January 19, 2012

"Keep Your Brain in the Group"

It's January 19 and it's technically Winter. . .but as I write this, I am sitting on my back deck in sunny 70 degree weather while my two young boys dig in the dirt. One of the benefits of being a South Texas girl!

So, anyway.  . .After reading Kelley's post about "Whole Body Listening", I immediately thought of the next concept that we are CONSTATNLY trying to teach our students in new and meaningful ways. . ."Keep Your BRAIN In the Group".  Getting the other body parts to help you listen is a fairly concrete task:  body is still, mouth is closed/quiet, ears are listening (that one is automatic in most cases, right?). . .but the concept of "brain" in the group is one of the trickiest ones that I can get my students to understand, it is just such an abstract concept.  This, too, is an extention of the WBL concepts described in Michelle Garcia Winner's work, and this particular piece is found in her book called Think Social.

This curriculum is defintely our GO TOs for concepts and ideas, I would call it a part of our backbone!

During the days I spent with my previous co-teach partner (and wonderful special education teacher), Angela Cardenas, this visual was developed (originally it was hand-drawn stick figures and thought bubble, I only recently found an image to match it). . . .

This concept is one that is used constantly in my co-taught groups AND most of my other language therapy groups.  The concept of "topic maintenance" is not one that is reserved for any particular group of students, rather it is just a small part of the whole pragmatic communication skillset.  Now, we have expanded topic maintenance to include not only "speaking" on topic but also "thinking" on topic.  Also, I quickly learned that many of my students with language disorders had other needs, and difficulty maintaining attention is one the most common so I needed a quick reference to keep those kids in check!  When teaching this concept, I talk to the students help them to "think about what the speaker is saying" (create a picture in their mind) and "think about their own ideas and/or experiences that are similar to what the speaker is saying" (make connections using schema). 

As we continued to teach this concept, we could not ignore the fact that many brains were often "out" of the group, that was when the "brain check" was born!

When it seems that the group is moving in various indivdual directions (rather than in one group direction) we can stop and say "Brain Check!" and fill in each person's thought bubble.  If we find that someone's thoughts are "off topic", then we can quickly help get them back in the group.  Sometimes, all it takes is a "brain check" moment, and we are all back to thinking and speaking on topic.

I have also created this nifty handout to describe some ways to use these visual tools (some of which are described here), print this and add it to your toolbox if you wish!

Of course, it is just as easy to create these visuals "on the fly" by scribbling it out on a white board or blank piece of paper. . .We still do this, too!  But I also like to keep these posted in my therapy room and start my sessions by getting everyone's brain "IN" the group.



  1. I love MIchelle Garcia Winner! I've been able to see her presentations several times and always feel inspired!

  2. Love this! I too use Michelle Winner Garcia often and am grateful she is located in San Jose, CA. I am from Sacramento. I stumbled on your blog and found this great post. I am creating some materials for my older students (4th-6th) and one my activities is going to be on this topic. I like what you added with "brain check".

  3. I stumbled on your blog and found this great post! I love teaching social skills and pushing into the classroom to teach these concepts along side my colleagues. Thanks for the "brain check" technique. I really like it.

  4. Oops...I may have commented twice by accident. I thought my comment didn't go through! LOL! Delete one of them if I did!


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