I am a speech language pathologist (SLP) in the Edmonds School District. I work at Maplewood Parent Coop.

This blog is intended as a resource for parents and teachers of the students I serve. Take a look around!

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no

Our CORE word this week in Teacher Norma’s classroom is the word “NO”.

You may wonder why we are teaching students to say “no.” Isn’t that word something we wish students would say less often? Why should we encourage students to use such a negative word?

There are many reasons to teach the word “no.” One of the big reasons is because every person, including students who have significant disabilities, or who are using AAC, have the right to say “no” to actions, objects, or activities which they do not want. In the Communication Bill of Rights, developed by the National Joint Committee for the Communication Needs of Persons with Severe Disabilities in 2016, the right to say “no” is the third item on the list of rights. It is a basic human right.

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Another reason to teach students how to say “no” is because when students do not know how to say “no”, they will use behavior to tell us “no” in other ways. Tantrums, aggression, throwing, biting, hitting, shutting down, passive resistance, and crying are only some of the ways that students will tell us “no” without words. Students deserve to be taught socially appropriate ways to say “no” using words, so that they do not need to resort to the anti-social behavioral ways to communicate their rejection.

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How do you teach students to say “no”? “No” often does not make sense without the option to say “yes” as well. One of my most-used apps is the Yes/No app by I Can Do Apps. It is a very simple app with only one screen – a large “yes” button, and a large “no” button. The app has voice-output, so it says “yes” or “no” when each button is touched. The app is FREE.

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One of the easiest questions to start with for yes/no is the question “Do you want _______?”. Asking students about their personal preferences is more concrete than other kinds of yes/no questions, and gives them the ability to make a choice, and to reject things they don’t want. Start with one thing you know your child likes (food items, toys, etc), and one thing you know they do not want (undesirable foods, toys). Offer one, and then the other. If your child pushes away the thing they don’t want, you can model using their communication mode to reject. You could say “Oh! It looks like you mean “no” [touch the AAC, use the “no” sign, say the word]”. If it is appropriate, help your child to indicate “no” by touching/signing/saying “no”, and then immediately remove the thing they don’t like. When you offer the thing they do want, repeat the same prompts for the word “yes.”

Another way to teach the word “no” is using books! There are several which are particularly good.

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The book “Where’s Spot?” is a classic lift-the-flap book, where a mother dog looks for her puppy. Is Spot under the rug? No! Is Spot inside the clock? No! Is Spot in the basket? Yes!

“No, David!” is another classic, written by David Shannon as an autobiographical children’s book. In the book, David does naughty thing after naughty thing, and every page he is told “NO, David!”. By the end of the book David is in tears, but his mother reassures him that yes, she still loves him. I love this book for the many opportunities to practice saying “no”!

One more book that gives many chances to use “no” is the book “Is Your Mama a Llama?” On each page, Lloyd the Llama asks one of his friends if their mama is a llama. Every page until the last one, his friends say “no”. So many chances to practice!

Little Stories icon

Here is something totally new [for this blog]: An APP REVIEW! Over winter break I received a copy of Little Stories Pro, the newest app from one of my favorite app designers Little Bee Speech.

I already own the Articulation Station Pro app, which I use regularly. It is my favorite articulation app, both for the beautiful graphic design, but also because it has clearly been created by someone who knows what SLPs need from an app, and has a mind for details. So I was interested when I learned that Heidi Hanks (the SLP who founded Little Bee Speech) was releasing a new app focused on stories.

OVERVIEW

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This app has 82 stories of 100 words each. The stories can be sorted by target phoneme, theme, or reading level. Each story has a phonemic target sound, and comprehension activities for each story. Each story also has a synopsis with critical facts (reading level, phonemic target, verb tense, point of view, theme) on the home page to make it easy to find an appropriate story. Each story also has an engaging illustration to accompany the story. I noticed that the illustrations feature children and families with a variety of diverse physical features (skin tone, hair texture, facial features) which was nice to see.

FEATURES

The features of this app are what impress me. Each feature shows how much thought and planning has gone into this app.

  • 100 word stories

Why is 100 words significant? 100 words is a short story. It has a story structure, but not a complicated structure. It is short enough that even my students who struggle with working memory can remember what happened in the story.

100 words is also the ideal length for a stuttering fluency sample. When I use other materials I have to count the words in the passage by hand, and then calculate the percent disfluent. With 100 word stories, the math practically does itself!

100 words is the ideal length for Quickdrill therapy (which I’ve written and presented about before). I have struggled to find materials that are both engaging AND short enough to use for Quickdrill therapy without extensive modification. I now have 82 stories which fit the bill!

100 words is the ideal length to provide multiple repetitions during a longer therapy session. If I am working on answering WH questions, or sequencing, I need to give many chances to practice those skills. Having short stories makes it easier to increase the number of repetitions.

  • Before you read

Each story has extensive information about it under the “before you read” heading. There is a list of sight words for each passage, as well as a list of words with the target phoneme. Most amazing is that there are also FLASHCARDS for these lists, to give students a chance to practice the words BEFORE they read them! I have been doing this with disorganized word lists and post-it notes. Now I have beautiful flashcards on my iPad!

  • Text features

The text customization features are amazing. I can chose the “easy reader format” which puts fewer words per line of text, for emerging readers. I can turn on the “reader helper” which is a colored box that helps students track the lines of text. I can bold the sight words, or the phonemic targets, or the challenging words in each passage. Each passage also has a Tongue Twister that goes with it, to practice oral motor skills (and have some fun!).

  • Story Retell – recording

Every story has a story retell spot, with the ability to record students as they retell the story. Once they record, you can replay their recording and mark words correct/incorrect, to get a percentage. What a perfect tool for data collection and progress monitoring! If you want to save recordings of individual students, you do need to set up a student profile for each student first. Having an easy way to make, organize, and score short recordings of students will make my progress notes so much faster, and my data so much more meaningful.

  • Sequencing

Every story has a 4-step sequencing sort in the story comprehension section. ALL of them! The sorting is errorless, meaning that the app won’t let students put the story in the wrong order (the tiles jump back to their original spot if they are placed wrong). It is basic sequencing, but a nice structured way to start for students working at this level of narrative understanding.

  • WH questions

This section blew me away with the clever design. All of the WH questions are here, but the unique detail is that the question is asked first, and students prompted to answer what they know. THEN, if the student does not know the answer, you click the button and multiple-choice answers appear. I LOVE THIS FEATURE!!!! It allows me to scaffold for students as they grow in this skill, from needing multiple-choice options, into coming up with answers independently.

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  • Story Talk

The “Story Talk” element of each story is one of the unique features of this app. Instead of the simple WH questions we usually get to accompany stories, the questions in Story Talk are more like book club discussion questions, and encourage students to give their opinions, draw inferences, use their imaginations, and dig deeper into the stories. This section gives great opportunities to work on articulation skills in a conversational context, and also to work on conversation skills themselves.

HOW I WOULD USE THIS APP

I definitely plan to use this app during my Quickdrill therapy with younger articulation students who are working at the reading or conversation level.

I will also use this app with my students who stutter, to get realistic fluency samples that are easy to score.

I will use this app with language students who are working on basic narrative structure, or answering simple WH questions.

I will use this app with students working on conversation skills, particularly focusing on the Story Talk section for each story.

LIMITATIONS

Overall I am clearly impressed by this app. However, that doesn’t mean it is perfect, or perfect for every occasion. One limitation I definitely noticed was that this app is designed for younger elementary students. It is an awesome app for that age group (!!!), but both the design and content fit with a K-3 developmental level. I would hesitate to use this app with my older elementary or middle school students, just because it looks like an app intended for younger students.

Another limitation I see with this app is that for the most part, the language skills targeted are very basic. 4-step sequencing sentences. Simple WH questions that can often be guessed without needing to read the story. Etc. I definitely have students working on language skills who are at that level, and for them this app is perfect. But once students grow beyond that basic level, this app is going to be too easy for them. I guess that’s intentional, since the whole point of the app is to have short, simple, 100-word stories, right? It’s a strength, but also a weakness, to have such a narrow focus.

Lastly, while the story protagonists are diverse in terms of skin tone, hair texture, and facial features, it would have been lovely to see other aspects of diversity reflected as well, such as protagonists with different abilities, or stories from different cultural backgrounds. There were a few stories drawn from Western European myth and fable traditions, but none from other cultures (or, none that I noticed). Having a broader spectrum of representation would have increased the cultural value of this app even more.

Disclosure: I was given a copy of this app to review. I am receiving no other compensation for my review. The thoughts and opinions are entirely mine.

more

The word MORE is very, very important! Students who are emerging communicators are often working on requesting, and teaching “more” is a high-value way to do it! The word “more” can be used to request either quantity or continuation.

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Students can request “more” of any thing – fish crackers, Legos, juice, balls, pizza, bubbles, lunch… any object that they may want to have more of. To practice “more” with food items, give your child a small amount of something they like to eat or drink. When they finish it, wait for them to ask for “more” (or help them ask for “more” if this is a new skill) before you give them another small portion. Using smaller portions allows your child to have more chances to practice the word “more”, without ruining their appetite for supper.

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Students can also request “more” of any action – tickling, bouncing, running, swimming, playing, watching YouTube, playing with iPads… any action that they want to continue! To practice “more” with actions, begin a game or activity that your child enjoys. At a natural pausing point, stop the game and wait for them to ask for “more.” If this is a new skill, you will need to help them ask for “more” (using picture symbols, signs, an iPad app, or verbal words) until they learn how to request “more” independently. If this word is a familiar word for your child, then perhaps give them one reminder, and then wait patiently. Playing with another adult who can show how to ask for “more” is also a good strategy.

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If you are using an iPad and know how to use the guided access setting, a great way to practice “more” is to set the guided access timer to limit the number of minutes the iPad will work before the screen locks. That is a fantastic opportunity for your child to request “more” iPad, and for you to oblige by turning it on again!

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“more” in American Sign Language

“More” is a very common “baby sign” – manual signs taught to infants before they can talk. This is because it is a developmentally early cognitive concept, that many babies and children with intellectual disabilities benefit from learning. Instead of needing to know the name of whatever they just had, they can simply ask for “more” and get it! “More” is a multipurpose word, which are the best kind of words for students who have difficulty learning many new words all at once.

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Our book this week is “Just One More” by Jennifer Hansen Rolli. In it, a little girl named Ruby always wants “just one more” of everything! One more minute in bed, one more hairy thingy, or one more push on the swing! She asks for “just one more” scoop of ice cream, but that turns out badly, so at the end of the book she decides that sometimes, just one is plenty.

We will continue learning MORE core words next week!

like

Our word of the week is LIKE! This is a particularly wonderful word. “Like” is a word we can use to comment about what we think. “Like” and “not like” are powerful ways to comment.

Students with complex communication needs are almost always taught to request; “I want _____.” While “I want…” is an important phrase, it is very limiting if we *only* teach students to request things. Communication involves more than getting what you want! We tell each other what we think (commenting), we say what we don’t want (protesting), we identify what we are experiencing (labeling). The word “like” is an entry into commenting, which is one of the pillars of language use.

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Our book this week is a newer book, and deeper than most of the books I use. Every page has the sentence “I like _________” or “I don’t like ____________”. The last word of the sentence is something that western children often play with or enjoy – shoes, cars, bricks – and the spread on each page features a privileged child playing with the item on one side, and an underprivileged child performing child labor with the item on the other side. It is a thought-provoking look at childhood in different parts of the world, and a reminder that every child has the right to play, to receive an education, and to have a life of dignity. The last pages of the book have information about poverty and child labor, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

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“like” in American Sign Language

At home, model the word “like” any time you experience something pleasant! You can use any modality to model “like” (picture symbols, manual sign, words).

  • Foods: I like cereal. I like coffee. I like eggnog. I like cookies. I like ice cream. I like carrots (really!).
  • Toys: I like legos. I like my teddy bear. I like my iPad.
  • Activities: I like jumping. I like watching movies. I like swimming. I like reading.
  • Places: I like my house. I like the park. I like the gym. I like school. I like Starbucks.
  • People: I like grandma. I like my dog. I like my teacher. I like my friend. I like you!

What do you like?

kick

K is for KICK! And yup, this is another word that is not actually a CORE word. “Kick” is a fringe vocabulary word, but one that lots of students need to know. Kicking is an action that lots of students enjoy, and (unfortunately), sometimes students will kick at inappropriate times. We need the word so that we can talk with students about when they can kick, and when they cannot kick.

Just like JUMP last week, kicking is a fun and important gross motor activity! Our students should be moving their bodies all day long!

Students can kick leaves!

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Students can kick a ball!

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Students can kick in the pool!

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Here is the ASL sign for “kick”:

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ASL – “kick”

I didn’t find any good books focusing on “kick” for this week, so I ended up making my own on Boardmaker Online. If you have a subscription, you can view/read/play it here.

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How will you practice kicking this week?

J is for JUMP!

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“Jump” is another fringe word, but a very fun and engaging fringe word. Students in school may be told to jump during PE, or it may be something that is fun for them to do, and to tell others to do. Teacher Norma has a trampoline in her classroom, because many students need to jump as a sensory activity.

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“jump” in American Sign Language

There were TWO books featuring “jump” that I found this week. They are both awesome!

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The book “Jump, Frog, Jump” by Robert Kalan has the recurring phrase “Jump, Frog, Jump!” on every other page. It is a fun story about a frog escaping capture by a multitude of other animals, and then eluding children as well. So fun!

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The second book “Jump!” by Scott Fischer also featured a frog, who is startled and JUMPS because of a cat, who JUMPS because of a dog, who JUMPS because of a crocodile… you know how this one goes. It is another fun book, with many repetitions of the target word to give lots of practice.

On YouTube, there are many kids songs that involve jumping, such as the classic “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.”

Or this one, if you want to go crazy with it stuck in your head.

And for my ’90s friends… you knew this was coming.

in

ASL sign for “in”

The word IN is a very important preposition. It is one of the basic concept words I often work on with students, and a word I have written about before. It is one of the top-10 CORE words, because it is so functional, and combines with so many other words.

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Where is the boy? IN bed!

 

IN is a CORE word because it is multi-functional. At home, you can model IN by talking about what is IN a box, IN your fridge, IN your purse, or IN a backpack. Students can get IN a car, IN the bathtub, or IN bed. Food goes IN your tummy, and clothes belong IN the closet. Use whatever communication your student uses to practice the word IN all over the house!

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My main book this week is “Better Move On, Frog!”, which is an oldie-but-goodie by Ron Maris. In the book, the frog wants to go IN a hole. He goes around the yard, but finds out that all the holes already have animals IN them! He finally finds a pond where he can go IN and live, so the story has a happy ending.

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A new favorite for me is the book “IN” by Nikki McClure. Her illustrations are fascinating, and the entire book is talking about things IN other things on every page. It is a bit busy for students who are easily visually distracted, but I just love it.

How will you practice IN this week?

help

HELP in American Sign Language

HELP is another CORE word that is not as common, but is highly functional and important. We are focusing on HELP this week in Teacher Norma’s classroom.

There are many ways to practice “help” in everyday life. Students may need help during their normal routines – help getting dressed, help eating, help opening, help getting something out of reach – the possibilities are almost endless. Our students will need help for lots of activities. When they need help, we need to HELP them to learn to ask for it by having their AAC available (on the table, in our hands, on the floor next to them, etc). We need to know where the HELP symbol is located, so we can quickly model it. If our students are using signs, we need to model the sign “help” right at the moment when they need the help.

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But students aren’t always the ones who need help. Kids can participate in family life by helping their parents or siblings with chores or activities around the house. If adults learn to ask “help me”, they can model how to ask for help for themselves, and allow their children to learn how to participate and feel proud of their contributions to the family. Kids could help:

  • Preparing meals
  • Setting the table
  • Cleaning up toys
  • Feeding the pet
  • Putting dishes in the dishwasher
  • Putting away clothes
  • Carrying groceries to/from the car
  • And much more!
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The book “I Can Help” by David Hyde Costello has many opportunities for students to see/use the word HELP. Every page has an animal in trouble, and another animal helping them out.

For slightly older students, the book “The Berenstain Bears Lend a Helping Hand” is a nice read-along book. It talks about helping, and how to participate in a family. You can watch it on YouTube here:

G is for GO!

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“go” in American Sign Language

The word “go” is a CORE word that has many different uses. It can be used to talk about going places – we go to school, go home, go to lunch, go to recess. During play it can be used to talk about anything that moves – balls, children, trucks, cars, dogs… Almost everything can GO!

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This is one of my new favorite books. The big, green monster slowly appears as you turn the pages to reveal new body parts. Once he is all there, you tell each body part to “go away!” and he slowly disappears again.

 

I made a Boardmaker Online talking book, using the phrase “Let’s Go to the _________” on every page. If you are a Boardmaker Online subscriber, you can access the book here.

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Go learn some CORE words! Go, go, go!

F is for FINISH! Many of my students are working on “all done” in place of “finish,” but either way, this is a very important concept.

Finish is an important word for students to learn to help them transition from one activity to another. It lets them know that what they are currently doing is over, so they need to change gears into the next activity. Teachers and staff can use “finish” or “finished” to help prepare students for these transitions.

 

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Finish is also an important word for students to use, to tell teachers and parents when they want to be done with an activity. Students need a way to appropriately “protest”; to tell other people “no” in a pro-social way. When students don’t have protest vocabulary, they may end up throwing, hitting, or screaming instead. We need to honor their right to tell us when they are tired of something by providing vocabulary for students to express these feelings and desires.

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Any mode of communication (word/sign/picture symbol) is an acceptable way to communicate “finish.” Students learning CORE words often need multiple avenues for learning, and may do better with one more or another. Using *any* form of communication increases a student’s future potential to use communication of all kinds, so encourage students to use whatever mode of communication works best for them!

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“Finish” in American Sign Language

You can work on “finish” at home using any activity that has multiple steps. Cooking, coloring, or craft projects all have steps that you “finish” before moving on to the next step. Any activity, actually, will have an end-time, and using “finish” to signify the end of activities is a great way to model the word.

You can also work on “finish” by anticipating times that your child may want to be done with an activity, and providing an icon or model of the word, so they can use it to get out of something they don’t like. 🙂  Make sure to provide “finish” at an authentic time, and also at a time when the activity *can* end the moment the child wants it to end (so not while walking across the street, for example). Also be sure to honor the child’s request to finish *immediately*, not when you feel it should end. When teaching “finish,” we need to make sure to give the word full power, and let students tell us when they are done. Once they know the word, then it is okay to have them wait if it’s not the “right” time to be done with an activity. When teaching a new word, honor it immediately whenever possible.

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For students who have more verbal skills, the book Let Me Finish by Minh Le is a nice support. The boy in the book just wants to finish reading his book, but he keeps getting interrupted! It’s a great book for book lovers, and also uses the word “finish” multiple times.

I’m finished!