October 22, 2017

Using STEM in Speech: Skeletal System

Note: This post contains affliate links.

Given all of the spooky skeletons everywhere in the month of October, our monthly STEM unit revolved all around bones and the skeletal system. Just as with the unit on Density, you can incorporate tons of language concepts and adapt the activities for articulation/fluency/social skills. Below are some ideas to get started.

I introduced my groups to the concept of bones by reading the book Bones (Science Readers: A Closer Look). With my younger/SDC kiddos we read Skeleton Hiccups. Of course, you could read any Halloween themed book about skeletons to get into the mood.

I also purchased some Halloween decor at Walmart: An (anatomically correct - this is important!) Skeleton, as well as a "Bag of Bones". We used these props to talk about the different bones in the body and learned some of the scientific names. There are some great bones containing /r/ and /s/ - femur, humerus, skull, pelvis, ribs, spine, etc. that you can have your artic students practice. The bag of bones was great for guessing which bone was which by comparing them to the bones in the skeleton model. Bonus: I can reuse these guys as Halloween decorations!

Students loved exploring the animal x-rays!
Next, we got to the fun part!! I discovered two different sets of X-Rays on amazon - Animal X-Rays and Human X-Rays. We used the animal x-rays to compare the skeletal structure of different animals to that in a human body. I also had students try to guess what animal might be depicted by the x-ray. You can also have students compare and contrast the skeletal structure of two different animals.

Putting together human x-rays
I used the set of human x-rays to solidify students' knowledge of the names of bones and our general skeletal structure by having them assemble the skeleton on white butcher paper. This was actually harder for many of my kiddos than they anticipated! They were allowed to use a diagram of a human skeleton, as a reference. When they were stumped, I gave them hints such as, "This is an x-ray of a tibia." They then had to reference the diagram to figure out where the bone would go.

As an extension activity, we made the Q-tip skeleton that is plastered all over Pinterest. Students had to "earn" each bone by either saying their speech sound 5x or completing a language task. Tip: Make sure to cut all of the Q-tips prior to the activity, as it will save time in the long run.

What I loved about this unit was that I was able to incorporate STEM in a Halloween-themed unit, while teaching students about important concepts AND working on their speech goals at the same time. Win-win!!

October 5, 2017

Using Blank Playing Cards in Speech

Note: This post contains affiliate links.

As I was browsing Amazon for therapy materials over the summer, I came across the most amazing thing: blank playing cards! As soon as I saw them, the wheels in my head started turning to come up with ways on how to use them in Speech.

I tried out three different variations of blank playing cards made by Apostrophe Games: Rectangular, Square, and Dry Erase.

Blank playing cards are available in these three options: rectangular, square, and dry erase.
If you’re like me, you are probably tired of using the same old artic decks over and over in your sessions. To combat the monotony, my students and I decided to use these cards to make our very own articulation decks! At first I thought that we could use index cards. However, the quality of these blank playing cards is SO MUCH BETTER and definitely worth the extra money.They are about 2-3 times as thick as index cards and marker / Sharpie does not bleed or seep through to the other side. Since you will likely end up using the finished cards with your students in therapy sessions, it makes sense to want them to be durable. They are so thick that you could even skip laminating - seriously, who has time for that?

I started by having my groups come up with words containing their target sounds. This was great for stimulating their awareness of their sound. As they were rattling off words, I wrote them onto the playing cards with a Sharpie, making sure to highlight target sounds in red. Of course you could have students write the words themselves, but I wanted to make sure the writing was nice and big and didn't have spelling errors. To make this more engaging, I allowed students to include Pokemon and Minecraft things (Hey kid, if you want to practice the word "creeper", which has two /r/ sounds, be my guest!). Next, students drew pictures of their words onto the card (we used washable markers for this), although pencils or crayons would work as well. While we worked, we also practiced saying the words we were drawing. Students were super motivated throughout their session. And look how awesome their cards turned out!

I used both Square and Rectangular cards for this activity and didn't really have a preference. The square ones seemed to be big enough for a picture, and also might be better for little hands.

This would also make an excellent homework activity: send home ten blank cards with the words on it and have students draw and practice at home. You could also let students keep their cards at home for practice.

And of course you could adapt this activity for language groups - you can make homonym/homophone cards, opposite cards, WH-question cards, and so much more!

I also found a use for the Dry Erase Cards - I used them for a listening activity with my language groups. Because these cards are double sided, they lend themselves well to alternate response mode activities. I drew a happy face on one side and a sad face on the other. Each student in the group received one of these dual-sided cards. Then they had to listen to conditional statements (e.g. "If you have brown hair, hold up your happy face") and follow the directions. This was great for working on following directions and general listening skills. A note: To prevent smearing on these cards, you may want to consider Vis-A-Vis Markers.What is really nice about the dry erase deck is that it can be reused over and over.

This is a therapy activity I will definitely keep doing again and again as I cycle through new students. I'm so glad I found these cards!!

September 26, 2017

Using STEM in Speech: Density

One of my professional goals this year is to incorporate more STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) Activities in my therapy setting. STEM concepts and activities are rich in language and the hands-on nature of many of the activities lends itself wonderfully to our population. I am planning to have a monthly theme to support  this objective, so this blog series is a summary of my progress.

Our September theme was Density (Sink/Float). Not only is this super easy to implement in the therapy room, but you can target tons of language and articulation concepts with this lesson. Most of my groups got to do this and they seemed to have a blast (many kids asked if we could do this activity again during their next Speech session).

Before we started we had a brief discussion of molecules and density (i.e. how much something weights compared to how much space it takes up). We also defined the terms "sinking" versus "floating". Visuals are super helpful for this. 

All you need for the hands-on/experimentation portion of this lesson is a tub of water (perhaps with food coloring in it for effect) and various items collected from around your house or classroom. Make sure the items are small enough to fit into the tub. Some easy finds are: pencils, coins, dice, pompoms, leaves, twigs, rocks, keys, paperclips, erasers, markers, etc. 

Allow students to make a prediction (make sure to define this term!) about what they think will happen to the item before actually placing it in the water to watch the result.

I created a number of worksheets of varying difficulty levels that would allow students to record their predictions as well as the resulting observations. A lot of my younger students had a hard time navigating where to record each observation (they would often try to color in the wrong row), so this provided an excellent teaching opportunity.

Worksheet for my younger kiddos with pre-entered items.
Worksheet for my older kiddos - a little more complex.

We placed visuals on the board (with Magnet Tape) to keep track of whether the "Sinkers" or "Floaters" would win. You can also use the visual cards to let students randomly select one to see which item would be the next "experiment". My students had a lot of fun with this. I also "challenged" them to solve certain Sink/Float predicaments (e.g., how do you make a rock float using only a balloon) to stimulate problem solving and critical thinking skills. 

Additionally, I used this activity in my social skills group to work on turn-taking, interrupting, problem-solving, and dealing with making the wrong predictions. 

You can also adapt this lesson and turn it into a push-in classroom unit. I pushed into our younger SDC class and as a group we made predictions about the various items. To make the concepts more visually concrete, I drew a tub of water on the whiteboard and had students place the items onto the drawing based on whether they thought the items would sink or float.

With my articulation groups, we tested items that contained the target sound of students - you can see in the picture of one of the worksheets above that all of the items contain the /r/ sound. And the words "sink" and "float" are great for /s/, /k/, and /l/ kiddos!! I absolutely loved the versatility of this lesson!

If you want to try this with your own students and like the visuals/worksheets that I have used - they are available on TPT here. The unit also includes challenges and material lists with items containing specific phonemes.

This was a pretty successful lesson - I can't wait for our next monthly STEM unit!

January 11, 2017

Game Review: Bunny Peek-A-Boo

Note: This post contains affiliate links.

Sometimes I run across a therapy material that is so awesome that I just have to share! Last month, a kind parent gave me an Amazon gift card to use towards therapy materials and one of the things I bought was "Bunny Peek-a-Boo" by SmartGames. It had been on my Therapy wishlist forever, but I hesitated to buy it because of the steep price (close to $30). Now that I own the game I am so glad I do!

Bunny Peek-a-Boo consists of three wooden blocks, a wooden bunny figure, and picture cards. The premise is simple: students have to arrange the blocks and bunny figure in such a way that it matches the picture on the card. There are 60 different challenges at four different difficulty levels (15 challenges for each level).

I used this during my therapy sessions with students ranging from Kindergarten through 5th grade (the 5th graders were students from our self-contained Special Day Class) - everyone thoroughly enjoyed it! Even though this toy is recommended for ages 2+, some of my older SDC students already began to struggle at Level 2, which was great in terms of learning opportunities. 

This game is excellent for speech & language therapy, as it promotes problem-solving, flexible thinking, and can be used to work on positional concepts (e.g., "Where is the bunny?" - "The bunny is on top of the blue block").

I absolutely LOVE this product and given it's sturdy quality I know we'll be using it for years to come! I can't recommend it enough!

January 6, 2017

Have You Filled a Bucket Today - An Extension Activity

One concept that I love using with the students in my social skills group is that of Bucketfilling. This idea is based on the book "Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids" by Carol McCloud. 

Basically, the gist of the book is that everyone carries around an invisible bucket that represents the level of an individual's happiness. When someone's bucket is full, the person is feeling happy, and when the bucket is empty, the person is feeling sad. The author emphasizes that you should fill others' buckets by being kind and doing nice things for them. This in turn, will fill your own bucket.

I revisit this concept annually with the students in my social skills group and we talk about different ways to fill someone's bucket. This year we took it a little bit further. My students observed that in the book, a person's bucket tends to bear resemblance to the person it belongs to - for example, if the person is wearing glasses, the bucket is wearing glasses. We decided to create our very own personalized buckets to practice bucketfilling.

You will need:
First, we designed the buckets. Students colored their buckets in a way to resemble them. We also glued on wiggly eyes to add some life to them. We then used the pipe cleaners to poke through the styrofoam rim and create a handle.

Some of my students really got into it and spend a lot of time creating bucket-masterpieces. One student insisted on having Pikachu sit on his bucket's shoulder. I loved to see the level of creativity! 

Once the buckets were completed, we started practicing the act of bucketfilling. In the book, the happiness and good feelings filling one's bucket are represented by rainbow stars and hearts. In the past, I have used plastic coins and pompoms during these lessons, but this year I found something even better: Foam Beads! These beads come in different shapes and colors and kind of look like the bucket contents in the book.

For this part of the lesson, we practiced filling each other's buckets by complimenting or doing nice things for the people in our group. Students loved seeing their buckets getting fuller. We also practiced bucket-dipping: if a student interrupted or misbehaved in some other way, shapes were removed from the teacher's bucket and their own bucket.

There are so many things you can do with the concept of bucketfilling and this is just one of them!

December 15, 2016

Scheduling Efficient Make-Up Therapy Sessions

Winter is here, and with it come seasonal illnesses. I'm fighting a bad cold as I am typing this. If you are anything like me, you hate missing work because it is impossible to find the time in our busy schedules to squeeze in make-up sessions. However, life happens and sometimes you just have to take a day off. I figured I should write a post on how I try to do make-up sessions efficiently, getting as many kids seen as possible in the least amount of time while providing an adequate learning experience. Be aware that when you run large group lessons, you will need access to an adequate amount of space - make sure to reserve a spare classroom / conference room beforehand!

Before you get started, you will need to make a list of students working on like goals or at similar skill levels. Your group may have 5 students, or it may have 10, whatever works for you! Some examples of students I might group together are as follows:
  • all 12 of my SDC students
  • all of my 1st/2nd grade students with language goals
  • all of my students working on a particular sound
  • students with social skill needs
Once you have your list of students that will get seen together, you will decide on an activity to do with them. Some of my favorite large group activities include:
Guess Who is a favorite!
  • Jeopardy (see this related blog post) - I love this because it is versatile and can be adapted for artic, language, social skills, etc.
  • Guess Who - this game can easily be adapted into a large group activity for the classroom. It targets multiple skills and is always a hit with my SDC students!
  • Read a book to the group and work on comprehension
  • Felt board stories are great to work on comprehension and vocabulary with younger students, and they are hands-on
  • Target a specific social skill - you could do a Volume lesson using the 5-point scale, read "Have You Filled a Bucket Today?", etc. 
  • Speech stations - with large articulation groups, you can rotate the students through stations, at each of which they work independently. I am planning a blog post on activities to include at Stations, so stay tuned!
  • Play 20 Questions - Have a student take turns thinking of a mystery item, while the other students in the group ask Yes/No questions and attempt to guess the item
  • Charades - this is another great group activity, because you can have students split up into separate teams  
These are just a few ideas to get started... by seeing students in larger groups for make-up sessions, you can save time for other important tasks and make sure everyone is getting seen. Can you think of any other great activities that lend themselves to large groups? Please leave a comment!

December 8, 2016

My 8 Best Tips for Teaching Question Formulation

Being able to formulate questions is an important language skill that is also emphasized in the Speaking and Listening section of the Common Core Standards. Yet, many of our language delayed students lack the grammatical skills to ask basic questions using correct word order. I can’t even begin to tell you how often I hear things like, “We can play a game today?”, “What we doing today?”, “I doing a good job?” Questions that begin with auxiliaries (e.g., is/are, can, do/does/did, will, would/could) seem to be particularly challenging.

This post showcases my favorite ways to work on question formulation with students.
  1. Games: Games are always a great way to get student buy-in. Some good choices are “Guess Who? ”, “HedBanz”, and “Mystery Garden”, all of which involve having students ask questions to guess a mystery item.
  2.  Wh-Cards: Most of us own Wh-question cards that we use to work on answering Wh-questions. You can also use these to work on question formulation by showing your students the card with the answer and prompting them, “Ask me a Who/What/Where/When/Why question about ___.” For example, you could give them a card with “Milk” on it and prompting them, “Ask me a Who question about milk.” Correct responses would include “Who gives milk?” “Who likes to drink milk?” etc.
  3.   Sentence Questions: Have students formulate questions about specific sentence elements. Read a sentence including Who/What/Where/When/Why elements (e.g., On Saturday, Suzy went to the store to buy some milk) and have students ask specific questions about the elements. You could prompt them in multiple ways: "Ask me a Who question about this sentence" or "How can I ask find out who went to the store?"
  4. Magic 8 Ball: This is my favorite way to work on these pesky Yes/No questions that involve auxiliary reversal. You are probably familiar with the classic Magic 8 Ball toy. You ask a Yes/No question, shake the ball, and the answer will magically pop up. Kids absolutely LOVE this thing! It is also a great tool for working on articulation carryover.
  5.  20 Questions: Think up a random item (these Picture Cards by Language Builder work great for this). Students then have to guess the item by asking yes/no questions (e.g., Is it an animal? Is it red?) until they guess the item. You can also purchase this activity in a board game format: 20 Questions for Kids.
  6. Interview: Have students interview each other (or you!) to find out more about each other. You can pretend to be news reporters.
  7. Conversation Starters: Similar to the above suggestion, you can use pre-made conversation starters to have students ask each other a variety of questions. My Conversation Starters UNO works great for this purpose!
  8. Have Students be the Teacher: Kids love it when the roles are reversed. For this activity you could read a story and then have students come up with comprehension questions that you have to answer for students to see if the teacher was paying attention.
    I hope these tips are somewhat helpful. Working on question formulation isn't exactly exiting, but now you should some ideas of how to bring variety into teaching this skill.