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?