September 26, 2013

What's in Ned's Head? -- Game Review

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. 

One of the newest additions to my Speech Room is the game What's In Ned's Head. I had stumbled across this game several times before during my online shopping sprees, but hesitated to buy it for several reasons: (1) I wasn’t sure what was so special about this game – I figured that I could just make it myself with a box / opaque container and random objects, (2) it looked like a pain to store in my already too small speech room. Well, it turns out I was wrong on both counts. I was fortunate enough to receive a generous game donation and Ned’s Head was among them. Now that I actually have it, I wish I had gotten it sooner! So for all of you who are on the fence about this game, I wanted to review it.

The game box contains the following items: Ned’s head, 15 silly objects, game cards, instructions. The premise is simple: All of the silly objects are placed in Ned’s head. Each player then receives a game card, which depicts one of the objects inside his head. When ready, everyone simultaneously yells, “What’s in Ned’s Head?” and sticks their hands through one of the four holes in his ears or nostrils (ewww!) to feel around for an item. Whoever finds their matching item first is the winner for that round. If a player pulls out the wrong item, their turn ends. If no one finds their item, Ned is the winner. You can also alter the rules to play the game by taking turns.

The silly items include gross things like a sticky sucker, a worm, an icky tooth, etc. The game also contains blank game cards, so you can add your very own yucky things.

The great thing about this game is that the rules are easily modifiable. I have already used Ned in several different ways to work on speech and language skills. Here are some ideas:

Group activity - my students loved this game!
Group Activity --- The very first time I used Ned, I pushed into our self contained 2nd/3rd grade classroom to do a group lesson targeting vocabulary. While all of the students in our SDC are verbal, their language skills are very low (average standard scores usually range in the 60s). I had students sit in a circle and explained that Ned was very silly and liked to put things in his nose and ear (we also addressed the danger of this sort of behavior). Because of his unsafe demeanor, I told the kids we had to help him get these items out of his head. We then took turns pulling items out. Before each turn, a student was required to request, “I want to put my hand in Ned’s ear/nose.” After pulling out an item, we targeted descriptive vocabulary, “That’s gross! That’s nasty! That’s disgusting!” The repetitive nature of this task was perfect for drilling in these vocabulary concepts. And the kids had a blast! Their anticipation ran high, as everyone wanted to put their hands in Ned’s head to see what weirdness might come out next.

Describing/Vocabulary --- Ned is also a great tool for working on describing skills. Without using the cards, you can have students take turns sticking their hands in Ned’s head and touching an item. They then need to describe how it feels (long, squishy, rough, smooth, etc.) and try to guess what it is. You can also put your own items in Ned’s head to work on this. 

Guessing a mystery item from clues --- You can hide an item in Ned’s head and then give clues about the item. Students will have to use the clues to guess what is inside. When they guess it, they can pull it out.

Articulation --- You can put your articulation cards inside Ned’s head (he is very roomy). On their turn, players get to pull out a card and practice their word.
You can play the game by the original rules and in the end determine which items contain the student’s target sound.

Memory --- Take turns pulling out the items. After a player pulls out an item, immediately hide it from view. When all of the items have been removed, see how many items your students can recall. For those that they cannot name, you could give clues (e.g., it is something black, it rhymes with ‘mat’) to see if they remember.

Special Surprise! --- You can use Ned’s head to hide special presents and treats for your students (might be a nice activity to do around the holidays) and have them pull them out. Not educational in nature, but fun.
My students thought Ned was so goofy-looking and silly, and they got a kick out of sticking their hands in his ears and nose (especially after I warned them not to get earwax/boogers on their fingers). It definitely beats a plain-looking container!! Ned is perfectly foldable and can be easily stored in the original box, so my original belief that he was going to be difficult to store was completely unfounded. I put the little items and cards in a Ziploc baggy for easy retrieval.  

I have a feeling that I will be using Ned a lot this year…he is a great addition to any Speech Room!

September 24, 2013

Using phoneme-specific workbooks to become more efficient

I am making a conscious effort to work smarter, not harder, this year. As part of this goal, I am also exploring ways to become more efficient. One thing that I realized always ate up a lot of time with my articulation groups was to get each student started with the right worksheet (find the right folder/book/worksheet, pull it out, practice, then put it back). This is of course especially detrimental to those kids who only get to see me for 30 minutes per week. I hate wasting their time! 
So what I came up with this year is the development of phoneme-based articulation books. Each of these books contains all my favorite worksheets for one particular speech sound and is organized by word position. I have trialed this idea for /r/.
The finished result - kids love the rainbow cover!
Here is how I did it:
  1. I gathered all of my favorite worksheets for the target sound.
  2. I then organized them by word-position
  3. I copied this packet front to back several times (4 times in my case)
  4. I found colored construction paper (multiple colors), trimmed it to regular paper size, and laminated it. These are my “dividers” (although you can use real ones if you have them.
  5. I separated the sound sections (e.g. initial, medial, final, blends) with the construction paper.
  6. I bound the book together.
  7. Do this for each book.  

Sample pages.


We are fortunate in that we have a spiral binding machine and a laminator at my school, so I was able to put this together quite nicely. However, a binder and dividers would work perfectly fine for this as well! That way you can add on to your book more easily as you get new materials.
The subsections contained in my /r/-books are as follows:
  • minimal pairs & /r/ at the syllable level
  • /r/ initial
  • /r/ final
  • /r/ medial
  • /r/ blends
  • vocalic /r/
  • mixed worksheets
  • short stories for reading practice
Each section gets increasingly more complex, starting with single word level worksheets and ending at the sentence level.
Now all I need to do when my /r/ kids arrive is pull out a copy of the book for each student, open it to the word-position they are working on, and have them start practicing. Because the dividers are different colors, I can quickly find the right section:

An additional perk is that my students really like these books! I have had several students ask if they could “take the book home” (and one of them absolutely hates practicing her /r/ sound!). I think the kids see it as a giant coloring book! But if it gets them to practice, it's all good.
These books have been an amazing tool so far, and my plan is to do this for other high-frequency sounds, as well. The initial making of the book took a while, but I think in the end it will be worth it. Give it a try!


September 20, 2013

Inexpensive Therapy Games

My absolutely favorite place to look for inexpensive therapy games is Goodwill. No matter which branch I go to they never disappoint. Not only do they have the best prices, but their games often seem to have most, if not all, the pieces still there (I often do open the boxes and take a peek, since the box usually states its contents somewhere). 
I went to a nearby Goodwill yesterday and made it out of there with 12 games for a total of $17.29. This was the absolute highlight of my week (and it wasn’t a bad week). Here is what I found:
All this for less than $20!
  • Apples to Apples Jr. (x2) – I’ve been looking for this one forever!! 
  • Pop-up Pirate (another one I’ve been searching for for quite a while)
  • Smartmouth – along the lines of Zingo, but with letters
  • Guess Where (couple of pieces missing, but still playable)
  • Connect 4 Spongebob edition 
  • Nab-It – a puzzle word game 
  • Surprise – a cute memory game by Gamewright
  • Ravensburger Lotto (if it’s a Ravensburger game, I auto-grab it) 
  • Where do they live? Puzzle game
  • Gobblet – I love games with wooden pieces! 
  • Guess Who – I have one, but I want to modify this one to work on specific skills

My lower-functioning SDC students already got to sample "Pop-up Pirate" today and they loved it! A great cause-effect toy. I think I can see some game reviews coming on this blog in the near future! 

Given the amazing prices, you can’t go wrong. I have found the best games (including out of print ones) at thrift stores! Make sure to stop by your local Goodwill some time this week :).

September 18, 2013

Book Review: “Lucy and the Bully” -- great for working on inferencing and problem-solving!

"Lucy and the Bully" - Official cover art

Title: “Lucy and the Bully”
Author / Illustrator: Claire Alexander
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company, 2008
Recommended age: Preschool – 1st grade

“Lucy and the Bully” is one of my all-time favorite books to read with my Social skills group when we address teasing and how to respond to getting teased. While the recommended age range states preschool to 1st grade, I have read this book to 5th graders and even they got into the story.
The story deals with Lucy, an artistic student in Ms. Goosie’s classroom. Her friends just love having her draw pictures for them. Only Tommy (incidentally the character is a bull – how cute is that?) does not seem to be impressed with Lucy’s talent and soon “accidents” such as a spilled water jar over Lucy’s artwork and a broken (okay, let’s say trampled) sculpture, begin to happen. The book delves into Lucy’s fear of being bullied and describes how she is bottling these incidents up inside without telling anyone. When she finally does break down and tell her mother, the problems are resolved by Tommy getting a talking to by his parents. In the end it turns out that Tommy was simply jealous of Lucy’s gift for drawing and they end up becoming friends.

While the resolution of this story is not necessarily the most realistic, it is still a wonderful story to read in order to address issues such as recognizing when others’ actions are purposely designed to hurt someone’s  feelings, what to do when being threatened, what to do when someone won’t stop teasing you,  and the motivation behind someone teasing.

This book is also great to work on inferencing, as a lot of the information is implied (for example, Lucy's things getting broken over the course of the week).

The illustrations are charming and colorful, which make this story even more attractive. I am really glad I bought this book, it has been a really nice resource to have. You could even use it to simply work on story comprehension with younger students.

I am posting a lesson plan with comprehension and inferencing questions that I wrote to accompany this book for FREE in my TpT store. Get it here.

I did check on and it looks like this book may be going out of print, however, there are some used copies available. I suggest grabbing it while you can!

~ Viola

September 16, 2013

Turning Colored Craft Sticks into an Articulation Game

Working for a school, there never seems to be a budget large enough to cover the cost for new speech therapy materials. And let’s face it – kids get bored with doing the same old activity over and over. This is especially true for our articulation kiddos, since speech sound practice is often just drill-and-kill. This is why I wanted to share a creative, inexpensive, and novel way to make a therapeutic articulation activity for less than $3. It takes some preparation, but you can get a lot of mileage out of this one once you have created it.

I am sure everyone is familiar with the game “Pick-up Sticks”, a game that tests visual and fine motor coordination. The rules are simple: a handful of sticks are scattered across the table, so that they cover each other. On their turn, a player carefully lifts and removes a stick without moving the sticks in the rest of the pile. Whoever has the most sticks at the end is the winner. This game can easily be adapted for speech therapy using multicolored craft sticks.
I got this idea from my master clinician (who incidentally is now my closest friend) when going through my school-based internship.
You will need:
  • multi-colored wooden craft sticks (I got mine at the dollar store)
  • a pen
  • phoneme word lists (e.g., from your Super Duper Artic Drill book
  • (Optional) crystal light containers

Sort the craft sticks by color and designate a specific sound for each color, for example /r/ for red, /s/ for yellow, etc. Next, write words from the word lists onto the craft sticks based on the colors you chose (e.g., write all the /r/ words on the red sticks). Repeat this process with different colors for a variety of articulation sounds. 
These are my /r/ sticks
When you are done, you can store the sticks in a crystal light container. You now have an articulation pick up stick game!
Store the sticks in empty Crystal Light containers
To play, you just dump the sticks onto the table and have students pick them up when it is their turn. After they choose a stick, they have to practice the target word x number of times (I make them practice even if the pile moves and they have to return the stick).

If you have a group of students who are working on different sounds, you can mix two colors together. Simply instruct the students to “only pick the orange sticks.”

You can also just use the sticks as word practice (instead of artic cards). Just have the student pull a random stick from the container and have them practice. Cheap and easy, just the way school-based SLPs like it!

September 14, 2013

The Many Uses for Pacing Strips

Pacing strips -- a little scrap of paper with a straight line of boxes on it. Most of us know what they are and have probably used them at one point or other in therapy. Most people think of pacing strips as a tool for fluency therapy, but I really like using them to work on other aspects of speech and language, as well, including speaking rate, breathing, MLU, clear enunciation, and improving syntax. I thought I would share some of these ideas.

When I use a pacing strip in a session, the first thing I do is to tape it onto the table in front of the student, to prevent them from playing with it. Sometimes I will tape another strip above theirs so I can use it to model what I want them to do. I have created several designs (they are available in my TpT store here) of varying lengths and color schemes. The last box on the strip has a special design on it, which serves a purpose when working on specific skills.

An example of a pacing strip -- available at my TpT store
To use them, you have students tap out words (or syllables) as they speak, to help them slow down and/or to increase awareness of their expressive output. As a rule of thumb, 1 square = 1 word.

One of my students is using a pacing strip.
I have used pacing strips to work on the following areas:
***SPEAKING RATE***: To encourage students to monitor their speaking rate, have the student tap a square as they say a word.  This will make it difficult for them to "jumble" words together. This is usually the classic use for these strips in order to increase speaking fluency.
***BREATHING***: Teach appropriate breathing by instructing the student to tap out words as they speak and take a breath / inhale when they get the end of the strip (e.g., "Take a breath when you get to the star/happy face").
***MLU***: Expand sentences by encouraging students to get all the way to the target icon! For example, if your target sentence length is 3 words per utterance, use the strip containing 3 icons. Encourage the student to “get to the star/happy face”.
***ENUNCIATION***: I use these strips with my hard to understand kiddos (e.g., Down Syndrome). It helps them slow down their speech which in turn can improve intelligibility.
***SYNTAX***: You can also increase correct sentence structure by modeling correct sentences on a pacing board and having the student imitate.  
Any other ideas? Please leave a comment!

September 12, 2013

UNO Moo - Game Review

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.
One of the very first games I bought when I started working in the schools was UNO MOO by Mattel. I think a lot of SLPs are unaware of what a great resource this game is for therapy, so I wanted to write a review and share some ideas on how to modify the play to target different goals.

Although UNO Moo is advertised as a preschool game, I have to say that even my 5th graders still enjoy it. The game consists of a barn house that is filled with a variety of colorful round plastic animals (dog, chicken, sheep, pig, cow, skunk) and white farmer pieces. Each player starts out with five pieces that are randomly picked from the barn house and put behind the haystack barrier so that the other player can’t see. Another animal is placed in the barn house window. 
The premise of the game is simple: Be the first one to return all of your animals to the barn. You get rid of your animals by matching either color or animal type to the one that is sitting in the barn window. For example: If the animal in the window is a green dog, you can either play any green animal or a dog of a different color. You can also play a white farmer anytime (compare to a “Wild Card” in the original UNO card game). But beware: Skunks are prowling the premises, as well! If a Player A places a skunk in the window, Player B has to pick two animals from the barn and add them to their pile (compare to a “Draw +2” card in the original UNO card game).
This game is wonderful for teaching children to play rule-based turn taking games, and is also extremely versatile for working on different skill areas for speech and language. Below are some ideas for how to utilize this game in therapy:

Goal area 1: Matching
Playing the game in its original sense helps kids with their matching skills. Often my students will only focus on the animal’s color, but forget that they can match like animals, as well.

Goal area 2: Sorting
You can use the little animals to work on sorting skills: Have the student group animals by color or by animal type. Or have him sort the game pieces into groups so that each group contains at least one animal of each type.

Goal area 3: Problem Solving / Planning Ahead
This game also promotes simple problem solving skills: If a student has a farmer, they have to plan when to play the piece. I encourage students to think about, “Do I really want to play my farmer when I have another animal match?”

Goal area 4: Location Concepts
This game may just be worth buying to work on this area! Since the barn has a definitive front and backside, it makes it a perfect tool to work on prepositions. You can prompt the student to, “Put the pig next to the barn, in front of the barn, behind the barn,” etc. You can also increase the complexity by adding additional linguistic information: “Put the red sheep between the green chicken and the yellow dog.”

Goal area 5: Following Directions
Similar to the previous suggestion, you can use the animals to work on following directions of all complexities. For example, “Before you put the green dog on top of the barn, put the yellow chicken next to the blue cow.” Wow-ee if your kiddos can master this, they will ace the Concepts & Following Directions subtest on the CELF-4!

Goal area 6: Articulation
This one takes some prep work, but is well worth it. Here is what you will need: Small Avery circular labels of assorted colors and an index card. Place an Avery sticker on the bottom of each animal. Then, place a sticker of each color onto a note card and write the words “Sound,” “Word,” and “Sentence” next to each (if you have more than three colors, you can also add “Phrase” or “Conversation”). 
Preparing the game pieces
Once the setup is complete, give a student a word list with their target sound. Students may then begin playing the game adhering to the original game rules. When it is their turn, they will turn over the animal before placing it in the barn window and check the color of the label. Then they will match the color to the note card instructions and say their target sound either at the sound, word, or sentence level. And the whole time they will think they are playing a game! Speech therapy success!

Goal area 7: Phonology

If you have a student working on phonological processes you can use the animals as visual representatives for a sound. For example if you are targeting final consonant deletion and are practicing CVC words, you can put three animals in front of the student (maybe the first two of the same color, the last of a different color) to cue them into the word-final sounds.

Goal area 8: Phonological Awareness

Similar to the previous suggestion, you can use the animals as visual support when working on manipulating words. For example, when working on phoneme substitution, each color could represent a different sound.
Any other ideas about how to use UNO Moo? Please leave a comment!

September 10, 2013

Fading verbal prompts to redirect behavior in the Speech Room

"Johnny, please don't interrupt, it's my turn to talk."
"Stay in your chair."
"Please don't play with that."
"No, it's Emma's turn."

I'm sure you are all familiar with the above verbal redirective prompts. We use them all the time in our Speech rooms to elicit desirable student behavior so that they are fully able to access our curriculum. I know I use these types of prompts a lot... especially because we have a 2nd-3rd grade Special Day Class on our campus and attending for extended periods of time is difficult for many of my students. As part of my training I also know that these verbal prompts are intrusive and do not necessarily aid generalization. To address this issue I am trying a new strategy this year: putting a visual reminder slap-dab on the edge of the Speech table.

- I chose six target behaviors that I wanted my students to adhere to.
- Using these target behaviors I made 3x3' icons in Boardmaker, glued them onto a construction paper strip, and laminated it.
- I then taped this strip onto the edge of my table (although I am thinking of reinforcing it with contact paper for added durability).
- I went over these rules with all of my students.

Now instead of redirecting verbally, I merely point to the icon that reminds the student of the expected behavior. So if Timmy is fiddling with the therapy cards, I may point to the "Quiet Hands" icon.
At first I thought the icons would be distracting to some students, but it hasn't really been a problem so far. This system of course works better with some students than with others, but I like having the visuals so readily accessible. It's definitely worth a try!
- Viola

September 9, 2013

So why am I turning to blogging?

If anyone had asked me four weeks, nay - even two weeks!  ago, whether I ever envisioned myself blogging on the internet, I would have given them a funny look. Okay, truth be told – I wasn’t even reading any blogs. But then the new school year started! I was brutally yanked out of the lethargic summer break stupor and had to remember that I actually have to work for a living. As usual, the year started off with a bang. Overwhelmed (just a tad) by new incoming new students on IEPs, an ever-growing caseload, new challenging behaviors, returning students who had clearly regressed over the summer, and a constant personal drive to transform these kiddos into competent communicators, I turned to the internet for novel therapy ideas and inspiration.

And I was greeted by a wealth of creativity in the form of SLP blogs and websites oozing great activities, ideas, and motivation. Using information from these sources, I made it successfully through the first week of therapy! This experience made me realize what a great bunch of people our profession brings forth – we are all unique in our creativity and each of us has valuable information to bring to the table. And I am one of them! So, I started this blog, with the following goals in mind:
  • Share and exchange therapy ideas
  • Provide inspiration and motivation to fellow SLPs – we are not alone, we’re all in the same boat facing similar challenges
  • Use this blog as a springboard for personal and professional growth
  • Connect with new people (something I am admittedly not very good at)

We are not in an easy or straightforward field of practice, but we’re in this together. Even if one of my entries helps just one person – Mission accomplished!