’ve used “Whole Body Listening” prompts based on the work of Susanne Poulette Truesdale.  And apparently, I’m not the only one.  A quick search on Teachers Pay Teachers produces a long list of materials based on this strategy.

Screen Shot 2019-04-01 at 3.48.51 PMI love to use books in therapy whenever possible because they combine the auditory with the visual, and engage the students in the topic through stories.  Imagine how happy I was, then, to find these two illustrated children’s books by Kristen Wilson and Elizabeth Sautter:  “Whole Body Listening Larry at School!” and “Whole Body Listening Larry at Home!”  Both books begin with an explanation to adults about the conceptual basis of using one’s whole body — head to toe — to increase attention through sensory integration, executive functioning, and perspective-taking.  This is followed by suggestions on how to use the book to encourage understanding, self-awareness/control, and functional strategies for self-advocacy in listening situations, plus accommodations that can be tried with students who are especially challenged in this area.  The story ends with a section on how to teach and implement Whole Body Listening throughout the day with preschool and elementary school students, and includes a coloring page handout to further engage the students.

In the school-based book, twins who are new to the school do not display characteristics of good listeners;  indeed, they sometimes interfere with their classmates’ ability to listen.  In an effort to help them learn the rules of the school, Larry politely points out how they can listen better and distract others less by active and passive use of their body parts.

In the home-based version, Larry helps his younger sister learn to use Whole Body Listening strategies to be a better communication partner with family members and friends.  As in the school-based book, this home version contains information and strategies for parents.

The story lines are simple, the illustrations are engaging, and the approach to Whole Body Listening is consistent.  The authors even weave in elements of Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking to help students understand what others are thinking when they do (or don’t) apply Whole Body Listening strategies.  I love that there are two versions that can be used simultaneously to encourage carryover and generalization.  The fact that parents and teachers will be using the same vocabulary and prompts will surely help young children internalize the expected listening behaviors.  Once students have improved their ability to listen, the work on processing and recall can begin.

One caveat to keep in mind:  I have had students for whom looking at the speaker is actually a distraction for them.  I remember one little guy in particular who was continually being prompted by the teacher to “look at me, look at me” when she was reading books to the class and giving directions.  We instituted a 10-question, multiple choice with symbols follow-up quiz after each weekly story that I read as part of their classroom therapy.  The scores went up on all of the students over time, except for the little guy who was getting frequent prompts to pay attention.  The teacher and I decided to ignore his looking at the ceiling or the pattern on the rug to see if that made a difference.  Lo and behold, it did!  When left to look wherever he wanted, he actually took in more information than when he was prompted to “use his eyes to listen.”  This is just another reminder that children have different learning styles, and the wise educators will tune into and accommodate for those differences.

“Whole Body Listening Larry at School!” and “Whole Body Listening Larry at Home” are available through Make Social Learning Stick!

What does that mean??

Some years back, my son moved to Brazil to marry a lovely Brazil college professor.  During his time there, my son became fluent in Portuguese, and this became my grandson’s first language.  When little Miguel was 2 years old, my son started exposing him to English in preparation for their planned move to the US a year later.  When Miguel arrived here at age 3, he had some conversational English, but Portuguese was still his go-to language.  One of the first things I taught him was to ask, “what does that mean?” when encountering unfamiliar vocabulary.  Now he is nearly 6 years old and his language skills are off the charts, mainly because parents and grandparents speak to him in an adult-like manner and read to him constantly (his favorite activity).  He has a deep love for words and is always happy to learn new ones.  Here’s an example of a recent conversation as we walked home from the bus stop;  mind you, he does know what some of the words mean but enjoys playing this as a game.

  • Me: Miguel, I have a proposal for you.
  • Miguel:  What’s proposal mean?
  • Me: It means a suggestion.
  • Miguel: What’s a suggestion?
  • Me:  It’s an idea I want you to consider.
  • Miguel:  What’s consider mean?
  • Me:  It means to think about something to see if it is a good idea or not.
  • Miguel:  Oh, so you have an idea you want me to think about, like “I propose that we go to the Crayola Factory!”

Bingo!  By encouraging Miguel to ask for definitions, by using vocabulary and reading books that are above his age level, and by making word-play (puns, riddles, knock-knock jokes) fun games that we play, he has become a very competent speaker of English and has learned a very useful strategy for life-long learning:  if you don’t understand something, ASK!

product_wad_Storyteller_s-Word-a-Day-three-assembled-illustration-and-facts_900xI recently purchased a stand-up book for Miguel from called “Storyteller’s Word a Day.”  The book is kept on an end table in the living room and is the first thing Miguel goes to when he comes over.  A recent word was “incessant.”  After we reviewed the meaning, he told me that they had a fire drill that week and the alarm was incessant.  Then he flipped back a few pages to another word and said, “It was this, too — grating!  The noise was incessant and grating!”   Pretty good carryover for a kindergartener, don’t you think?

This book would be ideal for SLPs to use in school, as there are words for every day from September to May.  Each page has a cartoon drawing depicting the meaning, the word, the definition and part of speech, and an easy to understand example.  (That’s as far as I go with Miguel right now).  For those who are really into words, the back of the page provides etymology, word pairs, synonyms, frequency of use, and a story starter.  Wow!  Just think of how many IEP goals you can hit with this!  “Storyteller’s Word a Day” is designed for ages 6-13, making it ideal for your middle-grade language students. Also available through this website are a similar book for 3-6-year-olds and an illustrated dictionary.  All use colorful, humorous cartoons to bring the words to life.

While this book is new to me, the strategy of teaching students to ask goes way back in my career when I developed a game I call “Hit or Miss” for my language students.  I realized that reading comprehension issues are often related to vocabulary deficits AND the student’s tendency to read the word fluently but never stopping to figure out the meaning.  I liken this to the students as Swiss Cheese reading:  they are solid on a lot of the words but they do have some holes that can greatly affect their comprehension.  The “Hit or Miss” game goes like this:  As a student reads aloud from his textbook or grade-level library book, he is to stop and ask the definitions of any unfamiliar words and earns a point (a “hit”) each time he does that.  If he doesn’t stop at a word that I suspect might be unfamiliar, I will stop him and ask for the meaning.  If he does know the word, he gets another point.  If he doesn’t know the word, that’s a “miss” and I get the point.  After the first session or two, the student nearly always wins because he has learned to ask for help when he needs it.  I’ve shared this strategy with their classroom teachers, who have then used it in small group reading instruction — ideal carryover support!