December 11, 2012

Simple Speech ~ "The Gingerbread Man" : Activities to Target Speech, Language and Literacy

Wow! This semester in school is flying by, we only have 7 more days until Winter Break! I feel like I have been drowning in paperwork and evaluations and my student caseload keeps growing! Thankfully, we are in one of my favorite times of year, the Holiday Season!

Because I work with such a diverse population of students and cultural backgrounds, I really have to focus on choosing diverse activities that allow us to celebrate the season in many different ways. My favorite book to read this time of year is "The Gingerbread Man". It's a fun story about something that we all enjoy: COOKIES! This year, I have collected MANY versions of this story to enjoy with my students!

The goals that I target during these activities include the following:
Articulation/phonology: multi-syllable words/phrases; final consonants; phonemes: "dge", /f/, /k/
Receptive language: Recognizing animals, actions, positions
Expressive Language:  Core Vocabulary--"In, Out, Go, Run, He, She, They"; Answer Who, What Doing, Where and Why Questions; Problem solving; Inference; Predicting; Story Grammar; Sequence; Re-telling stories, Compare/Contrast
Pragmatic Language: Feelings/emotions, Non-literal language/Metaphors ("Sly as a Fox")

I started by reading this version: "The Gingerbread Man". In this version, the fox tricks the gingerbread man by telling him, "Come closer, I can't hear you". The kids love this one because we all YELL together like the gingerbread man, "I have run away from . . . .!" and then we list all of the characters.

Then I read this version of the book:

I talked to the students about "folk tales" and why there are different versions of this story. The second version of the story has more details about the process for making gingerbread and has new vocabulary like "sugary glaze". This version also has different characters from the first version of the story.

While reading each story, we focused on the articulation and phonology goals using the repetitive text "Run, Run as fast as you can, you can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!" Then, after reading each story (usually during the second session), we retold the story using this visual that I created: Retell the Story. This is a great tool that we used to identify the Story Parts and practice Sequence skills. This is also helpful for identifying details and events from the a story.

After retelling each version of the story. We were worked on compare/contrast of the stories. I use a simple Venn diagram to compare/contrast the stories. I found a new idea on how to do this on Pinterest using paper plates. What a great idea! Here is the link to the post: Paper Plate Venn Diagrams

The kids have been so engaged that I sought out many more versions of this story and have them laid out. They ask every day which book we will read next! So, we also read these stories and completed the same kinds of activities. Here they are:

The kids have done such a great job and have been really engaged in pointing out similarities and differences while we have read the books. I have been using these activities with Pre-K through 2nd grade students. I even used the first version of this story in my youngest pre-school group. I found lots of Gingerbread Man activities on various websites, here are some of my favorites!

Sequence pictures and a mini book:

Gingerbread Man themed games and websites:

YouTube Links for Gingerbread Man story and How to Make Gingerbread cookies:

I really like the video "Gingerbread Men Recipe Demonstration". It's kind of long, so I fast-forwarded many parts, but it was great for my students to see the process for making gingerbread cookies. Many of them thought that decorating and eating were the only steps! The last activity that I did with the kids was to make cookies with them. I had them list the steps for making the cookies and I purchased some Gingerbread Cookie Mix. We did this hands on activity to complete the recipe, bake the cookies, decorate, and EAT (everyone's favorite).

If you have students with diet restrictions or have limitations in making real cookies, we also had lots of fun using the Cookie Doodle app on the iPad. Using this app, you and your students can walk through the steps of mixing the ingredients, baking, and decorating. It's fun, too!

I hope you have fun using some of these Simple Speech "holiday themed" activities with your students! What are your favorite books or activities to use during the holiday season?


November 4, 2012

Easy Lessons to Target Play Skills & Sharing

Orlanda and I have spent a considerable amount of time over the past 6 weeks in our collaborative speech/social thinking groups working with our "littles" on basic play skills and sharing. We have two small groups (4 kids each) that we needed to target these skills. One group is made up solely of Kinder students who have significant speech and language delays (both articulation and pragmatic language) and ADHD. The second group is made up of Kinder and 1st grade students who all have pragmatic language deficits, but are "higher" than the first group. The students in this group have Autism Spectrum Disorder and Speech Impairment.

We grouped the lessons in this unit into indoor play skills and outdoor play skills.
During the outdoor play lessons we listed different activities that the kids like to play outside and which were solitary activities vs activities they do with others. After choosing a few of the most common activities on the lists, we taught the explicit rules and defined the "hidden rules" for those activities. We read portions of The Social Skills Picture Book by Jed Baker, PhD that related to outdoor play.
We then took the kids outside to the Kinder playground when no other students were outside to practice taking turns with the balls and playing a simple game that required joint attention. The kids did a great job.

Next, we began to target indoor play skills. We specifically wanted to make sure to address the kinds of activities the kids engage in Kindergarten and 1st grade "centers". We again made lists of activities they did indoors and divided them into solitary vs activities done with others. We read applicable parts from The Social Skills Picture Book again and discussed "hidden rules" for playing with others during centers. We spent several sessions watching and discussing the lessons on sharing and taking turns from Playtime with Zeebu. The kids loved Zeebu and it provides a great anchor to remind students to share in the inclusion setting.
We spent a session reading a picture book on sharing. For the Kinder students with less language sophistication, we read Will Sheila Share? by Elivia Savadier. For the combo Kinder/1st grade group, we read I Am Extremely Absolutely Boiling by Lauren Child.

Finally, we spent several sessions practicing sharing and indoor play. During the first session, we used wooden trains and train tracks (which worked really well since there is an example of sharing/not sharing with trains in the Zeebu video). During the second session we used Legos. Before the first session we spent time teaching various phrases that could be used to initiate play and to help facilitate sharing using this visual.

When we played with train tracks I initially "controlled" access to the tracks handing out one or two to each child and then prompting them to use the scripts to ask for more from me or from a peer. When we did the Lego activity, Orlanda gave each child a small pile of Legos that they eagerly started building with individually. Sure enough, they soon wanted more. They were prompted to ask a friend for a piece. Ya gotta love a little sabotage! :) We do have a few students who we wanted to target accepting "no thanks" from their peer for an answer while we also had one particular student who tends to get run over by his peers and we wanted to help him know it was ok to say "no thanks" at times. This led to some interesting interactions!

I have worked on generalizing the skills from small group to the inclusion classroom by using this powerpoint social story. I just load it on one of the classroom computers in the specific classrooms and prompt the kids to read it (either independently or with me) before center time. Feel free to download it for your use!

I hope that you will find the lesson ideas and tools to be useful with your students.  ~ Kelley

November 1, 2012

Welcome to the Vocabulary Parade!

I'll admit I've been in a bit of a funk this past month -- too many obligations, too little time. I know that is a universal feeling out there among educators at one point or another in the year.

Yesterday, however, we had a great activity at school that pumped my enthusiasm back up and I'm already brainstorming ideas about how to incorporate instruction in idioms and vocabulary next year with my students. Instead of the usual Halloween based events, our school hosted our first annual Vocabulary Parade. This idea was based on the book Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster by Debra Frasier. Our students were asked to choose a vocabulary word and create a costume that would define that word. We then all gathered in front of the school and were led by the high school drum line in a parade. It was absolutely adorable!

I just thought I would share the costumes Orlanda and I came up with. Orlanda's word was "communicate" (of course!) and mind was "deduce" (a la You are a Social Detective by Michelle Garcia Winner & Pamela Crooke). Next year I'm on the hunt for a yellow trench coat!  ~ Kelley

October 22, 2012

"Halloween" Themed Books AND Core Vocabulary!

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and it lends itself to so many great activities for speech and language learning and functional communication use. I have been working with several teachers (including my parnter, Kelley) to spread CORE vocabulary into many classrooms, and this week I have found a few books to help me combine these two FUN concepts.
The first story I used came from an OLD book, "Storytime: Holiday Fun" by Pati King-DeBaun (1993). The story I pulled from this book is called "Stirring the Brew". I have had this tool in my "toolbox" since my first year as an SLP (I actually found a note attached from my CF supervisor!--Thanks, Penny!) Unfortunately this book is now out of print, so I couldn't find it to share. I DID find a photo of it online though! Here it is:
The concept of this story is simple and REPETITIVE. Each page turn shows a witch stirring the brew and then adding various items such as cats, ghosts, bats, spider webs, pumpkins and goblins. This would be a fairly easy concept to make on your own. I LOVED this book for TWO reasons. . . 1)It is repetitive and by the 2nd page, even my kiddos with limited verbal skills were singing the carrier phrase "stirring and stirring the brew, P. U!" and 2) There were many opportunities to use the CORE word "in". While I read this story to my students, I also had a "cauldron" that I found on sale at Target (I found it near the traditional "pumpkin" buckets). I had pictures of each item from the story and a spoon for each student. I also had large picture symbols of the core word that I was working on with the students "in" and later we added "out".

I also found a pre-made board from that depicts some images to pair with this story. Visit the link HERE .

Another book I used last week to incorporate CORE vocabulary was the story "Big Pumpkin" by Erica Silverman. Fortunately I was able to find MANY activities online to go with this book.
For this story, we focused on the CORE words "ON" and "OFF". I started by practicing ON and OFF using small objects and large blocks. I also made large picture cards to depict the "symbol" to associate with each word.

I love this story because it is repetitive with carrier phrases and adds a new character to each page. My kids especially loved when I would "change" my voice while reading each page. This story also leant itself to many great questions and vocabulary words, and of course, story elements. For my youngest students, I used picture symbols to help them focus on the the concept "ON". Our carrier phrase was "the (witch) pulled, the pumpkin stayed ON". I also found these awesome links with visuals to add to the story activities!
  • Vocabulary cards HERE
  • Literacy activities, coloring sheets, sequence cards, & craft activities HERE
  • Poem, Story Re-tell, and Book report HERE
  • Boardmaker Story board and picture symbols HERE

The last story that I have used this month to work on CORE vocabulary is "The Little Old Lady Who Wasn't Afraid of Anything" by Linda Williams.

I love this story for MANY reasons in addition to the CORE vocabulary that is targeted. The carrier phrase that I focused on with core words was "SHE said, I am not afraid of YOU". The anticipation in this book made it very exciting to read and re-tell many times! I created this visual to teach the core words "YOU", "I", "SHE" and "HE", all of which can be used with this book and it's repetitive text.

I also found many other amazing online activities to pair with this story!
  • Literacy, Art, and Circle Time activities HERE
  • Story board and picture symbols HERE
  • Boardmaker Communication Board HERE
This school year, I have added many new students to my caseload and many new students with limited verbal skills and/or poor general intelligibility of speech. My "knee-jerk" response was to GO CORE with more students. If you have not yet gone "CORE", I encourage you to research this topic and you will see some pretty amazing results.

Thank you Gail Van Tatenhove for your amazing work in this area!


September 29, 2012

Game Time in Speech Therapy: "Guess What I Am"

Who likes to have fun?! We do! We do!

When working with children with various types of abilities such as in speech/language therapy and in special education, we are constantly trying to keep it motivating. "Game Time" is a great way to work on MANY speech, language, and social communicaiton/interaction skills. We are NO STRANGER to Game Time!

I came accross this game "Guess What I Am" a few years ago while I was observing a speech therapy session of an SLP that I supervised. It's made by Techno Source and I found my copy at Toys R Us for about $12 (pretty sure I had a sale or coupon deal!) I have also seen it on

The game comes with cardboard characters with a large whole cut out for a face. All of the characters in this game are either animals or people. The game also comes with tokens and a die. The die is "non-traditional" and has multiple sides with the options "Ask", "Guess", "Lose a Turn", "Reverse", and "Wild".

The game itself is pretty simple. Students choose a cardboard character (without peeking) and place it in front of their face (this makes EVERYONE laugh at how silly everyone looks). Then the student has to ask a variety of quesitons in order to guess what they are. If you choose to follow the game format in the instructions, the die dictates whether you get to "ask" or "guess". The best part about this game is the variety of ways I have found to play it (aside from the way the instructions are written). Afterall, I really like to get the best "bang for my buck" when I'm choosing materials for speech sessions! Here are some ways we play and the goals we target:

Semi-Traditional #1: The traditional way of playing is great for basic asking questions and describing. I change it slightly and only have one student as the "character" at a time, and the others are the "clue givers" (in this version, I omit the use of the die). Many of the students are working on asking questions. Some are working on formulating questions with correct grammar, while some are working on figuring out what to ask so they can gain more information. I also require them to direct their question to a particular student by saying each person's name. This also allows for embedding social skills such as making eye contact, responding to your name, turn taking, showing attentive listening, and responding to questions. I also have the "character" recall and re-tell all of their clues after each question, and I usually require that they ask at least 2 questions before making a guess. Having the students recall each clue really helps their reasoning skills in this game. I found that when students do this, it helps improve their reasoning skills, because otherwise, they continued making guesses with little regard to the information they were given. For some students, it's also helpful to write down their clues or pair them with simple pictures to help their memory. Describing skills are also important and the "clue givers" are expected to use good descriptive vocabulary to provide "clues" to their friends. Since some of my students have a harder time with this than others, I created this tool to help them formulate questions and ideas: Guess What I Am--Visual Tool.

Semi_Traditional #2: In this format of the game, often with older students (2nd grade or higher), we use the die to keep it interesting and add a competetive edge. I also like to require this age group to limit their quesitons to "yes" or "no" type questions. This type of questioning really makes the game more challenging as they have to filter through "possible" descriptors of their characters. With this age group, we talk about how to "funnel" through questions by starting with broad categorizations and then narrowing down the options based on the responses of the "clue givers".

Additional social skills that we target using this game include: following rules and "cheating", identifying thoughts/feelings of peers when rules "are" or "are not" followed, whole body listening, and topic maintenance.

Overall, this is a great game to have on your shelf, and I definitely recommend it! What other ways do you think you would use this game? I'd love to hear your ideas!


September 18, 2012

My Favorite Lesson Planner

I've never been able to use a lesson plan book because there are not enough compartments in the day. I teach anywhere from 6-10 lessons a day depending on the schedule. I've tried various ways of lesson planning in the past, but I finally found a system last year that worked well for me. I created a template from a simple Word document so I can add or delete columns each semester as needed.

This year I had to add a second page. I now have one page with academic lessons...
and one for Social Thinking Groups...
I hole punch the pages each week and hang them with notebook rings on the front of an open file box.

The box contains info that I need at my fingertips. I like this system because it keeps the lesson plans within sight. Since Orlanda and I co-teach social groups, she can also view the lesson plans if I am held up with a student issue.

If you'd like to use this template, feel free to download it here.
I'd love to hear about how you write your lesson plans. Please share your ideas in the comments!

Please join as a follower if you haven't already! 

September 11, 2012

Tips for Organizing Small Classroom Spaces ~ Part Two!

This year I moved out of my spacious, mansion-like classroom....
                  Which looked a little like this...

Ok... maybe not, but in my fond memories I had unlimited storage and didn't have to store things in stacks like the leaning tower of Pisa. 

With our school growing quickly and bursting at the seams I knew it was only a matter of time until I needed to move out of the big classroom and find a "cozier" space that would work. I offered to move into the OT/PT combo room that was currently used as a PTA workroom. 

I spent a lot of time this summer purging and organizing materials and hauling a few storage shelves and cabinets up to school. Thankfully, there is a small alcove outside my room where I was able to fit the shelves and cover them with curtains to mask the materials. 

The classroom itself has an interesting layout. The "bigger" side is about 10x12 feet and adjoins a smaller space with a glass wall. I decided to make the bigger side the academic side and create a Sensory Center in the smaller side.

Because the space is so small, I wanted to be very careful to keep the distraction level low by limiting the amount of "visual noise". I deliberately left as much off the walls in the academic side as I could -- only keeping up the alphabet strip, number strips, expectations poster, the size of the problem visual, and the posters that define expected/unexpected behavior.

Here's what it looks like as you enter the room...

I created the layout by considering "zones". As you enter the room, I created a new behavior reinforcement system on the side of the file cabinet. I love racing, so I decided we would race to the treasure box. The kids cut out and colored race cars, I laminated them, and placed an adhesive magnet on the back.

In the academic portion, I have a small table with the fridge and microwave on top. Under the blue skirt I have hidden the Playmobil School set. We use the school for role plays and problem solving. My desk is to the right with a curtain over my bookshelf to decrease distractions. I strive this year to keep the piles under control on my desk. I can't say I'm being very successful so far!

I didn't take a picture of the school set under the curtain, but if you ever get a donation of money this is so worth purchasing! I totally lucked into getting it.

Because I didn't want to have the walls get too "busy" and because I teach so many different grade levels, I decided not to put up a word wall or other large anchor charts. Instead, I use a wooden paper towel holder on the table and put all the anchor charts in sheet protectors. It allows me to immediately display what we need to view for a lesson without the visual noise. I found the idea on Pinterest - of course! We have also created personal word walls that are stored in folders. This way I can customize for different grade levels and the kids tend to use them more effectively by having them right in front of their view without having to track from their seat to the wall.

The sink area is the only built in area in the classroom. I use the cabinet door to display the size of the problem visual. I added the short curtain on the door because the kids tend to be distracted by the traffic in the hallway. It is still low enough that adults can look in the room.

You can see the glass wall along the computer side of the room. I added white sheer curtains to decrease distractions while still allowing the light in from the one small window.
You can see the white panel curtain that divides the two spaces on the right. I hung a donated curtain panel on a shower curtain rod and created a tie back with ribbon and notebook rings which can be hung on a 3M removable hook. 

I keep the curtain closed to indicate when the area is "closed" or when I have groups with especially distractable students.

Here is the view from the doorway into the Sensory Center.
Yes, the fabric on my homemade Superflex bulletin board is sagging. I need to make time to haul out the tall ladder and fix it. There were no bulletin boards in my rooms, so I created this one from lightweight materials from Home Depot. I'll do a post soon on what to use to make your own bulletin boards.  The shelves hold fine motor activities.

Here is the view of the tent and the Learning Zone area...

Here is the side with gross motor equipment. The red stool hides video games that are used as motivators for specific students. The white wire cart contains puppets and stress balls. The hippity hop sits on top of the unit.

Here is a quick view of the bookshelf, tv for video games, peapod, and trampoline. This is the lone window in the space. It looks out on the kinder playground. You can see my favorite element in my space -- my student created Social Detective. Love him!

So many of us teach in small spaces. I hope some of these ideas get you thinking about how to reduce visual noise in your space. ~ Kelley

September 8, 2012

Tips for Organizing Small Classroom Spaces & Therapy Rooms

Do you need help for going from this:

to this?

Maybe we can help!

If you are a special education teacher or a speech language pathologist working in a school setting, then you are probably no stranger to working in small or tight quarters. In many cases, specialized teachers or therapists have to share or borrow spaces to serve students. Our experiences over the years have really shaped how we set up our space in ways that we feel are vital to the success of our students, whether we are working in a "broom closet" or have an entire classroom to ourselves! We've put together this list of "tips" to consider when preparing your small work space, we hope you find it helpful!

#1~Everything in your space should be PURPOSEFUL and USEFUL to you and your students. We are guilty of falling into the trap of purchasing something for our workspace because of how "cute" it is or how it looks to represent our "style" (or sometimes because it is a great "deal"). However, as the needs of our students are often changing, we have learned to "Let Go" of some of those miscellaneous items in our rooms. Now, don't get us wrong, we have certain items that are personal (like family photos) or items that contribute to our sanity (such as that picture of our toes in the sand from the summer to remind us of the peace we felt in paradise). BUT, these personal items are minimal and reserved for the "student free zone" in our space. Here is a photo of the "student free zone" in the speech room.

The biggest challenge of this task was actually determining "where" in the room this space would go. We have both had challenges in our spaces of where to place ourselves so that we make our space feel bigger and so that we can see the door and no one can creep up on us! It was also important to make it seem "un-interesting" so that students wouldn't be distracted and want to spend time in that space. Of course, the occasional wanderer travels into this zone and is promptly redirected to a "student friendly" spot.

#2~Consider reducing the amount of "Visual Noise" that is present in the space.
We all have those VISUAL TOOLS that we NEED on the wall, bulletin board, or within arms reach. The REAL question is, do they ALL need to be hanging in our rooms at the same time? Is there a better, more efficient, and less visually distracting way to access these tools? How can we prioritize the tools that are necessary for the majority of our students? These are just a few of the questions we ask ourselves when we make a choice to hang something on the wall, whether temporarily or permanently. After all, the majority of our students learn best when verbal information can be paired with VISUAL information.

We encourage you to think about ways to promote student focus and attention toward your target concept, especially when your specialized instruction "time" is limited. We highly encourage the use of visuals to assist when teaching, but we have also learned that many of the students that we work with have a hard time focusing their attention and/or have difficulty learning in an environment with too much visual stimulation. 

In the speech room, the "permanent" visuals are now limited to The Whole Body Listening Visual, The Speech Target, the Good Speech Posture Poster the Speech Lab visual schedule. I also made a small poster that says "Everything we Say and Do in the Speech Room must be Rated E or G" (some of my students were getting a little out of hand!). Find it Here.

Here are some photos of the visuals hanging in our rooms:

This incentive system is located on the wall BEHIND where the students sit.
So, they sit with their backs to this board, and that REALLY helps!

Another good idea for decreasing visual noise is to cover open book shelves. As I visited many classroom websites, this has been a fairly common theme. In the speech room, this was accomplished with curtains and tension rods. We also focused on choosing fabric that wasn't too visually stimulating. With this simple idea, the "game" shelf (that every student loves to browse in) went from this:

to this,

This was the "old" curtain. . .

to this!

Now, this shelf is MUCH LESS visually distracting, and the
students are less likely to inquire about the contents of the shelf.

Decreasing the "visual noise" in this space has probably been the most NOTICEABLE change. This year, everyone (students included) who walks into the speech room has either said that the room feels "bigger", "calmer", or "welcoming". Many have also asked if I took anything out of the room. All that changed was removing unnecessary visuals from the wall and moving them to a place where I can pull them when needed, and changing the "coverings". What a difference it has made!

#3-Consider creating "Zones" for different types of activities.
We already mentioned the "student free" zone; every teacher and therapist needs one! But, we also have zones in the speech therapy room for different types of learning and different types of learners.

The speech therapy room is divided into three main "zones": The Flower Table, The Carpet, and The Computer.

The Flower Table is where most of the speech therapy takes place for the school-aged population. This is where ALL kinds of therapy happens from articulation games, to story telling/retelling, to Play Dough play. This table is AWESOME! It has space for 6 people and offers lots of space for all kinds of activities.

The Carpet is where the majority of speech therapy takes place for the 3-5 year old population including story-based therapy, play-based therapy, and movement activities. The carpet is small, about 16 X 20, so as not to overtake the small therapy space. It's just enough room for 2-4 small children. The rolling easel pictured also has a felt board on the other side. The Rolling stool is great because you can move around quickly and are close the the floor, and it even has a little tray underneath for storing materials.

We recognize that many small spaces don't often have enough room for a teacher zone, a table, AND a carpet area; however, we highly encourage you to consider your population and the amount of "free movement" space that they might need. In such cases, maybe we can combine an area such as the teacher space and table space.

Although it's not pictured here, The Computer is very useful for lots of therapy activities such as watching video models, engaging in educational & motivational computer programs, and using PowerPoint presentations for articulation practice or auditory bombardment.


We hope you find these simple tips helpful when setting up, organizing or re-organizing your small space! We hope to have pictures up soon of Kelley's special education room where we collaboratively teach many of our students. We'd also love to hear from you! What have you used in your small space to maintain an inviting and functional learning environment?