“What goes on in that Speech Room?”

Kids are curious about that little room down the hall, next to the nurse’s office.  What is that room for?  Who goes there?  It looks like a fun place!  Why can’t I go, too?  Kids who WILL be going to speech/language therapy have different questions.  Why am I going to Speech?  What is therapy like?

To help SLPs and teachers explain speech/language therapy to newly identified students AND the rest of the class, I’ve written three children’s books that address three different aspects of what we do.

Matthew cover“The Mouth With a Mind of Its Own” is about a little boy with such significant articulation issues that he can’t even say his own name.  He is isolated from his classmates, who think he is speaking a foreign language, and he misses out on daily activities because he can’t make himself understood.  Fortunately, the speech/language pathologist comes to the rescue and leads him through the process from screening to articulate speech. At the end of the book, I’ve answered questions submitted by students from my own elementary school in a section called “Get to Know a Speech/Language Pathologist.”

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 12.06.24 PM“There Was a Speech Teacher Who Swallowed Some Dice” is a silly rhyming tale to introduce students to all of the items commonly used in therapy. Kids love this “speechie” twist on a familiar tale.  The book ends with a glossary of all of the therapy items and how we use them, and has a “Speech Room Scavenger Hunt” that you can photocopy for the students as they hunt for all of  the items in your room — a language lesson in itself!


Katie cover“How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname)”  acquaints students with assistive technology, including augmentative communication, and how it changes the way classmates view a fourth grade girl who has significant physical and communication disabilities.  This book ends with a section on disability etiquette.   Katie is also available in a German translation from Amazon in Germany.



Each book can be a stand-alone lesson, but you don’t have to stop there!  Here are additional resources that will extend each book into lessons in articulation, vocabulary, language, story mapping, and more. Click on the colored text below to get to the resources, the majority of which are FREE!

“How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname)”:  I’ve created a Reader’s Theater version of the book and PowerPoint “scenery” you can project, a free Discussion Guide which can also be used as writing prompts, and a Communication Word Search.  A Disability Etiquette video, “Making Everyone Feel Welcome,” told by the characters of the book, is on my YouTube channel. While on YouTube, check out the amazing video made by Polish students who have disabilities, inspired by Katie’s story, ideal for middle and high school students.  Clever SLP, Truvine Walker, offers a number of free artic and language activities related to this book at her TeachersPayTeachers store.

“The Mouth With a Mind of Its Own”:  Truvine Walker offers a free Speech/Language Companion Packet for this book on TPT that extends the story in many directions to meet a variety of s/l therapy goals.

“There Was a Speech Teacher Who Swallowed Some Dice”:   Truvine Walker created an amazing Speech/Language Companion Packet for this wacky story — again, it’s free!

These books are super gifts for student clinicians and SLPs in the school.  Autographed and personalized copies are available through Speaking of Speech.com.  Did you order your copy from Amazon but wish it was autographed?  Send me an email at pat@speakingofspeech.com, and I’ll send you a free signed bookplate!


Got Books?

Guest post by Truvine Walker, M.Ed., CCC-SLP


From my earliest memories as a child, I remember having books with me almost everywhere I went. I’ve now replaced my books with a Nook Color and a Kindle app on my iPad; but, I still love to read. Fortunately, working as a Speech-Language Pathologist in an educational setting, I can pair my love of books with my responsibility to improve communication. Because we know there IS a connection between language and literacy, it is a great idea to utilize books in therapy whenever possible. Books are not the only tools in my therapy toolbox; however, they are a staple. Why, you ask? Books are versatile and can be used to address a variety of communication goals. They are also some of the least expensive therapy materials you can find, if you shop in bargain bins, buy used, and/or frequent your local library. Books are also great resources for teaching social skills, and addressing major life issues (speech and language problems, divorce, sharing, etc.). I love it when I find book units specifically designed for speech and language therapy; however, sometimes, I make my own or make materials to go along with units I purchase. I love using book units because they enable me to target multiple goals in a session using a common theme or source. There are a few free materials on my TPT store: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Browse/Search:Truvine%20Walker

Below are a few ways in which I use books in therapy:

  • Articulation– There are numerous ways to address articulation, so I’m not even going to begin to give suggestions. There are several lists available that categorize books that can be used to target specific articulation sounds. ConsonantlySpeaking.com, Pinterest, and speechymusings.com are just a few websites that offer fairly extensive lists. Disclaimer: I did not make any of the lists, and I strongly advise that you review each book prior to using it in therapy to make sure it’s what you need for your students.
  • Making Choices – This requires a little bit of preparation. I present my students a choice of 2-3 books that I plan to use in therapy at some point during the school year anyway. I show them the front and back covers of the book, ask them to make a choice, and to share why they voted for a particular book. This allows my students who are reluctant to speak in a group the opportunity to speak without worrying about answering incorrectly or not being able to answer at all. I tally the votes, and the book with the most votes wins. It’s a win-win for me because I know they are a little interested in the book, and we have the opportunity to talk about voting, democracy, etc. This works with all age ranges. I simply adjust the vocabulary as needed.
  • Making Predictions, Recalling Facts, and Commenting– There is a free sheet on my TPT page entitled iPredict, iRead, iLearn. After a book is selected, I ask the students to predict what they THINK the book is about. After we’ve read the book (usually 2-3 times), I ask them to record something that they learned from the book. It can be new vocabulary, facts, etc. In the final column, I ask them to share what they like and dislike about the book. I’ve adapted this worksheet to include a visualization task. The students are prompted to illustrate one of their favorite details from the book on the back of the book review. At the bottom of the page, I ask them to write a few sentences describing their illustration.
  • Comprehension – I don’t think this needs explanation. You can create questions from simple to complex based on the needs of your students. If you purchase a book unit, the work is already done for you.
  • Compare and Contrast – I love comparing different versions of the same story (ex. ‘Twas that Night Before Christmas,” “The Three Little Pigs” vs. “The Three Ninja Pigs,” etc.) and, surprisingly, your students will as well. Sometimes you can compare the differences in characters, events in the story, outcome, etc.
  • Vocabulary – I always go through the stories I use and select vocabulary that I anticipate I need to preview or teach prior to the story. As I’m reading the story, I give each student a small sticky note pad. They are instructed to give me a sticky if they hear a word that they don’t understand. After the story, I go back to the pages where I have sticky notes, and as a group we discuss the unfamiliar words.
  • Narrative Retelling – After reading the story multiple times, you can have students retell the story in their own words. Sometimes you can use the pictures in the book (you have to cover the words for those who read well) or you can create your own retelling cards. Retelling is great for working on story elements, sentence structure, sequencing of events, etc.
  • Pragmatics – I often use illustrations of facial expression to discuss emotions, as well as synonyms and antonyms of the emotions. We identify and discuss the events in the story that provoke the emotions discussed. Often, we take it a step further and brainstorm events that happen in everyday life that could elicit those same emotions. If it’s a negative emotion, we discuss problem solving ideas.
  • Grammar – You can use books to address varying grammatical features, and follow up with worksheets related to the book to reinforce and/or assess mastery of skills. Again, this list is not my creation, and I’m sure it’s not exhaustive, as new stories are being created daily. The following list is a great place to start if you need to locate a list of books that target specific language goals. http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/kuster2/languagefocusbooks.pdf

If you’re already using books in therapy and have suggestions, details, and/or resources, please share. I personally am always looking for new ideas, and I’m sure others are as well. If you’re not already using books in therapy, I encourage you to give it a try. Once you start and get in the habit, it actually makes planning for therapy more efficient, more fulfilling, and less demanding physically because you have fewer materials to transport.


Note from Pat:  I’m delighted to have Truvine as one of my first guest bloggers.  Truvine Walker, M.Ed., CCC is a speech/language pathologist in Georgia.  Among many other very impressive materials to extend books in therapy, she created wonderfully detailed and clever extension activities for “There Was a Speech Teacher Who Swallowed Some Dice,” “The Mouth With a Mind of Its Own,” and “How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname).”  You will definitely want to follow her TPT store so you don’t miss any of the gems she posts!

Becoming a Children’s Author, Part 1: Deep Roots and Inspiration

I have always been a writer at heart.  I won a prize for a poem I wrote about a kangaroo in first grade.  I loved diagramming sentences (a lost art today, alas!).  I read everything I could get my hands on.  And I attacked every writing assignment in English with passion.  My junior year Advanced English thesis was on the relationship between the libretto and musical motifs in Handel’s “The Messiah,” complete with footnotes and graphic examples;  oh, what I could’ve done with this theme on Prezi!  My teacher didn’t know a thing about music, but he gave me an A+ and wrote that I should be given a B.S. in English.  I’m not sure he meant Bachelor’s of Science.

In high school, I worked as a stringer reporter and contributor to the Teen Beat section of our local newspaper, received the school’s journalism award as a senior, and flirted with the idea of journalism as a major in college.  Instead, I went into a different area of communication — speech/language pathology — but my love of writing never waned.  As an SLP, I published more than a dozen books and software programs with Mayer-Johnson Company, contributed a series of articles to “Exceptional Parent Magazine” and “Closing the Gap,” and self-published materials for SLPs on my web site, Speaking of Speech.com.  This blog is another extension of my passion for writing.

About 5 years ago, a kernel of a children’s story worked its way into my imagination.  The inspiration came from the work I do as an SLP and assistive technology specialist.  In those roles, I support students who have little or no verbal skills, and who rely on alternative and augmentative communication (AAC), from no-tech systems, such as pointing to pictures, through high-tech, multi-thousand dollar devices that generate speech output. I have worked with countless students, teachers, aides, and parents to provide a means of effective communication and a reason to use it.  I’ve taught undergrad and graduate courses in AAC, and have devoted hours of lecture time on the barriers to using AAC.  I won’t get into them here but, suffice it to say, there are many….and all too many are related to reluctance, resistance, or flat-out refusal of adults to use AAC with children who would benefit from it.  Implementing AAC and other assistive technology (AT) takes lots of time and effort, sometimes enormous amounts of both, and that can be a barrier right there.  Sometimes, people just don’t realize how life-changing AAC/AT can be for children and adults who have significant disabilities.  Demonstrating the benefits, then, was one goal of the story I wanted to write.

Another source of inspiration, and the reason I wrote the book from the perspective of classmates who don’t know how to be friends with with a girl who has multiple disabilities, came from the reason I went into speech/language pathology and specialized in AAC/AT in the first place.  My dear uncle was stricken with a progressive neurological disease; the first function to go was his ability to speak, followed by a loss of writing skills, and then a loss of facial expression.  As communication skills diminished, so did his humanity.  Family members, friends, even medical professionals (who should know better!) were unprepared to communicate with someone who couldn’t communicate back.  After a brief greeting to him, he seemed to cease to exist, as people talked around him, over him, and even about him, but not TO him.  And, sadly, this is frequently the case in other families, and in classrooms, too.  As a society, we all too often just don’t know how to communicate with people who can’t talk.  There is also the tendency to view people with disabilities as “less than,” as we focus on what they CAN’T do, rather than what they CAN do.

So, demonstrating the value of AAC/AT and telling the story from the perspective of those who feel unable to relate to people with disabilities became the story line for How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname).  I will talk more about the process of writing the book in future posts, and would be happy to answer any questions you have about my book and the process of becoming a children’s book author.  Please post your questions in the Comments section!  Check out my author site, www.patmervine.com, for more info, videos, and freebies.

Becoming a Children’s Author, Part 2: The Process Begins

Katie cover“Write about what you know.”  I took this age-old advice to heart when I first thought about writing a children’s book.  My previous post detailed the personal and professional experiences that led to the theme in “How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname),” but that was just the beginning.  Characters, plot, point of view, purpose….these elements rolled around in my head for a good year.  I can’t speak for other writers, but my style is to “write” the story in my head at the oddest times–in the shower, driving, making dinner, folding laundry–but it doesn’t actually make it onto paper until it’s nearly fully formed.

Characters:  Central to the story, of course, is Katie.  To be emblematic of children who use augmentative communication and other assistive technology, Katie needed to have significant physical impairments.  I put her in the fourth grade, because I felt her classmates needed to have a degree of maturity to tackle the challenge of having Katie in their class. This is not to say that much younger children can be equally accepting and empathetic, but 4th grade just seemed right for this story.

Katie’s classmates were chosen very carefully through a backwards-writing process. (If there is a writer’s term for this, I don’t know it;  I only know that this approach was essential for the development of the story).  First, I made a mental list of all of the things that Katie would be able to do once she had access to assistive technology.  Then, I developed classmates who could each do one of those activities. This initially created a stark contrast between Katie and her classmates, but eventually led to very personal connections by the end of the book.

The list of Disability Etiquette rules at the end of the book includes one on how to talk to a person who is nonverbal and who has a companion.  It was witnessing people who didn’t speak to my uncle that propelled me into a career in speech/language pathology and assistive technology. Hence, Katie needed to have a Personal Care Assistant, and Miss Hanscomb was born.

Mrs. O’Boyle is based on a real teacher I know who exudes good humor, enthusiasm, and encouragement.  Students who use AAC need educators with those qualities, teachers who will do what it takes to include every child and maximize their involvement in any way possible.

Shamelessly, the SLP is the behind-the-scenes hero of the story.  What can I say?

Point of View:   I did not want to tell the story from Katie’s perspective for two reasons:  I didn’t want it to be a “woe is me” story with Katie feeling left out and alone, as I don’t see Katie as the victim here;  indeed, she becomes empowered as the story progresses.  I wanted to make it clear that the main problem in the story is the classmates’ lack the experience in dealing with someone who is significantly different from them;  obviously,  this directly relates to what I witnessed and even felt when my uncle could no longer speak or gesture.  Having her classmate, Miguel, tell the story provided me with the opportunity to show how limited he and other students in the class felt when trying to involve Katie; in that sense, they were the ones who were handicapped.  Katie has significant limitations in the beginning of the story, but the introduction of assistive technology enables her to overcome those limitations and show everyone around her that she is more like them than different, which is the second lesson in the story.

Setting:  The story takes place at Cherry Street Elementary School.  I am the SLP of a wonderful, small town elementary school that is located on Cherry Street, although the school has a different name. When I read this book to the students in my school on Guest Author Day, the students were delighted to put two and two together, as they recognized that this story was named after their school’s location.  

Plot:  Well, obviously, I wanted the story to show Katie’s development through assistive technology, and how that led to a significant change in the way she was viewed by her classmates.  The idea of nicknames came about because it (1) reflected the importance of differences in each of the characters, and (2) it created a real dilemma when Katie asked for a nickname.

Purpose:  I didn’t want the story to be preachy, although clearly there are lessons and issues embedded in the story that make for good discussion;  a Discussion Guide/Writers Prompts can be downloaded from www.patmervine.com.  I included a list of “do’s and don’ts” regarding disability etiquette after the end of the story so that the reader could learn about appropriate interactions with people who have different conditions from Katie’s.  These lessons are illustrated in a Power Point, available at myTeachersPayTeachers page.

So, that’s a summary of my thought process as I developed the story.  In my next post, I will talk about the learning curve from writing to publishing my book.

Becoming a Children’s Author, Part 3: Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? An Adventure In Translation

A month or so ago, I received a lovely email from Katja Lauther, an occupational therapist in Germany.  She had read my children’s book, “How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname),” and fell in love with it.  “We have to have this book in Germany,” she said. “Can you make this happen?”

  • Barrier #1 was pretty obvious:  I don’t speak German.  Katja had already anticipated that and said she could do the translation. 
  • Barrier #2:  I had invested a LOT of money into the beautiful illustrations (all hand-painted and inked works of art), so I couldn’t afford to pay for any work related to the project.  Katja said she wasn’t expecting payment;  this was just something she wanted to do.
  • Barrier #3:  How to print and distribute in Germany.  Printing and shipping from the US would be cost-prohibitive.  I did some research and found that Amazon has a German division, so using their CreateSpace site to publish would take care of all of those logistics.  Yahoo!  We agreed to take on the project.

Within a few days, Katja had completed the first draft of the translation.  She sent me a copy, but it was all Greek…er, German…to me.  She also asked three friends to proofread it for her.  Their consensus was that the translation was too formal, since the story is told by a fourth grade boy, so she redid the translation in more kid-like German.

As Katja was working on the translation, interesting questions started popping up.

  • The names of the characters represent many ethnicities.  Should they be kept or replaced with German names?  We kept the various ethnic names.
  • The nicknames of the characters are common American slang:  Bugsy, Bookworm, Jokester, etc.  Katja substituted nicknames that reflected the spirit of the names but that would make sense in Germany.
  • In translating my bio, Katja needed clarification:  “are you speech or language or AAC or all of that?”  The answer is “all of that.”  She was surprised because, apparently in Germany, one can either specialize in speech or language.  And much of AAC work is done by OTs.  Hearing that, I was surprised!  Wow!  No wonder SLPs in the USA are always exhausted!
  • One of the funniest questions centered around the old chicken joke that Katie tells with her communication device. In the story, Katie only asks the question, “Why did the chicken cross the road?”  The punchline isn’t given so Katja asked for the answer.  When I replied, “to get to the other side,” she assumed that meant that the chicken was going to heaven.  No, not THAT other side!, I explained.  I never thought about the chicken becoming roadkill!  We went back and forth about this for a while, but the joke was just so dumb that Katja couldn’t translate it to be funny in German (and frankly, it’s not so funny here…which is what makes it so funny, I guess!), so I agreed that she could substitute a dumb German joke instead.  It’s something about a frog, but she said she really couldn’t explain it in English, and Google Translate didn’t help.  I found it very interesting that the simplest humor (and you don’t get more simple than a chicken joke!) simply didn’t translate.

Once we had these and other subtleties of translation worked out, Katja sent me her final draft, for which I had to download the same German font.  Then, my work began.  Remember, I’m an SLP, not a graphic artist, so I was limited in the software I had available for laying out the book and inserting the illustrations. This was quite challenging for me in that I had to keep taking sections of German text into Google Translate to make sure I was matching up correct illustrations and text.  I had a rather amusing experience once with online translation,* so I knew not to pay attention to the actual translation, just the gist of each paragraph.   I did the best I could, then sent it to Katja for approval.  She very diplomatically asked if I would mind if Annette, a graphic designer friend of hers, played around with it.  Of course, I agreed, but I was very impressed….and also curious….about these two women who were devoting hours, days, and weeks on this project for which they were not getting any pay or profit.  For anyone who thinks I am getting rich from writing children’s books, ha! ha! ha!  For all the investment of $ and time that goes into writing, producing, and marketing, I net a royalty of about 10%.  No, these books, like my websites, are a labor of love for me, and it seemed the same was true for Katja and Annette.

Well, Annette did such a wonderful job in laying out the book and creating a new cover for the German version that I insisted she get a credit line and bio in the book, along with the credit line and bio that Katja already had as translator.  When she submitted the final cover and text, I saw Annette’s name in a paragraph on the author page so I Google Translated that, and found that, in addition to being a talented graphic artist, she was involved in designing a communication app for the iPad.  The app is called MetaTalk, named after her daughter, Meta, who uses AAC. (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/metatalk/id450698633?mt=8).   And in many Facebook chats with Katja, I learned that Katja works in a school for students who have special needs, and is also involved in the development of the AAC app, which is used in Germany and now is in English.  Both of these women were so dedicated to the Katie translation because the story is about a girl with significant disabilities who is in a regular education class.  This is not yet common in Germany, but is a trend that is slowly growing there.  They are very hopeful that Katie’s story will be seen in Germany as illustrative of what is possible when children who have significant disabilities are given the assistive technology and support needed to succeed.  As Katja said to me, “Annette and I are spending a lot of time making the world for the AAC kids a bit better.”  From the meticulous attention and careful consideration they devoted to this project, I knew I had found kindred spirits in Germany, and have been enriched by this experience.

“How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname)” will be coming out on Amazon.de in Germany in June.  Thanks, Katja and Annette, for planting this seed and helping it to grow!

*I can’t end this post without relating my first and funniest experience with online translation.  The first time my son traveled to Brazil, I sent him an email to greet him on his arrival.  Thinking it would be cute to do it in Portuguese, I wrote my brief message and put into Babelfish, Yahoo’s online translator.  I was about to copy/paste the translation into my email when it occurred to me that I should reverse it back to English to make sure it was correct.  Don’t ask me why that idea popped into my head, but I’m very glad it did.  My message to my son to “enjoy yourself in Brazil” was translated as “I hope you pleasure yourself.”  Oops!  Not quite the message a mother would send to her son. (blush).

“How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname)” is available in English from www.patmervine.com.  There you will also find a Reader’s Theater version with PowerPoint scenery, a communication word search, a Discussion Guide/Writing Prompts, and a video about Disability Etiquette.